April is both Sexual Assault Awareness and Child Abuse Prevention month – and during previous years, the Voices for Children Advocacy Center of Shiawassee (previously the Child Advocacy Center) made a large effort to raise awareness of child abuse through a blue pinwheel fundraising effort. April 2020 seems more unusual than ever during the COVID-19 crisis minus the numerous displays of blue pinwheels that would decorate Shiawassee County, though a few residents have decorated the windows and doors of their homes with the theme.
However, a pandemic does not prevent the necessity of child advocacy and the nonprofit organization, located in western Owosso, is still in operation as it is recognized as an essential service. According to Ellen Lynch, executive director at the center, the group has been carefully practicing social distancing and other safety protocols with COVID-19 in mind. However, their focus is always on the wellbeing of the children they serve.
Due to quarantining and with schools being closed, the greatest concern is that many abuse cases might be going unreported. “School allows for a type of safe haven for some children where being home alone doesn’t always allow for support or outreach,” Lynch recently explained. It should be noted that as of two years ago, Shiawassee County was reporting over 200 forensic investigations involving child abuse. Another community of similar size and numbers was only reporting just over 120 forensic investigations. Genesee County, the affiliate partner of the Voices of Children Advocacy Center of Shiawassee, conducted 600 cases. Likely, as the crisis peaks and some normalcy slowly returns, the advocates at the center are “anticipating we will be really busy,” Lynch said.
So what can neighbors or others do during this time if abuse is suspected? If an abuse situation appears concrete and/or obvious, residents should call the abuse hotline at (855) 444-3911. If a neighbor maybe hasn’t seen little “Timmy” or “Kayla” outside recently, it is okay to reach out to another neighbor and ask for an update of information. The individuals doing intake or those behind the investigations are trained to “weed out” possible abuse situations, so the community should have confidence in their skills.
Opposite the issue of child abuse, is the potential for parents or guardians who recognize they have reached a breaking point during the crisis and are in need of outreach for their own struggles and that help is available, too. The Shiawassee County Health Dept. essential needs hotline is (989) 743-2460 or Shiawassee Health & Wellness can be reached at (989) 723-6791 and that phone line is available 24/7.
Lynch wanted to offer her gratitude for those organizations and businesses that have stepped forward with their support during this month. Some included the Cook Family Foundation who was active early on, recognizing the need to assist those as stress levels were increasing. Lynch also mention how thankful she was to the Korner Pub for their recent donation from a hot dog sale promotion and the Schluckebier Hood Wealth Management Group for matching that donation. She also highlighted how Light of Faith Fellowship in Durand had purchased pinwheels just prior to quarantine and that she was grateful to the church.
For more on how to help Voices for Children Advocacy Center of Shiawassee, please call (989) 723-5877 ext. 220. If you leave a message, Lynch will return your call. Additional resources and information is provided at www.geneseeserves.org.
The organization remains open and is still conducting therapy and reaching out to clients.