BUCKHANNON – Lori Ulderich Harvey doesn’t like listing statistics.
However, as the executive director of the Upshur County Family Resource Network, Harvey knows they can be a sobering and important reminder of what some children undergo in West Virginia and across the U.S.
During the Upshur County Commission’s Thursday meeting, the commission proclaimed April as Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness month, and the Children’s Memorial flag was presented at the commission’s Thursday meeting.
And Harvey highlighted some of those somber statistics.
“More than four children die every day as a result of child abuse,” Harvey said. “Eighty percent of those are under the age of 4. One in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused, and if I’m a teacher looking at my class, that means 25 percent of my class could have been sexually abused.”
Harvey said the World Health Organization describes child abuse and child maltreatment as all forms of physical or emotional ill treatment, sexual abuse, neglect. The definition also encompasses negligent treatment or commercial exploitation resulting in actual or potential harm of a child, a child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power.
“With the 7,000 kids we have in foster care [in West Virginia], most of them are there because of abuse or neglect, I would say 99 or 95 percent of them,” she said.
Harvey said neglect can manifest in many forms; for instance, if a baby isn’t cleaned or fed regularly or sometimes left in a car seat too long.
“They call them container babies,” Harvey said. “Whenever you have one that’s been in a car seat for so long, you can tell by the back of their head being flat, and they don’t have the appropriate movements and they can’t crawl or walk as fast, so [those are] forms of neglect, too.”
In the case of sexual abuse, Harvey said children may be aware of “stranger danger,” but usually, people they know are the culprits.
“There used to be ‘stranger danger’ and all that, but now they’re talking about only about 10 percent are strangers, most of them are people they know,” she said.
It’s crucial to let children know they are allowed to have boundaries and to not keep secrets, Harvey added.
“One thing we are teaching our daughter is she does not have to hug or kiss anybody,” Harvey said. “Even if it’s me or Jeff, and she doesn’t want to give me a hug, she doesn’t have to.”
She said this teaches children they do not have to feel obligated to touch an adult if they are uncomfortable, and this can help prevent grooming behaviors.
Harvey also discussed safe sleep, which she said may not always be associated with child abuse or neglect.
“What Safe Sleep and Period of PURPLE Crying teach is what is safe – like that you can put the baby down in a safe place, walk away, take a breath and listen to music or something or call a neighbor and what they are trying to do is reduce shaken baby syndrome,” Harvey said.
She said the Period of PURPLE Crying is a nationwide initiative that teaches babies may cry for the first five months for no reason.
“It’s just telling you the same thing Safe Sleep is, which is to walk away and the baby is going to cry and you have to remember that,” Harvey said.
Harvey said the best way to prevent child abuse in an area like Buckhannon is to raise awareness.
“The best way for prevention, especially in a smaller area like this, is public awareness and supportive communities,” Harvey said. “We need to promote child and family well-being and use the prevention programs so we can educate and advocate.”
During the commission meeting, Harvey also presented the Child’s Memorial Flag, which will hang on the flagpole outside the courthouse for the month of April to honor children who have died as a result of child abuse or neglect.