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Child abuse in Dawson double state average
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Child Abuse

The number of children in Dawson County subjected to child abuse or neglect is nearly twice the state average, according to the Kids Count Data Center.

In Georgia, the rate of child abuse is 3.1 children per 1,000, but in Dawson County in 2012, the rate was 6.1 children per 1,000, according to centers website.

This clearly shows there are children in Dawson County that need help, and we all play a role in ensuring a happy, healthy childhood, said Nancy Stites, director of Dawson County Family Connection.

In 2012, the latest data available from Kids Count, there were 30 documented cases of child abuse in Dawson County, up from 19 in 2011.

"This is a large jump from the previous year, Stites said.

In 2010, 24 children were abused in Dawson, up from 13 the previous year.

However, there can be numerous factors affecting this rate, including increased reporting, an increased awareness and understanding of child abuse in the community, the number of staff to investigate, and the number of cases closed, Stites said.

In 2014, Stites said, there were 97 investigations of child abuse/neglect.

In an effort to create awareness and to help prevent child abuse in Dawson County, the Dawson Woman's Club (DWC) and its high school component, Juniorettes LEAD, planted pinwheels in the lawn of Grace Presbyterian Church last week.

"The actual program is 'Pinwheels for Prevention' where Prevent Child Abuse America, founded in 1972, advocates for polices, legislation, and programs that promote healthy child development and prevent child abuse and neglect from ever occurring," said Georgann Schmaltz, past president of the woman's club.

Roughly one hundred pinwheels decorate the church grounds.

"Pinwheels were chosen since they are symbolic of a carefree and happy childhoods and draw attention," Schmalz explained. "They do not represent the actual number of abused children in Dawson."

A project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Kids Count Data Centeris a national, and state-by-state, effort to abused children in the US. It develops and distributes reports on the status of children, including their educational, economic, social and physical well-being.

Many cases may have been unreported in the past. Stites explains the significant increase in number of recent cases due to the community having "increased awareness" of the epidemic of chid abuse.

"One in ten children are sexually abused before the age of 18 nationwide," Stites said. Thirty to 40 percent are by family members."

Prevention is crucial and Stewards of Children -- Child Sexual Abuse Prevention training -- is one way to protect children from becoming prey to sexual predators.

"The prevention aspect is critical," Family Connection Stewards of Children facilitator Amber Miller said. "If we prevent one child being sexually abused or abused in any nature, we have possibly broken a cycle or stopped a cycle that has not begun.

"Often times when working with youth offenders, their history shows that they have been victims themselves.."

Facilitators include No One Alone (NOA), the Department of Juvenile Justice and the school social worker, Stites said.

In Dawson, people who have beentrained in child abuse prevention, include members of the Dawson County Sheriff's office, the public library staff, Kiwanis Club members and county school bus drivers. Miller suggests that those who see children in daily activities and errands could find the training beneficial.

"So if we show adults to keep their eyes open, what to look for, then they could help," Miller said. "Such examples would be a bank teller who sees two people walk in ... and one of thechild is quiet (with) little to no eye contact and could possibly be hugging themselves to shield marks or bruises. Restaurant staff could look at their tables to watch the interaction, the aura of the table or even how someone orders for themselves or for the other person."

The training was started a year ago with the goal of reaching its "Tipping Point" by the end of 2015. According to Stites, the 'tipping point' is when a message (in this case prevention of child sexual abuse) reaches five percent of any population, the momentum causes a cultural shift and eventually a cultural change.

For Dawson County, the tipping point is 862people, Stites said.

"By the end of the school year, we will have slightly over 500 people (trained)," Stites said. "That's almost sixty percent of the tipping point."

The training is available for anyone, not just those working with children.

"I would love to see another person not involved with youth to take this course simply because it can and will open their eyes as to what is taking place still in this culture and community," Miller said. "It also brings awareness of what they can do, who they can call and maybe what questions to ask or not to ask if a child or youth discloses to them. We provide tools to engage with others around them if a situation occurs, we give them suggestions to be on the look out for and then we follow up with victims."

To report child abuse, call 911.