A few days ago, I was walking through Oneonta. As I waited at the Ace Hardware intersection to cross Highway 75, the light turned yellow. A young mother hit the brakes. Her toddler was standing in the front passenger seat and was hurled forward into the dash. As I stood watching, the mother pulled the child from the floorboard, turned right, and sped away.
I was a witness to illegal child endangerment. I didn’t run and stop the car. I didn’t think to get her tag number. I did nothing.
This incident makes me think of the many vulnerable children in Blount County who are in danger every day. Children whose caregivers are recklessly putting them in harm’s way. Children who live with adults who abuse drugs and alcohol. Children whose normal home life includes physical, verbal, and emotional abuse. Children who live in homes where strangers come and go, staying for days, with little oversight or accountability. Children who have unlimited unsupervised internet access, leaving them to view graphic violence, pornography, and interact online with sinister strangers from all over the globe.
In many cases, there is an adult – a neighbor or relative or other adult – who knows or suspects that the child is in danger, but does nothing.
During 2020 our Child Abuse Response Team investigated 207 new cases of child abuse in Blount County. That’s 207 children in our community who experienced physical or sexual abuse in one year. During the month of April, which is Child Abuse Awareness Month, we remember those 207 children by displaying pinwheels on the lawn at Cadence Bank in Oneonta – one pinwheel for each child.
We hope that these pinwheels will be a visual reminder to all of us that children in our community are at risk. And I hope that each of us will make it our responsibility to reach out to help children who are in danger.
If you suspect a child may be at risk for physical abuse, neglect, or sexual abuse, please call Blount County DHR at 205-274-5200. Your identity will be kept confidential. A child abuse specialist will investigate and ensure the safety of the child. Perhaps by making the call, you will play a role in rescuing a child from maltreatment. I wonder how many children in our community are praying for the day when somebody comes to their rescue? You could be the answer to their prayer.
Jim Ed Clayton, Executive Director
Blount County Children’s Center