According to the Prevent Child Abuse Missouri magazine, more than three million children were reported to child protective service agencies as alleged victims of abuse or neglect during 2000. One million of those reports were confirmed.
But rather than focus on the victims during National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April, the Scott County Sheriff's Department is taking a pro-active approach to help children create positive memories with their family.
The pilot project started last week when Sheriff Bill Ferrell, Patricia Garner, Sgt. Jerry Bledsoe and Lt. Brenda Schiwitz helped the 2-5 year olds at Care-A-Lot day care in Kelso make flower pots for their mothers and did the same on Tuesday with SEMO Christian Academy's 3-year-old class. In all they reached nearly 100 youths over the two-day period.
Ferrell talked to the children about stranger danger and being safe before the youngsters were divided by age into groups with a deputy helping each group. The flower pots kits, which came in a packet sponsored by Target, consist of art foam, small pots filled with plaster of paris and a popsicle stick for each. Youngsters each attached a ribbon that read, "Have You Hugged Your Kid Today?"
"They could take that home with them and get a hug from their parents," said Schiwitz. "It was really neat, we got hugs. You wouldn't believe the little kids that would run up to you and grab you around the leg. We talked to the kids and they weren't afraid. We had our uniforms on and of course Sheriff Ferrell wore his cowboy hat.
"Hugs are better than anything else. The Sheriff has the "Have You Hugged Your Kid Today' campaign that he's runs every December since he's been in office so this is kind of a little stint on that. This was just a first time thing, we did it on a trial-and-error basis to see what kind of activities would work. April is going to be designated at Child Abuse Prevention Month probably and we'll probably keep doing this program. We'd like to get more day cares involved."
She believes the lack of time spent with children today can be attributed to busy lifestyles and she urges parents to make their children a priority, even if it's only 15 minutes a day.
"The family unit just isn't as cohesive and tight as it used to be. Parents are working out of the home a lot and it takes two incomes. It's unusual to have a two-parent family where everybody sits down and has supper together every night, that's just not happening. A lot of things are taking place outside the home that used to take place in the home. Used to on Sunday afternoons everyone was sitting around cranking the ice cream maker and now you run out and get a gallon. And there's so much more television for kids. You say go watch TV or go stick a video in because mom's got to iron or do laundry. It's more fragmented so anything we can do to get these kids an extra hug, by golly we're going to do it."
Ferrell is in hopes the idea will set the wheels in motion. "I encourage everyone to observe National Child Abuse Prevention Month by spending time with your child doing something special he said. "Take a walk, read a story, go out for a burger and ice cream. Little things like these can mean so much to your child.
"This is an appropriate opportunity to remind ourselves of our responsibility to prevent the abuse and neglect that rob so many of our children of their childhood, their sense of security and well-being and their future," Ferrell said.
Ferrell's statistics show 43 percent of American parents report spanking or hitting their child within the last 12 months and 37 percent report insulting or swearing at their child. Two percent report having kicked, bit or punched their child.