MARION -Hundreds of children gathered to play on inflatables, play games and participate in an Easter egg hunt Saturday at Marion County Children Services.
April is Child Abuse Awareness month, and the fifth annual Pinwheel Play Day provided the community with a free family fun day, while also raising awareness, said Jacqueline Ringer, director of Marion County Children Services.
Through the merriment, children made their way to the trees in front of the Children Services offices to help volunteers plant pinwheels – 679 of them.
The idea for the pinwheels came from the national campaign, “Pinwheels for Prevention.”
“The pinwheel was chosen because it is a symbol that represents kids and serves as a visual reminder for communities that abuse is real,” Ringer said.
Each pinwheel stands for one investigation that was finished by the agency in 2011. There were 679 investigations finished in 2011, up from 647 in 2010.
“The pinwheels also represent the voices of those who spoke up on behalf of children,” said Terrie Robinson, placement services and community education coordinator for Marion County Children Services.
“We like to say ‘awareness’ instead of ‘prevention,'” said Robinson. “We can’t get involved with the families until a report is made. We can only provide education on the preventative side. We can only work with families after something has happened.”
The agency members stress the importance of reporting suspected abuse.
“It is important to report suspicious behavior,” said Anna Tinnerello, intake and assessment supervisor for Marion County Children Services.
“The caller may make a difference and assist in getting families the services they need. That may be education or services in the community. Ultimately, they are making a difference in the life of that child.
“The most important thing is to not assume that something that seems obvious is common knowledge.”
Tinnerello said if residents suspect abuse or neglect, they should report it.
“Those that are concerned can call in to our agency (740-389-2317), or they can come out to our agency (1680 Marion-Waldo Road).”
She said the agency has staff on call all the time.
“After hours, we have someone who can be contacted through the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.” This is for emergency situations only.
After a resident makes an initial call to report suspicious behavior, Children Services will determine if it meets the criteria of the law. Then, they investigate.
“We are then able to determine if a child is safe or not,” Tinnerello said. “It allows intervention to occur if necessary.”
Tinnerello said the goal of Children Services is not to break families apart. “We want to strengthen to them so they can stay united.”
“Of course, if a child is in danger, we have to take measures to ensure their safety. We then build services around the family.”
In 2011, Marion County Children Services provided services to 1,471 children.
“That is one in 10 children in Marion County,” Ringer said.
During investigations, Ringer said, there are indicators that many of the families coming in contact with Children Services face: Single head of household, economic problems, substance abuse, caretaker abused as a child, and family violence.
Out of the 679 investigations, 80 children were taken into agency custody in 2011.
Robinson said the children who are taken into agency custody are placed in licensed facilities.
“Any time that we take custody of a child, they are placed in a licensed facility, either a treatment facility or a foster home.”
Of the 80 children that were placed with the agency, Ringer said the majority were placed in the agency’s foster homes.
“Not all were able to be placed in foster care in Marion County. Some of our children were placed in residential facilities, a last ditch effort,” she said.
Ringer said the agency recruits, trains and licenses foster care providers.
“We have 34 providers, and we are always looking for more,” she said.
Robinson said foster parents provide for the basic needs of the child as far as food, clothing and shelter.
“They take them to appointments, get them enrolled in school, transport them to and from the agency for visitation with parents. They basically provide everything they would for their own children.”
Robinson said the role of foster parent is huge. She said having local foster homes can possibly keep children in their school district and their community.
“The more options we have, the better. That way, we can make good matches the first time around, and the children won’t have to move.”
“All these children that come into custody have been abused or neglected,” Ringer said . “They present their own needs. If we have a child with a lot of needs, we may have to search out foster homes in another network or agency. That is why it is so important to continue to recruit.”
For information about fostering a child, call Marion County Children Services at 740-389-2317.
There is also information on fostering, adoption and other educational items on the agency’s website,www.marionkids.com.