April 26, 2013

‘Struggling just to stay up’

By Christopher Smith

— The front lawn of Dalton City Hall was dotted with 1,019 pinwheels on Thursday. Some stood upright without any trouble, while others gave in to the wind and were blown away from the rest.

That’s an all too real analogy for several Whitfield County children, said Mary Smith, child abuse prevention specialist with the Family Support Council. Just like those fallen and abandoned pinwheels, children need someone to pick them up and help them stand up strong in the face of difficulty.

Smith spoke to officials from several family agencies that work to prevent or intercede in child abuse cases Thursday afternoon inside City Hall as part of the annual “Pinwheels for Prevention” observance.

“Each pinwheel represents struggling families,” Smith said.” Each represents a reported case of child abuse or neglect in Whitfield County. Pinwheel gardens like this one started early on about 10 years ago in Douglas. It has become a national trend.

“Someone made the comment, ‘They’re not all twirling.’ And I said, ‘Neither are some of our families. Some of them are struggling just to stay up.’ Some of them can’t stand tall. Some can’t be proud. But when we support them we make a difference.”

Even though the 1,019 cases of child abuse is fewer than the 1,203 cases reported this time last year or the 1,623 from 2011, it’s hardly cause for celebration, Smith said. As long as there is one pinwheel in the front lawn there’s still a lot of work to do.

“But the work that has been done should be applauded,” she said.

Smith recognized staff from the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS), Child Protective Services, Family Support Council, Northwest Georgia Family Crisis Center and Whitfield County Juvenile Court, among others.

“DFCS is especially someone we want to highlight for their work,” Smith said. “They have tough jobs, especially in tough economic times when these child abuse cases are higher and deeper. DFCS and these agencies — they’re all having to stand strong.”

Smith said child violence isn’t limited to homes and that bullying in schools — particularly with fourth- through sixth-graders — is on the rise locally and nationally.

That’s why she turns to the North Georgia Kids on the Block puppeteers. Jim Lansing and Lea Hicks — two of four volunteer actors from the group — demonstrated a puppet show they use to tell students in Murray County Schools how they can deal with a school bully.

“I’m very lucky to work with these kids (in our schools),” Lansing, of Varnell, said. “When we first started this program we did it for a couple of sixth-graders and we realized we need to get to them younger, before some of the stuff happens (fights and bullying). We need to get them in fourth grade these days.”

The sooner the better, Smith said.

“Ninety percent of victims of bullying admit suffering side effects,” she said. “Things like dropping grades, increase in anxiety, losing friends and losing their social life. There can be lifelong impacts from bullying. It’s something we’ve got to stop.”