Pinwheels for Prevention

If you are anywhere near Burnet Woods Park in Clifton next week, please stop to contemplate the message behind the beautiful pinwheels you see planted in the field facing Martin Luther King Drive.

More than 5,000 colorful pinwheels should be glistening in the sun – if our weather turns — but behind that beautiful display is a dark message: each pinwheel stands for a reported case of child abuse in Hamilton County. Last year, we had 5,058 such reports.

We use the innocent childhood toy to draw attention to a harsh reality: children in our community are abused on a daily basis. Last year, five children died from abuse. This is unacceptable. We hope, by drawing attention to abuse, more people will work to prevent it.

“Pinwheels for Prevention” is an annual statewide campaign. Hamilton County joins all 88 Ohio counties participating in Pinwheels for Prevention as a kick off to Child Abuse Prevention Month in April. This year’s local Pinwheels event is sponsored by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Hamilton County’s Department of Job and Family Services, Hamilton County’s Family and Children First Council and the Council on Child Abuse of Southern Ohio, Inc.

The statistics on child abuse are disturbing. Nationally, 3.3 million reports of abuse and neglect, involving 6 million children, were made to child protection agencies across the United States in 2009. More than 1.5 million of those referrals were determined to be valid abuse and neglect reports. More than 1,700 children died from abuse or neglect.

The worst part of it all? Recent studies show only about 10 percent of child abuse is substantiated by social service agencies. Much of it goes unreported or unproven. Many children are suffering silently. We must provide voices to the voiceless.

Many citizens are unaware of how widespread child abuse is in their local communities. I am convinced they would not tolerate it if they knew it was happening. Believe me when I tell you it is happening in every neighborhood of this community. These pinwheels drive home the point.

What can you do? Be on the lookout. Report suspected abuse to our child abuse reporting hotline, 241-KIDS. Mentor a struggling parent. Take a neighborhood child under your wing. Advocate with a politician for laws and support for child abuse prevention.

Together, we can reduce the abuse in this community.

Next year, I hope we have far fewer pinwheels planted in that field.

Successful Fraud Chat

Tuesday’s chat with the public about public assistance fraud went well. We received many tips to follow up on. I appreciate the public’s support in this effort.

You can report fraud at any time to our 24-hour hotline. We recently changed the number, so I want to make sure everyone has it. The new number is 946-2217. If you live outside the area, you can dial 1-800-381-6337.

Again, thanks for the help!

Work Participation Improvements

Through increased efforts, Hamilton County has brought its work-participation rate for Ohio Works First recipients up to 50 percent. This is the federal benchmark and makes Hamilton the top performing Metro county in the state of Ohio.

This means half of all cash assistance recipients are involved in an ongoing work, school or volunteer activity for 30 hours each week, or 20 hours if there is a child under age 6 in the home. The benchmark is half because many have exemptions that keep them from working.

Congrats to staff and our agency partners who helped make this happen. We have long been the best performing county in the state, but it is nice to hit that 50 percent mark and stay there over a period of months.

Help with the Heating Bills

As winter wraps up, we are finding that some of the people we serve are having trouble paying their heating bills. We don’t have a specific heating program, but we can refer to others who provide that assistance. Here is some information that helps. Have a great weekend!

Talking Social Services with Local Leaders

I spoke today with several members of the Cincinnati Urban League’s new Leadership Class. It is refreshing to talk to folks who care so much about what is going on in our community.

I have said it many times before: we can’t carry out our mission without help from the community. We need help when it comes to plugging the holes in our safety net. It is always nice to know there are people out there who have genuine concern for their fellow residents. I am thrilled when someone takes the time to learn about us, the work we do and the people we serve.

We are glad to have the help!

New Program Helps Parents Support Their Children

We are making a push to get the word out on our new program that helps parents in our Child Support program achieve financial stability so they can better support their children. This is a pilot program we were chosen to participate in, along with Cuyahoga County.

We are excited to offer this opportunity and to partner with SmartMoney Community Services, an Over-the-Rhine organization with a vision to provide comprehensive affordable financial services and economic education to families.

Research has shown that parents who regularly pay child support are more involved in the lives of their children. The program will help parents build life and leadership skills to assist them in obtaining employment and financial stability. They will be coached on money management, debt reduction, credit scores, home ownership and more.

Each participant who is referred to the program will be able to take advantage of one-on-one counseling sessions and financial literacy workshops. The case plan will detail an agreed-upon level of improvement expected to achieve some financial stability by demonstrating an increased knowledge of effective practices and strategies in managing debt, increasing credit scores, and consistently making child support payments.

If this sounds like something you would be interested in, you can lean more here. Please contact your Child Support worker.

We Help Seniors, Too

Many people know Hamilton County’s Department of Job and Family Services for its child welfare program. In fact, a lot of people don’t even call us by our name – they call us 241-KIDS, which is the name of our child abuse reporting hotline.

While we are very serious about our role of helping protect the youngest members of our community, we have a lesser-known role in helping our community’s older adults, too. JFS operates an Adult Protective Services unit that is charged with protecting the community’s senior citizens from exploitation, neglect, and physical and psychological abuse.

Our agency assists approximately 750 adults per year in this capacity. Elder abuse takes many forms: The senior citizen with no family who can no longer take care of themselves due to Alzheimer’s or diminished mental capacity. The loving husband who can no longer physically care for his disabled wife. The grandmother who receives an eviction notice after giving her rent money to her grandson. The grandfather who is locked away in isolation while his family cashes his retirement checks.

According to best estimates, between one and two million U.S. citizens fall prey to elder abuse each year. Solid statistics are difficult to come by because much abuse goes unreported, there is no uniform reporting method and definitions of abuse vary. Even when an older person reports abuse, it might not be believed because the person suffers from Alzheimer’s or dementia.

One thing is clear: elder abuse is unacceptable. We as a community must do everything we can to protect our senior citizens. I ask that you help us in that cause. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, here are some warning signs:

• Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, and burns may be an indication of physical abuse, neglect, or mistreatment.

• Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, and unusual depression may be indicators of emotional abuse.

• Bruises around the breasts or genital area can occur from sexual abuse.

• Sudden changes in financial situations may be the result of exploitation.

• Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, and unusual weight loss are indicators of possible neglect.

• Behavior such as belittling, threats, and other uses of power and control by spouses are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse.

• Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver and elderly person are also signs.

If you know someone who is exhibiting these warning signs, please call our elder abuse hotline, 421-LIFE. We know there are more than 750 people in this community who are victims of elder abuse. Our agency is here to help. Point us in the right direction.