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Child advocates speak out about abuse

by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: KATIE WILSON - SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: KATIE WILSON Joel Garrett, 2, runs next to pinwheels representing the total number of children currently in the foster care system in Columbia County at an event outside the old courthouse in St. Helens April 17.More than 200 pinwheels flashed in the sun in front of the old Columbia County Courthouse in St. Helens April 17.

“It’s really important that we not get stuck on a lot of statistics,” said Lisa Galovich, director of the county’s non-profit child abuse assessment program, the Amani Center. She gestured at the baskets full of blue pinwheels in front of her and the red and blue pinwheels struck into the ground nearby. Each pinwheel represented a child who was in the foster care system or who had come to the Amani Center for an assessment.

“These are people,” Galovich said. “Children.”

But, she added, the pinwheels — small, inexpensive, replaceable, fragile — are in “no way equivalent to the future these children hold.”

Galovich and Kathryn Bourn, executive director of the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Kids, gathered with volunteers and community members at the grassy plaza outside of the old courthouse and recognized April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month, sharing information about child abuse in the county.

In Columbia County, an average of 266 children are victims of abuse and neglect each year and approximately 250 children have an open dependency case in court, Bourn said. The children CASA and the Amani Center are able to see and help are “just the tip of the iceberg,” Galovich said.

Nationwide, the equivalent of an entire classroom of children dies from neglect or abuse every five days, Bourn said, adding, “We have a hidden epidemic.”

Without the advocacy and aid both programs provide, children are at a higher risk to once again find themselves in abuse or neglect situations.

“That cycle will repeat itself,” Galovich said.

At the brief event April 17, Bourn and Galovich took turns reading “A Prayer for the Children” by Marian Wright Edelman.

“And we pray for those,” reads one section of the prayer, “whose nightmares come in the daytime, who will eat anything. Who have never seen a dentist, who aren’t spoiled by anybody, who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep, who live and move, but have no being.”