It might seem like a problem that would never happen in our town – a child is abused, starved or even passes away because of severe neglect. But it’s all too common, even in South Carolina. In fact, the Lowcountry ranks 39th when it comes to child well-being in the United States.
While it’s a tough pill to swallow, it’s one that Windwood Farm & Family Services aims to solve. With Child Abuse Prevention Month fast approaching in April, Callie Vanderbilt, Director of Communications at Windwood says that there are plenty of things community members can do to help.
The first step is recognizing the warning signs for child abuse, Vanderbilt notes. She also cautions that even if you notice some of the below risk factors, “the presence of warning signs doesn't necessarily mean that a child is being abused but we should always err on the side of child safety.”
Signs of Physical Abuse:
• Unexplained injuries, like bruises, fractures or burns
• Injuries that don’t match the child or caretaker’s explanations
Signs of Sexual Abuse:
• Sexual behavior or knowledge that is inappropriate for the child’s age
• Pregnancy or sexually transmitted diesases
• Blood in the child’s underwear
• Statements that he or she was sexually abused
• Trouble walking, sitting or complaints of genital pain
Signs of Emotional Abuse
• Delayed or inappropriate emotional development
• Loss of self-confidence or increased insecurity
• Socially withdrawn or depressed
• Headaches or stomach aches with no medical cause
• Drop in school performance or a loss of interest in class
Once child abuse or neglect is recognized and reported, Windwood helps victims and their families in a number of ways. “Through our Community Based Prevention Program we intervene with families before problems escalate,” Vanderbilt says. “We work with families to alleviate the issues that cause their report with the Department of Social Services and give the parents or caregivers the tools they need to raise healthy, happy and balanced children.” Windwood also has an Outpatient Mental Health Counseling Clinic in Mt. Pleasant where they help families overcome everything from parental discord to ADHD.
For more severe cases, Windwood Farm serves as a residential treatment facility where 27 boys stay to heal from their abuse. “They stay with us from nine months to a year and work closely with mental health professionals to move through their suffering.”
Without the support of the community, though, Windwood couldn’t do what it does best. “There are so many ways our community can help,” Vanderbilt says.
In addition to awareness, financial donations and everyday essentials like clothing, hygiene products, baby supplies and sporting equipment help Windwood heal our state’s suffering children. “We have so many volunteer opportunities from work days on the farm helping to beautify our property to helping us run fundraising events,” adds Vanderbilt.
Windwood Family Services is launching a Strengthening Families Program, free of charge, for families in Charleston County. Strengthening Families is a 14-session, evidence-based parenting skills, children's social skills and family life skills training program specifically designed for families. We are currently recruiting families within Charleston County with children ages 6-11 to participate in the program. We also offer Darkness to Light training on how to spot the signs of abuse to individuals and groups and organizations.
Child Abuse Prevention Month shouldn’t be ignored, instead, it should be spread far and wide with the hope that one less child will experience the pain that comes with neglect. Blue pinwheels act as a symbol of Child Abuse Prevention. They have been planted during the month of April around the Tri-county area to help spread awareness that child abuse and neglect is still present and we need to work together as a community to help eradicate this issue. The goal is that one day, child abuse will be a thing of the past, and with the help of the community, Windwood is taking strides to make that a reality.
To learn more about child abuse prevention, visit WindwoodFarm.org.