On Thursday, parents in Juneau should take a walk with their kids and look at the clouds. The following Wednesday, they should tell a family story. On April 23, they should go to the public library together.
Strengthening families is as simple as these and the 27 other activities listed in a family activity calendar published for the month of April by the Southeast Alaska Child Abuse Prevention Network.
Members of Juneau's social service community kick off national Child Abuse Prevention Month today. The month will include a series of activities to increase awareness of the number of abused and neglected children in the state.
Several events will be held at noon Thursdays at the Dimond Courthouse plaza to draw attention to the issue of child abuse and neglect. Radio talk-show discussions on the subject also will be held throughout the month.
In Juneau, 132 children who suffered from abuse or neglect in their homes are in foster care, said Natalie Powers, program director for Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies and chairwoman for the Southeast Alaska Child Abuse Network.
More than 15,000 cases of abuse or neglect were reported to the Alaska Division of Family and Youth Services in Alaska in 2000, the last year for which statistics are available.
"When you look at the rates of children that are being abused and neglected in our state, it's more an indicator of what else is happening in our state," Powers said. Children who are abused or neglected often live in poverty, have family members with substance-abuse issues, or have parents who are victims of domestic violence.
"It's important to have a month to recognize that these are the issues," Powers said. "It's not an underground problem in Alaska. It's a big problem."
Community members are encouraged to wear mint green ribbons to raise awareness of child abuse and neglect in the state.
"The ribbons are to support children," said Debra Gerrish, president of Rid Alaska of Child Abuse, the nonprofit organization that runs the ribbon campaign. "Children don't have a voice. Adults are the voice for the children, and this is a way for people to show that they support the prevention of child abuse."
Though ribbons abound to support various causes - red ribbons for AIDS research, pink ribbons for breast cancer victims, yellow ribbons for American troops abroad - all Alaskans should be concerned with the proliferation of child abuse and neglect, Gerrish said.
"If they don't help to stop child abuse, they're going to be putting out more money to pay for foster homes and to pay for jails, because kids that are abused are your high-risk kids," she said.
More than 30,000 pamphlets and mint green ribbon pins will be distributed throughout the state this month, Gerrish said. In Juneau, they will be available at cafes, restaurants, service stations and retail shops. The campaign is the only fund-raising event the volunteer-run Rid Alaska of Child Abuse holds during the year.
"If people want to make a donations, I say give what your heart tells you to," Gerrish said.
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