Statistics about child abuse are staggering. Nationally, an estimated 1,670 children died from abuse and neglect in 2015, according to the U.S. Administration for Children and Families. One in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before their 18th birthdays.
Of those, 95 percent know their perpetrators and 25 percent were not old enough to attend kindergarten when they were abused.
Jones County is no exception. In 2018, there were more than 60 children who were the victims in child-abuse investigations done by our law enforcement. In May 2019, that number was already 42.
4 p.m., Saturday, Laurel Exchange Club Dodgeball Tournament on Front Street in Downtown Laurel, $150 team registration fee; team members must be at least 18 and sign a waiver; teams consist of four members, including a captain, plus one alternate. Captains will meet at 6 p.m. Friday in the parking lot next to Laurel Mercantile; contact the Exchange Club of Laurel at email@example.com
Chances are, if you are reading this, you were abused or you know someone who has been abused. These children need access to medical and mental-health care, victims’ advocacy, forensic interviews and sometimes help with basic necessities, such as food, clothing and shelter.
Forensic interviews greatly assist law enforcement and prosecutors in the effort to take the perpetrators off the street and save other children from abuse at their hands. These services are offered at children’s advocacy centers (CACs) nationally.
Our children face a critical disadvantage here in Jones County. We do not have a children’s advocacy center. When abuse is reported, we must transport our children to other counties, most often the Mississippi coast, to conduct forensic interviews. Not only is this travel painstaking for the children, families and law enforcement, our children also forfeit other services that would be afforded them if a CAC were in our local community.
Recognizing that our children deserve more, Cherished Hearts, Inc., is a non-profit organization dedicated to opening a CAC in Jones County.
Cherished Hearts has a dedicated group of individuals who volunteer their time and are committed to opening a CAC here in Jones County. Our children and their proper development and care must be a priority for all of us.
Nelson Mandela once said, “Safety and security don’t just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.”
Cherished Hearts needs the community’s support in order to help our children.
Be on the lookout for fundraising activities in the near future.
Please also come out for the Exchange Club and Slowboat Brewing Company’s dodgeball tournament in downtown Laurel at 4 p.m. on Saturday, which will benefit Cherished Hearts.
Dana Bumgardner is president of the Board of Directors of Cherished Hearts, Inc.