By Theresa D. McClellan
For the Fort Bend Star
Blue. The color of bruises. A feeling of depression. Now a symbol of hope.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and organizers intend to blanket Fort Bend County with the color of blue as a reminder that, “child abuse exists in every community.”
Last Friday night on the steps of Sugar Land City Hall, more than 150 Girl and Boy Scouts garbed in blue t-shirts and surrounded by blue balloons stood with city officials and child advocates with the message on the backs of their t-shirts stating, “There is no excuse for abuse.”
Child Advocates of Fort Bend County (CAFB) along with the Exchange Club of Sugar Land, the Fort Bend County Child Welfare Board and Friends of Child Advocates held the annual Light of Hope event April 1. Organizers want people to think of child abuse prevention when they see blue ribbons, shirts and balloons in their community this month.
It is a time to gain community support in the fight against abuse and the first step to preventing child abuse is awareness, said Ruthanne Mefford, chief executive officer of CAFB.
Child Advocates of Fort Bend is a nonprofit agency working to end child abuse in Fort Bend County. They serve child victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect through two organizations: The Court Appointed Special Advocates and Children’s Advocacy Services.
“Whether it occurs at the hands of clergy, educators, coaches or even family members, most incidents of child sexual abuse are committed by people who know the child well,” Mefford said.
While youngsters chased bouncing balls on the Sugar Land Town Square or blew bubbles into the fountain, the experts read the staggering statistics that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be abused by the age of 18.
“Because Fort Bend County is such a desirable place to live, many people here assume that child abuse does not happen here. The reality is that child abuse occurs in all demographics, regardless of income, ethnicity or race. There is also a myth of “stranger danger.” In fact, in the majority of cases (96 percent), children are abused by someone they know – often a family member or someone they know and trust,” said CAFB spokeswoman Anne Bulan.
That’s why CAFB serves more than 400 abused and neglected children monthly.
The Children’s Advocacy Center has trained specialists, social workers and therapist who conduct forensic interviews and offer therapy to help children heal from their trauma. In addition trained child advocate volunteers provide a voice for children in the child welfare system advocating for their emotional, physical, educational and medical needs. All of their services are free.
As community outreach, CAFB has a “Voices for Children” program to raise awareness on child abuse prevention. The centerpiece of the program is a tour or 45-minute simulated tour using real life stories showing the path a child travels from disclosing abuse to the healing process. Tour guest leave with a deeper understanding about the silent epidemic of child abuse and what they can do to help end it.
Ways to help include reporting the offense or suspicion of offense and supporting advocates. To spread the word, they ask people to “like” their Facebook page which has a link on their website at www.cafb.org and to support their April 30 SuperHero Gala at the Sugar Land Marriott TownSquare.
“This adult event features a live auction, silent auction, dinner and dancing and raises much needed funds to support our programs for abused and neglected children in Fort Bend County,” Bulan said. “All of our services are provided free of charge to the children and families who need them so supporting our Gala is a great way to help in the fight against child abuse. Even if you cannot attend the Gala, you can participate in the silent auction online beginning on April 18th.” One of their biggest supporters happened almost by accident. CAFB has offices in Rosenberg and a neighboring business owner OCusoft Inc., shared a parking lot and wanted to access their unused parking spaces. So OCusoft president Cynthia Barratt started talking with CAFB and was so impressed she started volunteering and eventually became their board president.
She attended Friday night’s gathering with her two pups Molly and Princess and even snagged a blue t-shirt for her dog Molly who pranced around the square wearing the shirt much to the delight of the children in attendance.
“I just really believe in this organization. They make a difference,” Barratt said.
For more information about the Gala or the auction, or child abuse prevention, go to www.cafb.org.