NORWICH — The Chenango County Child Advocacy Center (CAC) is working to raise awareness of child abuse and child abuse prevention throughout the month of April in recognition of Child Abuse Prevention Month.
Awareness efforts began during the common council meeting held on Tuesday, March 15. City of Norwich Mayor Brian Doliver read a proclamation declaring the month of April to be Child Abuse Prevention Month in the City of Norwich.
"Child abuse prevention is a community responsibility and finding solutions depends on involvement among all people, and communities must make every effort to promote programming that benefits children and their families," he read. "Everyone in the community should become more aware of child abuse prevention and begin having conversations, take appropriate action, and support one another to create a safer environment for all."
During the month of April, the CAC is holding their annual Shine Blue for Hope Campaign, their Pinwheels for Prevention Campaign, and their second Hope for Healing 5K. These initiatives will help to raise money for their programs, while also informing the community on child abuse and available services and resources in the Chenango County area.
"[Child abuse], for us, it is any child that’s impacted by a crime," explained CAC Program Coordinator Joanne Smith. "So I mean, that is a pretty broad spectrum. It could include child physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, we work with children where family members have been impacted by homicide. So anything that has to do with, oftentimes, the criminal justice system, Child Protective Services."
The Shine Blue for Hope Campaign is a program coordinated by the CAC and Live Event NY owner Will MacGuire. Local businesses and organizations have the opportunity to donate to the CAC and display blue lights on their buildings and storefronts throughout the month of April.
Speaking to the partnership, Smith said MacGuire "sits down with us actually in January and says, 'all right, so what do we want to do?' So he is really a partner with us and making sure everything is executed in a really great way, and he is the one that puts up all the lights."
"Last year we had 22 businesses. It looks like we’ll have more businesses this year. Last year we focused basically in the City of Norwich; now he wants to expand it to Greene, Oxford, Sherburne. You know, more for Chenango County," she added. "So he's working really diligently on Shine Blue for Hope."
Norwich residents may have already seen blue pinwheels popping up around the city this week as the CAC also gets started on their Pinwheels for Prevention Campaign. The pinwheels are just another way for the CAC to spread awareness, and they are looking to expand the initiative into other areas of Chenango County as well.
"Those pinwheels are just a reminder that this is April Child Abuse Awareness Month. Again, raising awareness, letting them know that we’re here," said Smith. "Usually as [we] go into the community, we’ll tell stories about what we’ve seen in the last year and the great work that I know my team is doing in terms of services."
Local businesses or organizations that would like to participate in the Shine Blue for Hope or Pinwheels for Prevention Campaigns can contact Smith at 607-334-5437.
On Saturday, April 30, the CAC will close out Child Abuse Prevention Month with their second annual Hope for Healing 5K in East Park. Registration is available online at chenangochildadvocacy.us/hope-for-healing-5k.html and will also be available in East Park beginning at 8:30 a.m. the day of the event.
Registration is $30 per person 18 and older, or $10 for children aged five to 17. The children's race is scheduled to begin at 10:15 a.m., with the 5K beginning at 10:30 a.m.
The CAC works with local offices such the Norwich Police Department, the Chenango County Sheriff's Office, DSS, Child Protective Services (CPS), and the Children's Home of Wyoming, who connect them with children and families impacted by a crime.
The center then offers a safe and comfortable environment where law enforcement can conduct interviews with the children.
"With children, they’re so delicate and vulnerable and so it’s really nice to have an environment where it’s just really friendly. We have toys, we have stress management items, and then there's a special room where they are recorded so that they don’t have to keep telling their story over and over again," said Smith.
From there, the CAC provides resources for children and families as they work through the criminal justice process, such as case management, basic needs assistance, and counseling services.
In a partnership with DSS, the CAC has also started the Safe Harbour Program, which focuses on children and teenagers at risk of being trafficked in Chenango County.
"Trafficking looks a little bit different in rural communities versus in the city. Oftentimes you don’t see where children are going from place to place to place, although we do see that," Smith explained. "So we look at that and what children or youth are at risk, and how can we provide services for them, and what can we do to help them engage in the community."
In 2021, the CAC was able to assist in interviewing 149 children, provided 278 counseling sessions, supported 124 caregivers, and helped 109 children and teens engaged in high-risk behaviors.
Child abuse can be a difficult topic to discuss, so Smith said the CAC uses April as an opportunity to spread information and awareness in a positive way.
"We don't talk about this stuff often, so April is our opportunity to be able to say, look, here we are. We provide this incredible, valuable service for the community," said Smith. "April is also a way to do it in a positive manner. That's why we have the 5k. It’s like, all right, so we know this is a tough issue to talk about, let’s find ways to come together as a community and support those who have been impacted by a crime in our community."
More information on the Chenango County Child Advocacy Center, available resources, and their upcoming events and initiatives can be found on their website, chenangochildadvocacy.us, or on the Chenango County Child Advocacy Center Facebook page.