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Hitting hurts

Many parents think they are beyond abusing their children.

But the truth is, any adult can be an abuser, regardless of socioeconomic status, race or religion, according to the 2010 Virginia Coalition for Child Abuse Prevention.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and community leaders are trying to raise awareness of the factors that influence child abuse, what to do if you suspect a child is being abused or neglected and how much child abuse affects Virginians.

From July 2008 through June 2009, about 5,921 Virginia children were victims of child abuse or neglect, according to information from the Virginia Coalition for Child Abuse Prevention. The coalition also reported that 34 children died from injuries attributable to abuse or neglect in the same time period.

According to Beverly McQuarry, the head of Healthy Families in Suffolk, child abuse and neglect can take a number of forms. Parents or other adults who cause a non-accidental physical or mental injury, allow the child to be present during the manufacture of certain drugs, abandon the child or fail to provide adequate supervision can be guilty of child abuse or neglect.

Child abuse or neglect is often a matter of more than just a single instance, McQuarry said.

“It’s usually not one time,” McQuarry said. “It’s usually a pattern.”

This year, the health department, Healthy Families, the Western Tidewater Community Services Board and Social Services are teaming up to spread the word about preventing child abuse and neglect.

Displays at the health department, at Sentara Obici Hospital and at Chick-fil-A on North Main Street are stocked with handouts on how to prevent and recognize child abuse. Chick-fil-A is selling “Pinwheels for Prevention,” small cards that donors can purchase and write their name on to be posted on the wall of the restaurant.

In addition, a “garden” of pinwheels, the symbol of child abuse prevention, will be planted around the Health and Human Services Building to increase public awareness of the problem.

If you know of or suspect child abuse or neglect, call the child abuse hotline at 1-800-552-7096, or call 514-7458 for the local Child Protective Services.