Death of 8-year-old child highlights abuse prevention
That's the advice that Child Family Advocate Christa DiNicola and Counselor Hope Bell, from Child Advocacy Services, want to give anyone who suspects they might know a victim of child abuse.
"With the recent death of the 8-year-old little boy in St. John Parish, who died as a result of child abuse, it tells me that more people need to speak up if they suspect something like this," DiNicola said.
" I was so concerned after being in the parish just a month before the child's death, teaching abuse prevention and awareness to kindergarten through fifth graders at some of the elementary schools, that I began to think back and ask myself if I missed something.”
Both DiNicola and Bell want the public to realize that when no one gets involved, the children fall through the cracks.
"If the neighbors saw it, if a friend saw it, whoever saw it, someone has to call the local police department and the Office of Child Services,” DiNicola said.
DiNicola speaks in various schools in the River Parishes, educating everyone about child abuse awareness and prevention.
“We as a community need to do more to educate parents by giving them the tools to find another way to handle times of stress so they don't take it out on their children," DiNicola said.
Bell says it's like a trickle down effect.
"The parents are stressed out with each other and then they take it out on the child, and the child, believe it or not, takes it out on the pet," Bell said. "Children can become conditioned to certain forms of abuse because, in their minds, they think it's normal."
Bell deals directly with the victims impacted by abuse. She helps them cope as they move onto the road of recovery and hopefully, someday, healing.
"I use a lot of play therapy methods with some of the younger victims, but the therapy and method of counseling depends on the situation," Bell said. "Since Hurricane Katrina, there's been an influx of abuse cases."
Bell says that people live in cramped quarters in FEMA trailers and the stress level is extremely high.
"There are lots of resources for parish residents to help them cope," she said. "We're working in conjunction with the St. Charles Mental Health Task Force to create a list of all of the collaborative support services available for local families in the area."
Bell says their immediate goal is to get the information to local health care providers.
"If a family calls an agency wanting support or family services, then they could refer to the directory to get them to the right person," she said. "Recovery for these children depends on the support system, the victim's relationship to the offender, and how long the abuse took place."
The two do this by visiting daycares and schools, as well as hosting parent meetings.
“Lately, more and more parents have been showing up,” DiNicola said.
Bell says when she's counseling the children, some of them will ask "How am I supposed to think about taking a LEAP test after all I've been through?"
"The school system works with the guardians in cases like this and should allow more time outs if the child needs this to help them stay focused on the test," she said. "We're asking all local schools and businesses to get involved with the "Blue Ribbon Campaign."
The Blue Ribbon Campaign is in full swing in the parish because April has been declared Child Abuse Prevention month by Governor Bobby Jindal. The agency has geared up by taking donations and encouraging residents to wear a blue ribbon as a show of support against child abuse.
Bell says there will be activities like dress down day at various parish schools, where students don't have to wear a uniform. Monetary donations will be collected in order for students to participate.
There will be blue ribbons, posters, "Change for Children" buckets and $1.00 donation cards throughout the parish for the month of April.
Any organization or business that would be interested in helping the agency spread awareness should contact, Child Advocacy Services at 985-785-5226.
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