Judge praises those who look out for the welfare of children

·2 min read

Apr. 30—There were 1,465 pinwheels on the lawn of Dalton City Hall on Thursday, representing the 1,465 reports of child abuse or neglect in Whitfield County in 2022.

Mary Smith, child abuse prevention program manager with the Family Support Council, said that number is, unfortunately, about average.

"We've had it as high as 1,600 and something," she said. "We've had it a little lower. This is about midway, about average."

The pinwheels represent reports, not children.

"A report might cover several children," said Smith.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Each year community members, government officials, social workers, educators, law enforcement officers and others attend a Pinwheels for Prevention ceremony.

Smith noted the pinwheels represent reports, not convictions, and some of those reports will not be substantiated. But she also said only about a third of abuse cases are reported.

Conasauga (Whitfield and Murray counties) Juvenile Court Judge Jason Souther praised those gathered in City Hall. He said every child deserves to have a childhood free from abuse.

"Everybody in here is really a hero, a hero to children who are unable to protect themselves," he said. "Everybody in this room is aware of child abuse."

He said everyone in the room had chosen to work with children and many were unpaid volunteers.

"Everyone knows there is child abuse," he said. "But how many people choose to know those things you learn when you take active steps to prevent it. There are a lot of people who say 'Oh, that's really bad. But I don't know if I really want to dig too deep into that.'"

He said everyone in the room had taken positive steps to help at least one child.

"Every single one of you has helped prevent at least one child from being abused or helped prevent at least one child from continuing to be abused," Souther said.

Smith said she believes schools are probably the largest single place where abuse reports originate in Whitfield County.

Smith, who has been working with children and families for more than 50 years, said alcohol is often a factor in child abuse and sexual abuse.

The event also recognized three schools with Heroes Against Child Abuse Awards for raising the most money to help fund local programs to combat child abuse. They are Eton Elementary School (first place), Christian Heritage School (second place) and North Murray High School (third place).

Smith said it is important to get information to children about child abuse so they know what they can do if they are being abused and can stop the abuse.