|Step Up For Kids Event Raises Awareness For Child Abuse Prevention|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
01:56AM / Saturday, April 13, 2019
|Mayor Linda Tyer takes a break from the program to chat with some local children.|
Each pair of shoes represent one case of child abuse in Berkshire County per month.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The steps in front of City Hall on Friday were filled with 58 little pair of shoes, each one representing a child being abused in Berkshire County each month.
The display was part of the 13th annual "Step Up For Kids," a presentation to rally support for efforts to combat child abuse. The annual event is put on each year by the Children's Trust to recognize child abuse prevention month in April.
"It saddens me that our kids need us to dedicate a month to their protection. Isn't it a child's birthright to be loved, nurtured, and protected?" said Linda Mayor Tyer said, later adding, "our children are counting on us. They are counting on us every day and we have a moral obligation to protect them."
Suzin Bartley, executive director of the statewide Children's Trust, believes that child abuse can be prevented. The organization funds an array of programs such as parenting classes and care centers that help to give parents the tools to become positive influences in their children's lives.
"We make sure that we reach out to parents right from the start," Bartley said.
The trust sponsors a fathering program at Berkshire Children and Families. CEO Colleen White Holmes said she had one father enroll in two of their programs as he struggled with substance abuse. But, with the help of the program, he overcame that because of his desire to "be a hero" to his child. She said she's seen firsthand what a person can overcome with the right tools and resources.
"We are whole and imperfect. We may want to be heroes and when we fall short of that, that doesn't necessarily mean we are monsters. At Berkshire Children and Families, we see fathers every day, fathers who are participating in our fathers networks with the support of the Children's Trust, learning to be better dads. We have fathers coming to our child care centers, bringing their kids, tying on sneakers, and trying to figure out what to do with that bouncing ball of energy. We have fathers who participate in our home visiting programs," Holmes said.
Holmes said she doesn't expect all fathers to be like the "TV dad" but rather just be "a real dad" to positively influence the lives of children.
"Parents have the instinct to be protectors. Let's make sure they can be exactly that," Holmes said.
Cassandra Gauthier highlighted a number of the parenting programs she had utilized locally and praised The Family Center of Northern Berkshire County saying it helped her in numerous ways.
"I will continue to go there, forever probably," she said.
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier said her goal is to put the Department of Children and Families out of business. And she said the state's funding for is "upside down and backward" because the most of the money allocated to the department is spent on children who have already been removed from households instead of going toward helping build strong families.
"We shouldn't need the Department of Children and Families. But we have to have it because of the abuse that happens. This is something that is upside down and backward. We in the commonwealth spend 87 percent of the budget for Children and Families on children in care, which represents 15 percent of that population. We spend 15 percent of that budget on 85 percent of those children, the children currently in their families. We need to turn that around and support families," Farley-Bouvier said.
Farley-Bouvier called the cases of child abuse "a crisis." District Attorney Andrea Harrington said there are currently 355 open cases of child abuse the office is working on.
"We are working with law enforcement on 355 open investigations. We have opened 136 cases and we've closed 109 cases in the past 100 days. To me, we take pride in working our cases. We take pride in holding people accountable. We take pride in getting convictions when necessary. But, to me, I really regard that as a failure in our community," Harrington said.
Programs being offered through the support of the Children's Trust are preventative in nature and Harrington supports those efforts.
District Attorney Andrea Harrington said there are 355 open investigations of child abuse currently in the county.
"I will judge the success of our office four years from today by how many cases we have helped to prevent. We are going to prevent child abuse by working together," Harrington said.
Bartley said the investment does pay off and she is hoping the state will increase its support for the organization.
"The cost of Healthy Families per year, per family, to the commonwealth is $500. We had opening day of the Red Sox this week. One field box ticket cost almost $500 and that didn't include the parking or hot dogs. For that same investment you can change the trajectory of a child's life," Bartley said.
State Sen. Adam Hinds and state Rep. John Barrett III vowed to back efforts to increase funding in the state's budget.
"It is so incumbent upon us on the state level to make sure the funding is there to address the issue. I think it is intolerable that we still have 58 cases of child abuse in this county each and every month," Barrett said.
Hinds called the shoes "deeply saddening" but at the same time seeing the way organizations are teaming up to lower the rates of child abuse is uplifting.
"We know that investing in kids is how you invest in the future, how you invest in your communities, and how to save money," Hinds said. "It is right for the moral reasons. It is right from an economic investment reason."
Despite the sad display of shoes, Child Care of the Berkshires CEO Anne Nemetz-Carlson shared a converse story. She said through the Children's Trust the Family Center was able to get 470 new shoes to give to local children. She said things like that is what Child Care of the Berkshires is able to do help parents.