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Pictured from left are Beth Oakes, Child Advocacy Program executive director, and Carey Lee, advocacy coordinator, holding pinwheels as part of the Pinwheels for Prevention program.
P-J photos by Nikk Holland

Since 1983, April has been known as National Child Abuse Prevention month, and local organizations are looking to use the month to bring awareness to the issue.

Court Appointed Special Advocates of Chautauqua County is one of those organizations. By recruiting, training and supporting volunteers, CASA provides advocates for childrens’ needs in court and in the community.

“CASA volunteers are a constant for the child in a time of chaos,” executive director Kathy Park said. “A child may have multiple social workers, attorneys, therapists, and foster placements throughout the life of the case but only one CASA volunteer, which can make all the difference for the child’s future.”

CASA is crucial for the betterment of children in foster care, and the statistics show it. Children who have a CASA volunteer spend 20% less time in foster care compared to those without one. Studies also show that children with a CASA volunteer receive more services that increase their well-being compared to those who don’t and are four times more likely to find a safe, permanent home.

In Chautauqua County, there are over 100 children in foster care at any given time, and studies show that a growing number of these children come out of the foster care system without finding permanent homes. CASA advocates hope to remedy this issue.

Pinwheels are pictured outside the YWCA in Jamestown.

“The number of children in need of advocacy continues to grow and we aim to meet that need,” Park said. “Every child deserves the support of a caring, consistent, trained adult to help them find a safe, loving home where they can heal and thrive.”

Another factor that contributes to the number of children in the foster care system is the opioid epidemic, which is still prevalent in the county and alters the demographic of children entering care. With the lack of addiction treatment centers, housing, and foster care placements, the need for advocacy for these children is increasing.

This month, CASA is calling on community members to act on these growing issues with its Pinwheels for Prevention Campaign, a national awareness campaign formed by Prevent Child Abuse America to urge people to take action against child abuse.

Pinwheels for Prevention can be found at select banks and financial institutions in the area including Affinity One Federal Credit Union, Cattaraugus County Bank, Community Bank, Jamestown Area Federal Credit Union and Greater Chautauqua Federal Credit Union.

Local businesses, too, will be participating in the campaign such as Ashville General Store, Brigiotta’s Farmland Produce & Garden Center, Inc., Chautauqua Liquor & Wine, Dr. Erika Connor’s office, Graham’s Market, Off the Beaten Path Bookstore, Pea Pod & Juniper, Raynor’s Liquor, Robo Enterprises, Hogans Hut, Bridgeview One Stop and Stewart’s Hardware.

“Each year I hope that everyone who sees a pinwheel garden alongside the road, in a bank or business, or displayed at a neighbor’s home people will take a quick minute to reflect on its significance as a happy, uplifting symbol of childhood in which all children deserve,” said Park. “The satisfaction of seeing our community come together to support and learn of ways and resources to keep our children safe leaves me profoundly hopeful for our children’s future.”

To participate in the campaign, visit any of these banks or businesses to purchase a $2 pinwheel or a $1 pinwheel card to take a stand against child abuse.

A way for children to participate in Child Abuse Prevention Month is with CASA’s Children’s Creative Contest. Children are encouraged to submit an original piece of artwork that will be displayed on CASA social media platforms. More information about the contest can be found on CASA’s website.

Families can also find downloadable pinwheel coloring sheets on the CASA website for $1. Finished coloring sheets can be posted on Facebook and include #ChautCASAP4P and tag CASA of Chautauqua.

Child Advocacy Program is another local organization that works throughout the county to support children who have been victims of abuse from its two locations in Jamestown and Dunkirk.

“An advocate’s job is to provide support to the child and families after there has been some sort of disclosure of child abuse,” advocacy coordinator Carey Lee said. “The advocate meets with the caregiver in here (the CAP building) when the child comes in for a forensic interview and explains to them what they can expect when they come here to CAP.”

Advocates have a very integral part in child abuse cases since they are involved with the family from the beginning to the very end of the case, and sometimes longer. CAP works with a multitude of different partners in any given case including law enforcement, Child Protective Services and prosecution.

“Our team consists of law enforcement, CPS, prosecution, mental health providers in the area, medical providers in the area and other human service agencies,” Lee said.

Another part of the CAP team is their service dog, Willow, that provides comfort for kids who are engaged in the forensic interview process.

CAP has a wide array of services available in the building including counseling such as Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, play therapy and services for children with problematic sexual behaviors.

Within their Jamestown building, CAP also has a medical room to provide medical exams.

“CAP partners with the Chautauqua Center , Jamestown Pediatrics, and UPMC for medical exams,” Lee said. “Jennifer Wilcox, a nurse practitioner at the Chautauqua Center will do medical exams for kids right here at CAP. It’s kind of that one-stop-shop”

“Sometimes transportation is a problem in our county” director Beth Oakes said. “So it’s good to have everything here so for families there aren’t multiple places to go.”

CAP is also partnered with Chautauqua County Mental Hygiene to provide counseling for kids, with two counselors providing their service in the building.

In addition to fighting against and providing services for victims of child abuse in the county, CAP also provides prevention training such as Stewards of Children, which teaches adults to recognize and respond to abuse, Less is More training for mandated first reporters, and first responder training.

In addition to both promoting and being a part of the Pinwheels for Prevention campaign, CAP is selling blue light bulbs as a part of the Shine a Light on Child Abuse movement. For $20, families can purchase a blue light bulb for their porch lights to raise awareness for child abuse.

“I’ve had a lot people ask, ‘Why do you have blue lights on your porch?’” Oakes said. “It just offers you an opportunity to talk about it (child abuse awareness), and with this, we’re taking our stand against child abuse.”

Raising awareness is critical because child abuse is happening here and now. Last year, CAP provided services to 486 children with 271 of those children being victims of child sexual abuse. Just in the first quarter of this year, CAP has provided services to over 100 children.

“We would love to paint the community blue and have the blue light bulbs everywhere,” Lee said. “Child abuse happens all the time. I know it’s that topic that people aren’t comfortable talking about, and sometimes it seems easier to act like it doesn’t happen.”

Both CASA and CAP are raising awareness through the Pinwheels for Prevention campaign as well as the Shine a Light on Child Abuse movement so that an issue as difficult to discuss as this becomes easier to talk about, which leads to more action being taken against child abuse in our community.

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