02/22/06 — Vigil reminds county to protect children

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Vigil reminds county to protect children

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on February 22, 2006 1:54 PM

Two-month-old Kalandra died when she was hit on the head. One-year-old Malachi lost his life after he was hit in the stomach. Newborn Baby Vasquez died from being neglected after he was born.

Members of the For the Children Council of Wayne County want to make sure the children's stories are not forgotten -- and that the hundreds of other like them who suffer in silence will some day be heard and protected.

The group gathered to honor the children at its second annual candlelight vigil Tuesday at Berkeley Mall.

Five tiers of small candles represented the 608 substantiated cases of child neglect and abuse in Wayne County during 2004. The four sets of seven tall candles were for the children killed in North Carolina that year. And the three large candles honored the memory of the three children killed in Wayne County in 2004.

The vigil's theme was "Life L.I.G.H.T.S. (love, instruction, guardianship, hope, time and sponsorship) for Children." The purpose was to raise awareness of the child neglect and abuse problem here and to remember those children who were its victims.

Guardian ad Litem director Colleen Kosinski said that in 2004 there were 1,856 reported cases of maltreatment to children in Wayne County. Of that number, 608 were substantiated and 97 children were placed into Department of Social Services custody. Mrs. Kosinski said that's a 79 percent increase over the previous year.

She also reported that in North Carolina during 2004, there were 107,157 reported cases of maltreatment of children and 30,016 were substantiated. Of that number, 9,831 were placed into Department of Social Services custody.

"We are failing as far as abuse and neglect is concerned," Mrs. Kosinski said. "If child abuse and neglect was a communicable disease, we would be at epidemic levels in North Carolina. It's in every segment of the community."

She said the problem won't stop until citizens stand up and say "enough is enough."

"The community needs to be responsible," said Mrs. Kosinski. "It's not enough to say we will put a stop to child abuse and neglect. We have to volunteer our time to help children and families. We have to develop community programs to support families. If we don't do that, we're going to continue to see these skyrocketing numbers and what these numbers represent are children being harmed. If you're out in the community and see somebody abusing a child, don't just turn and walk away; say something."

For Children Council President Verna Best said every child deserves happiness, proper nutrition and a decent place to live. Their community should be a place for them to grow, not a danger.

"We must defend our innocent children," she said. "Standing together for the children, we can make their dreams come true, me and you."

The Rev. Freddie Barnes also talked about child neglect and abuse saying, "A few years ago these candles would have represented something different than they do tonight. They would represent hope, a thousand points of light. But tonight the candles mean something sinister and ghastly.

"A horrible thing has gone on too long around us, but these lights can also represent hope, the hope that comes by way of an irony. They call attention to a horrible ugliness while at the same time this awareness is our hope."

Concluding the candlelight vigil was a performance by seven members of Patricia Warren's Artistic Dance Academy. They danced to the song "Jesus Don't Let Them Hurt Your Children."