The University of Georgia School of Social Work has a goal for April: to bring awareness to child abuse and neglect. The school held an event Monday to recognize UGA’s first Child Abuse Awareness Month. The event aimed to educate students and faculty about child abuse, and teach them how to respond if they detect children being mistreated.
“Child abuse and neglect is an issue across the entire country,” Allison Dunnigan, director of the Title IV-E program at UGA said. “And in Athens-Clarke County, it’s an issue here just like it is everywhere else.”
Dunnigan coordinated the school’s child abuse awareness event, and she directs Title IV-E, which is a program designed to support students pursuing their bachelor’s or master’s in social work through specialized courses and hands-on experience working in child welfare. The students will also pursue a career in social work through the Division of Family and Children Services after college in an effort to help vulnerable children.
Athens-Clarke County has a large amount of vulnerable children, mostly due to how many kids live below the poverty line, according to David Kelley, the coordinator of the Title IV-E program at UGA. The county is the smallest geographically in Georgia, but has many children living below the poverty line. Kelley said poverty is the number one indicator for child neglect.
The UGA School of Social Work planted 615 pinwheels in their courtyard to represent each case of child abuse investigated in Athens-Clarke County in 2018.
“The symbol stands for the childhood that we want our children to have,” Kelley said. “It’s about the whimsical nature of what childhood should be. We’re trying to celebrate what childhood should and could be.”
This problem is not specific to Athens, or the state of Georgia. Nearly 700,000 children are abused in the United States every year, according to The National Children’s Alliance. Between four and five children die every day in the U.S. as a result of child abuse.
Kelley said training people to recognize the signs of child abuse is vital. The school passed out materials at the event Monday with tips on parenting in certain situations, and how to respond when children are in danger.
“The idea is to be aware of what children may be experiencing,” Kelley said, “and don’t be afraid to ask.”
The best way to report child abuse or neglect is to call the statewide confidential line at 1-855-422-4453. If a child is in imminent danger, you should call 911 immediately.
Luke Gamble is a senior majoring in journalism at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.