02/25/09 — County vigil shines candlelight on abused, neglected children

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County vigil shines candlelight on abused, neglected children

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on February 25, 2009 1:46 PM

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Colleen Kosinski, Guardian ad Litem director, lights candles during the Life L.I.G.H.T.S. for Children candlelight vigil Tuesday at Berkeley Mall. The candles represent children who have died as a result of abuse or neglect.

The light from 551 tiny candles flickered for an hour Tuesday night, reminding those in attendance of children suffering abuse and neglect in Wayne County.

Another 25 burned brightly to honor the children who have died in North Carolina.

The Life L.I.G.H.T.S. for Children candlelight vigil was held at Berkeley Mall, sponsored by the WAGES For Children Council of Wayne County.

During the vigil, Guardian ad Litem Director Colleen Kosinski said there has been some progress in the efforts to protect children.

"Since the inception of the Child Fatality Task Force, (the state) has reduced childhood deaths by 20 percent," she said. "The child booster seat law reduced child deaths from motor vehicle accidents by 60 percent since 2004."

Child advocates also are working to make sure more people know about the safe surrender law, which allows parents to turn over a child who is seven days old or younger without facing criminal prosecution, she added.

The recent increase in the minimum wage is a way to help people to be able to support their families -- and could have a positive effect on reducing neglect, Mrs. Kosinski said.

Increased penalties for child abuse also could improve the statistics even more, she added.

But even with all the work that has been done, there are still too many reports, too many children suffering, Mrs. Kosinksi said.

"There were 551 substantiated cases of abuse and neglect in Wayne County, which is a rate of 18.9 percent per 1,000 children as opposed to the state rate which was 9.8 percent per 1,000 children. That's a pretty significant rate," she said.

She also noted that 22 percent of North Carolina's children live in poverty.

"A quarter of a million children in North Carolina have no health insurance," she said.

Also, one in three students who start high school will not graduate, Mrs. Kosinski added.

"All of these things make it real important for all of us to work together," she said. "It's going to be a really bad economic year, and they're talking about major cuts to different programs, and children's programs are always the first to be cut. But they're the programs we need to put our money into if we're going to keep children safe, out of juvenile detention, out of jail."

Mrs. Kosinski said child abuse and neglect affect everyone, even those who don't have children.

Mrs. Kosinski said it's one thing to see a statistics representing the children who have experienced abuse and neglect. It's another to see all the tiny candles, one for each child who has been a victim.

"It's even more poignant when we blow the candles out," she said. "It makes me think of the terrible things that have happened to children. We can't give up on them."

Entertainment for the vigil was provided by the Carver Heights Elementary School chorus ensemble, directed by music director Kevin Alston.