Childhood is supposed to be a time of happiness and light, a time of innocence and fun, of love and support. But, for too many their lives are filled with fear, with pain, with loneliness.
The numbers are staggering. According to the Department of Human Services, 11,575 Oklahoma children were abuse or neglect victims in 2013, a 16.8 percent increase from the year before. Of those children 68.2 percent were neglected, 36.8 percent were physically abused and 5.5 percent were sexually abused.
It isn’t all bad news, however. In Canadian County, these children are not alone – every day of the year, they have a legion of people who work to make their lives better, who try to bring some sunshine to their worlds. And, there’s no time that’s more true than in April, during Child Abuse Awareness Month. It should also be a time for the rest of us to shine a light on their efforts and how much difference they have made in the lives of the smallest and most vulnerable of us.
A few weeks ago, some of these people gathered on a windy, cold day to hang blue ribbons marking the start of Child Abuse Awareness Month. They were a group of women who work together a lot – Stacie Seymour, Julia Cochran, Ashley Cline, Lauren Greenfield and Jenna Cansler. As they hung their ribbons, I have to confess I heard snippets of conversation, discussions about children they care for and want to help. And, I realized those blue strips were much more than what they at first seemed. They truly were a symbol of those who suffer so much.
Of course, Seymour and the others work for agencies that concentrate their efforts on changing people’s lives – Canadian County Youth and Family Services and Red Rock Behavioral Services. Those, along with the county health department, Gary E. Miller Canadian County Children’s Justice Center and more, employ so many people who consider what they do more than a job, so much so they use their free time to continue those efforts.
Part of that is through the Canadian County Coalition for Children and Families. The group is a “who’s who” of those people in the area who are dedicated to making real change for children who need it. And, it’s not just children – the group works to make families stronger from the inside, helps empower and educate parents, helping families find adequate medical care and even deals with things like trying to stop smoking, alcohol and drug addiction and more.
Their reasoning is simple, coalition member Rosemary Klepper once told me – helping the parents improve their lives also makes each day better for children. While some situations make it necessary to remove kids from their parents, that’s not always the best move. It’s a dance and a complicated one because every effort is geared to helping children not be a part of those terrible statistics.
“It’s just such an honor to be a part of these kids’ lives, to be able to help them,” coalition member Billie Linam once told me.
I suspect the honor really belongs to all of those people they have helped, even those of us who don’t even know what they’ve done and what they continue to do. They give the gift of hope and that’s no small feat at all.