Sunday, April 11, 2010

Kinderhaven Launches Blue Ribbon Campaign in Recognition of Child Abuse Prevention Month


They are heartbreaking stories. Tales of lost innocence. Abuse, neglect and violence at the hands of one in whom children place all their trust – their parents, caregivers or a close family friend. And it is that loss of trust that can significantly impact a child’s development. Because the stories are so upsetting, they have remained untold. Until now.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Staff and the board of directors for Sandpoint’s Kinderhaven – a privately funded nonprofit home for abused and neglected children that serves the five northern counties in Idaho – are taking the opportunity to let people know that these stories are happening in this area. The goal is to not only educate the community on signs of abuse but to give the children a voice.

Kim Diercks, president of Kinderhaven’s Board of Directors, tells of a 12-year-old who walked his younger sibling five miles to Bonner General Hospital’s emergency room to be treated for a severe allergic reaction. The family was living in a van in a store parking lot and the parents were away all day drinking. And this was not an isolated event. Sometimes the parents would disappear for two to three days leaving the 12-year-old to care for his many siblings.

Former board president Marsha Ogilvie has countless stories that come to mind about other past or present Kinderhaven residents.

“There was an 8-year-old little girl who was drugged by her mother’s boyfriend, sexually abused while being filmed along with a neighbor boy,” said Ogilvie. “The pornographic images were then published on the Internet.”

And then there was the story of an 18-month-old boy who had been deprived of milk because his father felt he was too old for a bottle. His father burned the boy’s scrotum and finger tips with a lighter.

Longtime board member Barb Merritt recalls one occasion when a small child crawled to her, lifting his arms, begging to be held. She bent down to pick him up and was quickly stopped by the Kinderhaven staff.

“You must scoop him up from his bottom,” she was told. She lifted the young child’s shirt only to discover bruises covering his midsection. Picking him up as one normally would a small child would have meant excruciating pain for him.

One day Merritt took one of the young residents on a bike ride – offering some special one-on-one time with a trusted adult. The two stopped for lunch along the way.

“He ordered everything on the children’s menu,” said Merritt. “He said he wanted to eat one meal and bring back all the rest to share with his siblings (who were also at Kinderhaven). This child loves to share everything.” She tearfully adds that this same boy told staff members that his mom had tried to kill him.

In an effort to raise awareness, Kinderhaven officials have launched a blue ribbon campaign – originally started by a grandmother who lost a grandchild to abuse – with the blue representing the bruises that cover an abused child’s body.

“Our primary goal is to increase awareness of child abuse – its prevalence and symptoms – as a first step in helping prevent it,” said Kinderhaven’s executive director Phyllis Horvath. “For social change to occur we must first have awareness of the issue.”

Drive through Sandpoint during April and you will see blue ribbons on several trees in the area as well as several hundred Sandpoint residents sporting blue wristbands with Kinderhaven inscribed on them.

“We sold out of the wristbands within the first couple of days,” said Diercks, adding that the initial order of 1,000 had to be reordered to meet the high demand.

In April, Kinderhaven representatives will visit Chamber of Commerce meetings and Rotary organizations, throughout the five northern counties, educating groups on Kinderhaven’s role in their communities.

Unfortunately, the high cost of running a facility that must be staffed 24 hours a day 365 days a year has left Kinderhaven nearly $70,000 short of its budget this year. The goal is to not only raise awareness but they are hopeful that even in these tough economic times people can dig a little deeper and contribute what they can to help protect the most vulnerable members of the communities.

“Whether it is a child donating a week’s allowance or a company choosing Kinderhaven to be the beneficiary of its giving, every bit helps,” said Horvath. “In 14 years we have not turned a child away due to lack of funds and we don’t want this to be the year we have to do that. We must do what we can to protect all children. Every child deserves a chance in life.”

How to help

 To make a tax-deductible donation to Kinderhaven, go online to www.kinderhavensandpoint.com or mail your donation to Kinderhaven, P.O. Box 2097, Sandpoint, ID 83864.

 If you suspect child abuse, call the local Health and Welfare Child Protective Services. There is a hot line for confidential reporting. If you witness an incident of abuse or if you fear that a child is in immediate danger, call 911.

More information

From 2000 through 2009, 2,657 children have entered the foster care system in Idaho’s five northern counties. Statewide during those same years there were 13,377 children who entered foster care.

Sandpoint-based Kinderhaven has sheltered 1,300 kids since opening in 1996.

Kinderhaven partners with Court Appointed Special Advocates and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. Each child is appointed a CASA worker who is specifically there to represent the child’s interest. Health and Welfare, by law, must take into consideration the interest of the child and the rights of parents.

When a child is in the foster care system and experiences one change in living arrangements, that child has a 60 percent chance of successfully moving through the system and into adult years. If the child experiences two changes, the chances of success drop to 15 percent; with three changes, it drops to 5 percent

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