Gray Skies, Blue Ribbons: Highlighting Child Abuse Prevention in Madison

American Family Children's Hospital vice president Jeff Poltawsky and Safe Kids coordinator Nan PetersonMADISON - Amidst a million or so early spring snowflakes, 5,940 blue ribbons adorned the trees in the Grace Episcopal Church courtyard, just off the Capitol Square in Madison.


The number of ribbons is equal to the number of calls made to Dane County social services programs last year to report potential abuse or neglect of a child.


On an average day in Dane County in 2010 county agencies received 16 calls that prompted formal investigations into child abuse or neglect.


"It's a big number," said Brenda Nelson, the director of Safe Harbor Child Advocacy Center, an agency that works with law enforcement to provide services to children who are victims of abuse and neglect. "A good day is when a report that comes in is checked and nothing bad has happened to the children."


Blue ribbons promoting child abuse awareness outside Grace Episcopal Church in MadisonAmerican Family Children's Hospital joined Safe Harbor, Dane County's Child Protective Services department and the Monona Police Department to put the ribbons on full display on the first day of April - Child Abuse Prevention Month. Those organizations hope the ribbons will raise awareness about the importance protecting the community's children.


Learn more about our Child Protection services and resources for parents


"Our children are our most valuable resource and they need our support to thrive and grow," said Nan Peterson, the director of American Family Children's Hospital's Safe Kids initiative. "During April we renew our unwavering support of protecting our children and responding to child abuse. We all have an obligation to assist in creating strong communities that support our families."


Nelson hopes the blue ribbon campaign will not only place child-abuse prevention firmly in the community's consciousness but also spur people to take direct action.


"We really want to engage people in keeping our children safe," she said. "Child abuse is preventable. We need to make a conscious effort to reduce the instance of abuse in our community."


To do that, Nelson says people should act when their conscience bids them.


"Trust your instincts," she said. "If you see something that looks like a child is being injured, if you see a text message or an e-mail, report it. Just call it into human services or law enforcement."


Nelson has noted a slight increase in physical abuse since 2009, which she believes may be related to the broad economic downturn in Dane County and across the nation. Economic stress is a strong precursor to abuse.


She does have an optimistic take on the slight increase in calls child protection agencies have fielded in the past few years.


"We really think it's because we're educating people better on how to report, not necessarily that more abuse is happening," she said.


But for the child advocates huddled beneath umbrellas as the snow continued to fall, even one case of child abuse or neglect is too many. Though the wind blew cold, they agreed with Kathleen Falk, who attended the blue ribbon presentation and has been a vigorous advocate of child abuse prevention during her tenure as Dane County Executive.


"We'd all stand out here every day in the snow if it made a difference in one kid's life," she said. "If one person sees this and intervenes, that makes a difference."


Child abuse or neglect suspicions can be reported via the following channels:

  • Dane County Sheriff's Office: (608) 284-6800
  • Madison Police Department: (608) 266-4000 (confidential tip line)
  • Dane County Child Protective Services: (608) 261-KIDS or (608) 255-6067 (after hours/weekends)

Resources for Parents


Being a new parent can be incredibly rewarding, but it can also be overwhelming. Find out where you can turn when you need support, or learn how you can manage the stress of being a new parent. Learn more in our Child Protection section

Date Published: 04/04/2011

News tag(s):  children

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