The threat of rain did little to deter child advocates, Pocahontas County officials, and members of the community from gathering on the lawn of the Pocahontas County Courthouse last Friday for Children’s Memorial Flag Day.
CASA, Child and Youth Advocacy Center, the Department of Health and Human Resources and Kinetic Connections organized Friday’s event as a part of Child Abuse Prevention Month, and nearly 150 pinwheels were placed on the lawn to honor the memory of those who have lost their lives to child abuse.
The Pocahontas County Veteran’s Honor Corp officiated at the raising of the flag, and the red Child Abuse Prevention Month flag – with its paper-doll like children represented in blue, and in the middle, the white chalk outline of a missing child speaks to those lost to violence – flew beneath the West Virginia State Flag.
Guest speaker Angela Hoffman, a local psychologist from Mind ESolutions, spoke about the effects substance abuse has on children.
“I’d like to thank you all for coming today,” she began. “Traditionally, when we thought of abused children, we thought of children that were being physically abused – beaten, left alone for lone periods of time, or sexually abused in some way. These issues continue to occur, and no one questions the appropriateness of a child being saved when something like that happens.”
When an abuse or neglect case is investigated and opened, the underlying cause is often substance abuse.
“We must think of a child living in a drug-addicted home in the same way,” Hoffman continued. “That child who is being driven by a parent who is under the influence; the child whose parent is passed out and can’t get up to help the child get ready for school; the child who gets left alone in the middle of the night because the parent needs to go get a fix. You don’t want to have to deal with a coworker who’s under the influence because they may jeopardize your safety, but that child doesn’t have a voice and doesn’t have a say. That is why we have to intervene for them.
“We have to help ensure the child is safe for the remainder of their childhood. It’s easy to be complacent, but this community is not complacent. I would like to suggest to you that the high number of abuse and neglect reports in this county also reflect the amount of care and concern that exists among the people of Pocahontas County. Children are vulnerable and need to be protected, and this community is doing a good job of identifying the most vulnerable children and intervening to help them.”
Following the placement of the pinwheels, blue and white balloons were released to serve as a representation of children who have lost their lives to abuse.
At the end of the ceremony, Michael Whitt, Jennessa Henderson, and Eugene Simmons were honored for their hard work and service for the children in Pocahontas County, and received the Champion of Children award.
Whitt, a Family Law Attorney out of Lewisburg, humbly accepted his award.
“I’ve been doing this a long time,” Whitt said, “and I appreciate this. Directing and representing children is a lot easier, in some ways, and I tell my colleagues – in a lot of other ways, it’s harder to be a guardian ad litem. I appreciate the award, and I’ll keep working to be a Champion of Children.”
Henderson, a counselor at Hillsboro Elementary and Marlinton Elementary schools, was honored for her work with children in the schools.
“This is definitely one of the highest honors I think anyone could receive,” she said. “Being able to come in front of people who love children and to be honored as someone who cares means a lot to me, and I thank you all.”
Simmons was awarded the Juvenile Justice Award last year and has played an active role in the lives of children throughout the community – both in and outside of the courtroom.
“In spite of the drug problems and all that, our most important thing is the children,” Simmons said. “There isn’t enough that we can say about it. There isn’t enough we can do. We’re not doing enough. I’m impressed with CASA. CASA is something special. These people do a job that’s almost unreal, and they’re concerned about the children. We sometimes take things as a number, but CASA takes it as an individual. I appreciate you all.”
The Honorable Judge James J. Rowe was to be honored for his years of dedication and service, as well. Rowe was unable to attend Friday’s event due to his court schedule in Greenbrier County.
Cailey Moore may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org