Delaware renews effort to combat child abuse

 Dr. Vicky Kelly, director of the Del. Div. of Family Services speaks at the Blue Bow campaign launch event in Wilmington. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Dr. Vicky Kelly, director of the Del. Div. of Family Services speaks at the Blue Bow campaign launch event in Wilmington. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

With the hope of reducing the number of incidents in the First State, this year’s Blue Bow campaign seeks to train more than 35,000 Delawareans to recognize the signs of child abuse, 

Nationally, about one out of every ten children will experience abuse. In nine out of ten of those abuse cases, the perpetrator will be someone who is close to the victim.

In Delaware, the child abuse rate has decreased. Roughly 1,500 substantiated cases of child abuse were reported in Delaware in 2013, compared to 1,700 cases in 2012. While the decreases are encouraging, and reflective of a similar national trend, child protection advocates say that there are still too many children suffering.

“When a child is abused, life changes,” said Leslie Newman, CEO of Children and Families First. “It’s everyone’s responsibility to assure that all of Delaware’s children have the opportunity to grow up in a safe, nurturing environment.” 

On Wednesday afternoon, Newman was joined by other child advocate groups at the Blue Bow campaign launch event in Wilmington. The blue bow, a symbol used to represent child-abuse prevention efforts, honors a Virginia grandmother who tied a blue bow on her car antenna after her grandson was killed as a result of child abuse.

Community impact

While the state has a mandate to continue efforts that protect children from abuse, these efforts are said to have an impact on the community at large. It’s something Patricia Dailey Lewis has witnessed first-hand as the director of the family division in Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden’s office.

“Take a walk around any of our facilities where we house perpetrators of violence on our communities and find out how many of those people were abused as children,” Lewis said. “Where does this violence begin? It begins with child abuse and domestic violence. It begins in the home. It begins when people are victimized by the only people they trust.”

While some people may have suffered abuse without any long-term effects, that is not the case for everyone. She said five of her brothers were hit with a belt while growing up: four of them were fine, but one died at the age of 42 after years of alcohol and drug abuse

“Abuse and violence begins in our home and it destroys our neighborhoods,” Lewis said.

Seeing the signs

This year, the Blue Bow campaign is focused on training 35,000 Delawareans to identify the signs of child abuse. That training will utilize the Stewards of Children program, which includes a five step guide to prevent and identify possible abuse.

On the prevention side, the guide suggests eliminating isolated or one-on-one situations between children and adults. The program also encourages ongoing dialogue with children about their bodies and the appropriate boundaries.

To identify signs of abuse, the training material encourages adults to watch for signs of withdrawal, anger or fear of people or situations. A suspicion of abuse should be investigated.

“People who offend are rarely seen in the act of sexually abusing a child, but they are often seen breaking rules and pressing boundaries,” the guide states.

The training program has already been implemented at the YMCA of Delaware with positive results, according to YMCA CEO Deborah Begatta-Bowles.

‘Guaranteed to reduce abuse’

In addition to the training program, the state is also touting a program, proved over decades, to reduce incidents of abuse. Gov. Jack Markell called for an expansion of the Nurse Family Partnership program during his State of the State Address in January.

Through the NFP program, nurses make home visits to teach first-time, low-income mothers how to care for their babies.

“These visits are guaranteed to reduce the number of incidents of child abuse,” said Lt. Gov. Matt Denn, a longtime advocate for children’s issues. Markell’s proposal would expand the number of mothers served in the program from 200 to 500 at a cost of about $1.3 million.

Denn encouraged those at the Blue Bow campaign launch to call their lawmakers, and urge them to support funding for an expansion of the NFP program. despite the difficult budget year that legislators face

“I’m very hopeful and very determined that this particular item stay in the budget because there are actual, real live kids who are being born in the next calendar year who will not be abused as a result of this happening,” Denn said. 

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