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Month focuses efforts to prevent child abuse
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- April has been set aside to focus attention on preventing child abuse, and the Mississippi State University Extension Service is a major supporter of what has come to be known as Blue Ribbon Month.
The commemoration began years ago in Virginia when Bonnie Finney tied a blue ribbon on her vehicle's antennae to symbolize the death of her grandson to child abuse. The color blue was chosen to vividly represent the bruises left by physical abuse to children. Blue Ribbon Month has since spread across the country.
Patsilu Reeves, Monroe County Extension home economist, said her county is actively involved in promoting Blue Ribbon Month with the help of the local United Way and the Girl Scouts. A kickoff early in the month brings together law enforcement, churches, educators, city and county officials, helping agencies, hospitals and the Department of Human Services to cover the area with blue ribbons.
"There is definitely a problem in Monroe County and across the state. Our problem nationwide has been swept under the rug for a long time," Reeves said. "In American society, we generally have believed that a family's home is their castle, so what happened in your house is your business."
Organizers of Blue Ribbon Month in Monroe County emphasize the ongoing need for foster families to temporarily house abused children. They also work to break the cycle of violence and abuse. Reeves said many times, child abusers have been abused themselves.
"The way you stop the cycle is to put a spotlight on it," Reeves said. "You can't stop something until people realize there's a problem."
Louise Davis, Extension child and family development specialist, said Blue Ribbon Month is supported by the Mississippi Department of Human Services. The Mississippi Homemaker Volunteers, Inc., an outreach of MSU's Extension Service, also promotes this awareness effort each year within local communities.
Davis said child abuse includes physical, emotional, sexual and neglect abuse. About 1 million cases of child abuse are substantiated in the United States each year, and an average of three children die each day from abuse and neglect.
"Childhood histories of abuse and neglect are commonly reported by many adult criminals, juvenile delinquents and drug addicts," Davis said. "Adults who have experienced abuse often find it difficult to develop close relationships, and these same adults find it difficult to parent effectively and maintain employment."
Davis encouraged anyone who sees a potential mistreatment situation occurring in public to act to diffuse it.
"Strike up a conversation with the adult to direct attention away from the child. If the child is in danger, such as left unattended in a grocery cart, offer assistance," Davis said. "Divert a misbehaving child's attention, and praise the parent and child at the first opportunity.
"Avoid negative remarks or looks. These reactions are likely to increase the parent's anger and could make matters worse," Davis said.
For more information on Blue Ribbon Month or ways to prevent child abuse, contact the local county Extension office.