Several locals gathered on the front lawn of the Tift County Courthouse Monday morning for the annual Tift County Council on Child Abuse's "A Voice For All Children" pinwheel ceremony. Displayed on the lawn were 506 colorful pinwheels representing 506 children who were abused or neglected in 2013 in Tift County.
TCCCY President Beth Lewis welcomed everyone. She commented on the 506 child abuse cases in Tift County and said in 2008, the county was the third highest in the state of Georgia, adding Tift County has now dropped to 71 in the state because of "dedicated people like you."
"There's no excuse for abuse," Lewis said.
Greg Millette, executive director of United Way of South Central Georgia, thanked everyone for being there. He said they are very proud as the Tift County Council on Child Abuse to have the city and county governments consistently and regularly acknowledge the work they do and that child abuse is an issue that needs to be confronted in the community. He said to have them on board as partners and allies is a great thing.
Millette said at their regular meetings last week, the city and county provided proclamations, asking citizens to get involved and be a part of the solution. He then read a combined city/county proclamation. The TCCCY has organized a public awareness campaign to focus on awareness and prevention activities and services necessary to eliminate child abuse as part of the national observance of Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month.
Following the reading of the proclamation, Mayor Jamie Cater said it was a pleasure to be at the ceremony and to see friends, but “this is always a sad occasion.”
Commenting on the 506 cases of child abuse, he held up his index finger and said, “One is too many.”
Melissa Wood with the Patticake House then introduced keynote speaker Kevin Hutto, chief assistant district attorney. She commented she first met Hutto in 2002 when she was working at the Tifton Police Department in the investigations division. She said they had a horrendous case of child abuse and she was the lead investigator, while Hutto was the prosecuting attorney. She said he "fought for that child and he did get the justice that child deserved."
As Hutto took the podium, he thanked everyone for attending the ceremony and asking him to speak. He began his speech with words from an abused little girl named Mary Ellen McCormack. In 1874, the 10-year-old testified against her adoptive mother who was charged and found guilty of several counts of assault and battery.
According to the New York Times, "it was Mary Ellen who finally put a human face on child abuse — and prompted a reformers’ crusade to prevent it and to protect its victims, an effort that continues to this day."
The case was brought by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In 1874, there were no laws protecting children from physical abuse from their parents. The New York Times reported that Mary Ellen never returned to her adoptive home. Her case led to the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children being founded in December 1874. It was believed to be the first child protective agency in the world.
"Where are we in Georgia today?" Hutto asked. "Well, we're doing better than we did 140 years ago, but there's a long way to go."
He said according to the 2012 Georgia Child Fatality Review Annual Report, of the 516 child deaths that were deemed reviewable by Child Fatality Review committees, 90 percent were reviewed at the county level. Of those deaths, 58 were found to be homicide and 29 were considered suicide.
"Almost 20 percent of these children took their own lives or had someone else take them," he said. "Of that number, 16, or 28 percent of the perpetrators were the biological parent, step-parent or adoptive parent. Another six were found to be perpetrated by relatives, a sibling or grandparent."
Also during his speech, Hutto said Tift County is making some progress.
"Child abuse is not inevitable, it's preventable," he said.
He said each of the 506 pinwheels on the front lawn of the courthouse represent a tragedy, but also an opportunity.
"My plea to you today is to open your hearts and your homes and make a difference in a child's life. What can you do? Volunteer your money, your skills, your time, your passion. Let's have fewer of these things next year," Hutto said.
Also, McEntyre reminded everyone that during this month, blue ribbons can be purchased for $20 each in support of Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month. To find out more about how to help or to purchase a blue ribbon, call 388-1000, e-mail email@example.com or stop by the TCCCY office at 418 N. Ridge Ave.
To contact reporter Latasha Ford, call 382-4321.