Child Abuse Prevention Month starts

Published 8:22 pm Saturday, March 31, 2018

Every 9.6 days, a child dies as a result of abuse or neglect, according to the Virginia Department of Social Services.

The city of Suffolk works hard to provide resources to help keep children safe, but staff also provide resources before the child is born to prevent abuse from occurring.

Abuse typically stems from stressors in the parent’s life, and Health and Human Services provide tools for parents to alleviate those stressors.

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“We as an agency want to give parents the tools to make sure their kids are healthy and safe,” said Family Services Supervisor Verila Taylor. “Stress can stem from a lack of family support. This is a more transient area, and a lot of people are away from their families. Isolation can contribute to that.”

The prevention of child abuse in Suffolk starts at the conception of the child. Health and Human Services maintain close relationships with Suffolk’s network of obstetricians, and they can be alerted to patients that are a high risk before the baby is born.

“We do a lot with moms, and we create family goal plans. One of the things in planning is finding strengths,” said Family Health Supervisor Beverly McQuarry. “Sometimes they can’t think of any, and we have to point out their strengths.”

All the departments housed within Health and Human Services work together closely, and they work with Sentara Obici to maintain multiple resources for soon-to-be-parents as well as current parents.

They also provide services after a baby has been born, but once abuse has been identified, the Suffolk Police Department and the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office can become involved.

By law, any claim of child abuse made by Child Protective Services must alert the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office within two hours. CPS will do a parallel investigation to the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office provides services for children while an investigation is going on, or if a trial is happening and even after a trial has concluded.

Both Victim/Witness Services and any attorneys on the case make sure that a child is comfortable before proceeding.

“We meet them wherever they are most comfortable, because it takes time to build trust,” said Sonya Abbott, assistant director of Victim/Witness Services. “We do everything to make sure they don’t feel threatened or shamed for what has happened.”

“It’s about having trust with them, and we can only get that if there is honesty on both sides,” Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney T. Marie Walls said. “We tell them about the other attorneys and the judge. We even take them into the courtroom and let them sit where they will be placed.”

After cases have concluded, they make sure that the victims and parents know that they are still accessible to them, and they still offer services to those who need it.

“We will check in with them,” Abbott said. “You try and let folks know they can call us. We let them know that it doesn’t stop because the case has stopped.”

Suffolk provides a multitude of services to parents and children to either prevent or intervene against child abuse. If there is suspected abuse, citizens can call two different numbers. The local hotline, 514-7458, is available from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. When the local hotline isn’t an option, the state hotline is available 24 hours a day, 1-800-552-7096.