Blue ribbons spread support for victims of child abuse

Brilliant blue and silver pinwheels zealously spin on the front lawn of the Owens House in Columbiana.

The pinwheels, as well as blue ribbons and stickers distributed across the county, proclaim the beginning of Child Abuse Prevention Month.

“We know that we cannot prevent child abuse alone,” said Owens House Director Cindy Greer. “It takes all of us working together.”

The Shelby County Children’s Policy Council is one of the partner organizations working to honor children affected by abuse through its Blue Ribbon Tree program.

County agencies, schools and businesses are setting up small trees adorned with dozens of blue ribbons. Each ribbon represents a child or group of children affected by abuse, said Barbara Williams, coordinator of the Shelby County Children’s Policy Council.

The Policy Council is a branch of the Juvenile Court of Shelby County and is housed in the Shelby County Courthouse.

“We actually see the children affected by abuse here in court,” Williams said. “And there are so many cases of child abuse that are not being reported.

“Through this campaign, we want people to be aware that child abuse is still happening in Shelby County every day, even if it is not being reported,” Williams added.

Owens House counselors, meanwhile, also work to support children in dangerous situations. Their aim is to provide a safe environment for children to talk about abuse and neglect they may have faced.

Owens House counselors supported 149 kids through interviews in 2009.

Assistant District Attorney Bill Bostick said he frequently dreaded Fridays in a past county he worked for because the days meant a lobby filled with children waiting to testify in cases.

“These children had already been abused enough and now we were asking them to describe what had happened to them in front of a room of strangers,” Bostick said. “In Shelby County we aim to make sure we don’t further cause trauma to children in the way we prosecute these cases.”

In 1989, a Virginia grandmother tied a blue ribbon to her car to pay tribute to her grandson who died as a result of abuse, thus creating the annual Blue Ribbon campaign.

Owens House has distributed more than 10,000 blue ribbons, donated by Main Street Florist.

“The blue really stands for – in the case of her grandson – the bruises and abuse he suffered,” Greer said. “It also reminds us all of the role we play to prevent child abuse.”

Owens House counselors also talked to 5,000 kids in local schools each year. They also provide encouragement through support groups like HEROES. HEROES acts as a safety net for kids age 5-12 who have been sexually abused. Counselors with the program have also held poster and writing contests to encourage the kids to express their feelings as a means of healing.

Individuals interested in learning more about the Blue Ribbon Campaign should contact Owens House, the Shelby County Children’s Advocacy Center at 699-3333 or visit OwensHouseCAC.org.