By Tia Lyn Lecorchick staff writer

Fred Perriman, mayor of Madison and Andy Ainslie, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, delivered a proclamation declaring the month of April as Child Abuse Prevention month in Madison on the lawn of the Morgan County Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) on Apr. 3. On Apr. 4, DFCS asked the community to wear blue to show their support for ending child abuse.

Speakers included Velde Hardy, Perriman, Ainslie, Tracey McMahon, social services administrator, Ellen Warren, board of commissioners member, and Megan Morris, development director at Morgan Memorial Hospital.

“We would like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who came out to make this event a huge success. As we continue to bring awareness to the power of prevention as it relates to child abuse reduction,” said Hardy, coordinator for the Morgan County Family Connection.

According to Hardy, Approximately 30 representatives from across all sectors of the community were present to show their support and commitment to this effort. These individuals included representation from the District Attorney’s office, Dept of Family and Children Services, Morgan Memorial Hospital (including the Administrator), Morgan County School system (including the Superintendent & Asst Superintendent, counselors), FERST Foundation, Health Department, Board of Commissioners, City of Madison, community members, Chamber of Commerce, Department of Juvenile Justice, Morgan System of Care, and the Boys and Girls Club.

Hardy hopes the community will educate themselves about child abuse prevention.

“The majority of child abuse cases stem from situations and conditions that are entirely preventable in an engaged and supportive community. A community that cares about early childhood development, parent support and maternal mental health, for instance, is more likely to see families nurturing children who are born healthy and enter school ready to learn,” said Hardy.

Hardy believes the community must address the root problems of instability in families that lead to abuse.

“Cities and towns that work to create good school systems and who come together to ensure that affordable housing is available in good, safe neighborhoods are less likely to see stressed, isolated families who don’t know where to turn,” she explained.

“Child Abuse Prevention Month is about connecting all of these dots so that the solutions to child abuse receive the attention the public craves. In a recent poll, 89 percent of Americans reported that child abuse was a “very important” moral issue to them. But it’s not enough to care about the problem and address its consequences. We have to pay attention to the kinds of efforts that will prevent it from happening in the first place,” said Hardy.

Morgan County is not immune to cases of child of abuse.

According to Hardy, analysis of the data compiled in the National KIDS COUNT Program shows that between the years 2000 – 2012 the rate of substantiated incidents of child abuse and/or neglect (per 1000) in Morgan County has exceeded the rate in Georgia for the same time period for every year except one. In 2012 the substantiated incidents of child abuse and/or neglect (per 1000) in the Morgan County was documented to be at a rate of 7.5 percent. While these numbers are slightly down from 2011 rate of 8.5 percent, it still exceeds the 6.9 percent rate for the state of Georgia.

Throughout the month, DFCS will be facilitating a number of child abuse prevention events to raise awareness about the existence of child abuse and how to end it.

The next event will take place on Apr. 15 at the Collaborative Partners meeting at 9 am in the DFCS office located at 2005 South Main Street in Madison. Steve Collins, a member of Adults Protecting Children, will speak about the Stewards of Children/ Darkness to Light program and Morgan County can implement this program within the community.

On Apr. 17, DFCS will facilitate the third Parent Cafe, which will focus on parents building strong relationships with their children. The event will be held at First United Methodist Church Youth Academy in Madison.

From Apr. 21-25, DFCS will distribute pinwheel coloring sheets to local restaurants for children to color and hang along the walls.

Child Abuse Prevention Month will culminate with the Teen Maze. According to Hardy, Teen Maze is an event that “challenges youth to graduate from high school without getting pregnant, exposing themselves to sexually transmitted diseases, or engaging in deadly behavior along the way.”

Hardy described the mission of the Morgan County Family Connection as “a catalyst for expanding citizen’s awareness of the needs of Morgan County Children and families; and for encouraging community partnerships to address these needs.”

Hardy encourages the entire community to join in Family Connection’s work.

“Together we can make a difference!” said Hardy.