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  • Writer's pictureJared Cramer

Pinwheel gardens spread awareness for Child Abuse Prevention Month

Below is an article by Lauren Formosa in today's edition of the Grand Haven Tribune that references the ministries of our church.

While driving down Washington Avenue this month, Grand Haven residents and visitors may notice blue pinwheels lined up outside of City Hall or next to St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Although the pinwheel gardens look pretty and fun on a passing glance, further inspection would show that these pinwheels serve a specific purpose: raising awareness for child abuse.

“We think it’s not happening in our communities, but it’s happening every day,” said Amy Dalman, director of community education at the Ottawa County Children’s Advocacy Center. “It’s happening to 10 percent of kids. If you think about it, when you’re sitting in church or sitting in a restaurant and you’re looking around at all the different people, one in 10 of those people have had some kind of traumatic experience in their life. Either they’ve experienced it or somebody in their family or somebody that they know has experienced that.”

In honor of April being National Child Abuse Prevention Month, the CAC is encouraging community members to set up pinwheel gardens throughout the month and support their team’s work providing children and non-offending family members with support, assessment, and treatment of child sexual abuse.

CAC supporters can buy individual blue pinwheels, the recognized symbol of national child abuse prevention, or pinwheel pots made by child survivors to set up at homes, business, schools, or other locations around their community. Dalman explained that the funds raised by this month’s pinwheel sales will go directly to continuing the center’s free services available to survivors and families.

“It’s my understanding that the pinwheel was chosen because it helps the general public bring themselves back to a childhood memories and it’s a it represents happiness and joy,” said Grand Haven Department of Public Safety Detective Justin Canan. “Ultimately, I think the full circle of that is that we all want our youth to thrive, to be safe, to be able to enjoy that youth, and hopefully we as adults can protect the youth in that way.”

According to Canan, GHDPS works in tandem with the CAC when responding to reports of child abuse. The center’s staff of trained therapists, counselors, and specialists provide a safe environment for survivors to talk about their experiences while police officers continue their investigations.

Giving children the option to talk to someone besides a uniformed officer who is trained to help with trauma allows law enforcement to better assess the situation they are investigating while preventing the survivor from reliving their trauma when interviewed.

“It’s a very sad situation anytime a child is experiencing anything that could be considered abuse. I know a lot of us as officers, any time it has anything to do with a child, our hearts beat just a little faster,” Canan said. “For us to be able to see what it is that they do down there, it helps us immensely with our job.”

According to Dalman, the CAC provided clinical advocacy services to 2,040 children and preformed 381 forensic interviews within the last year. About half of the child survivors the CAC worked with were between the ages of 13 and 18 years old.

While child abuse disclosure was down during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dalman said that they are now skyrocketing as children have returned to their “safe person” – a trusted adult – in schools and after school activities and can discuss instances of abuse safely.

In their eyes, children are the most vulnerable members of a community and, as Canan explained, often cannot defend themselves in situations of abuse or neglect. Therefore, each adult in the community has the power to do at least one thing to prevent child abuse, such as educating the children in their lives on signs of abuse.

“Growing up, my parents talk to me about stranger danger and all of those kinds of things, but 90 percent of kids know and trust their abusers,” Dalman said. “It’s an adult’s responsibility to give kids tools and have everyday conversations about things like ‘If you’re ever feeling uncomfortable in a situation, what can we do? What is our family plan? Who is a safe adult for you that you could talk to?’”

Throughout Child Abuse Prevention Month, the people of Grand Haven are not only encouraged to take notice of the pinwheel gardens but also educate themselves on signs of abuse and how to help child abuse survivors.

“We want our youth to experience a healthy childhood, one that’s going to create a strong and confident and safe individual which in turn will hopefully help our society continue to grow in character,” Canan said. “I think that with the more awareness that is made, the more strength it gives to someone who might have experienced a crime to voice that which is only going to, hopefully, cultivate and encourage those others that haven’t reported it to report.”

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