As Child Abuse Awareness Month draws to a close, there’s a renewed initiative to continue to fight this violent crime.
State and local leaders, along with the heads of Troup County Youth and Family services re-signed the Child Abuse protocol. The proclamation is a pledge to help children in our community, whatever their situation may be at home. It also spells out how each organization should respond to a suspected case of child abuse, and their responsibilities.
“I think people will take away a raised awareness that it takes a lot of community partners to work collaboratively to serve these children,” said Kim Adams, executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Troup County.
Among those who signed the proclamation: Shay Thornton, director of the Troup County Department of Family and Child Services (DFACS), Mike Angstadt, executive director of Twin Cedars Youth and Family Services, LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton, LaGrange Chief of Public Safety Louis M. Dekmar, Troup County Sheriff James Woodruff, District Attorney Peter Skandalakis, State Representative Randy Nix, and several others.
The group was gathered for the annual Child Abuse Awareness Program Wednesday morning at the Coleman Community Center. Among the guest speakers, was Katie Jo Ballard, the executive director of the Governor’s Office of Children and Families, and Marquis Harris, a former victim of child sexual abuse.
“The topic of child abuse is overwhelming,” said Harris. “People who experience it are overwhelmed mentally, spiritually, and physically. They focus on the right now, and when you only see dark clouds, it’s difficult to see the sun. But you have to stay motivated. Find people who motivate you and look beyond the circumstances. Don’t let it define you.”
Harris was sexually abused starting at the age of four, first by his stepfather, then by two babysitters.
“It happened so often, I thought it was normal. I didn’t know anything different,” he said.
Eventually, Harris was placed into foster care, where he remained until he was 18. He attended Asbury University in Kentucky and received a degree in teaching. Harris said it was there that his faith helped him fully heal from his abusive past.
“My healing came from my heavenly father and Jesus Christ,” said Harris. ” But I don’t want people to think that it’s an easy journey. It wasn’t easy for me. But, if they [victims] allow it, they’ll develop endurance and perseverance. The journey is worth continuing. There are so many hurting youth in the country….that need to know there is hope.”
Harris is now a domestic missionary in Macon, Georgia. He has written spoken word poetry about his experiences, and a devotional titled, “From Grace to Glory: An Upward Journey.” Harris’ abusers were never brought to trial, but he said he has forgiven them, which was the toughest part of his journey.
“My goal and hope is that my words bring healing to others,” Harris explained. ” And that they receive healing from my heavenly father. People say those who go through traumatic experiences will never fully be healed. I refute those statements.”
But there’s still a long road ahead for many children in the same situation. According to the Children’s Advocacy Center, in 2011, 65 children died from abuse and neglect around the state of Georgia. Nearly 200 incidents were reported daily, and on any given day, roughly 7,500 children are in the state’s foster care system.
Adams is cautiously optimistic. “I think we’re making tremendous strides in reducing those numbers,” she said. “Today was a wonderful example of all the partnerships. It is especially important to realize that our policymakers and elected officials are instrumental in passing laws that continue to protect children. We’re making huge strides in raising awareness and serving the kids that have been commercially and sexually exploited.
After the program, the group released blue balloons representing the victims of child abuse in Troup County. The front lawn of the Coleman Community Center is also decorated with pinwheels. They are apart of the “Pinwheels to Prevention” program, and serve as a symbol for healthy starts for the nation’s children.