Suffering in Silence: The prevalence of child abuse in the Roanoke Valley

April marks National Child Abuse Prevention Month

Thousands of pinwheels spinning in the breeze symbolize the carefree childhood every kid deserves, but not all have.

ROANOKE, Va. – Thousands of pinwheels spinning in the breeze symbolize the carefree childhood every kid deserves, but not all have.

April marks National Child Abuse Prevention Month. On Friday, volunteers planted a pinwheel garden at Virginia Western Community College’s Arboretum to raise awareness.

“We want them to see those pinwheels and be reminded that all children deserve a happy childhood,” said Brenna Sullivan.

Sullivan is the director of development for Children’s Trust, a nonprofit devoted to fighting child abuse through intervention, prevention and advocacy. She said that as a mom, it’s hard to fathom.

“It’s really hard for us to imagine that there are children that perhaps don’t receive the care or the love that they truly deserve,” said Sullivan.

At least 1 in 7 children were abused or neglected in the last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2020, Children’s Trust reported 15,277 abused children in the Roanoke Valley alone. Though Sullivan fears the numbers are grossly underreported.

During the pandemic lockdowns, kids weren’t in school where mandated reporters like teachers and counselors could check in on them. Official reports to child protection agencies dropped by 20-70% across the country. However, the percentage of emergency department visits related to child abuse and neglect ending in hospitalization increased significantly among children and adolescents under 18, from 2.1% in 2019 to 3.2% in 2020.

Parental stress, substance abuse and poverty are all risk factors for child abuse and neglect.

About 90% of children who are victims of sexual abuse know their abuser, whether it’s a relative, church member or someone at school.

Volunteer Nicole Dudding, who works for United Way of Roanoke Valley, wants kids to know its’ not their fault.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Dudding. “As a mother, I can’t imagine a child going home to an unsafe place where they don’t have anybody that they can trust.”

She said it’s up to the entire community to be an advocate for all children.

“Building those healthy family relationships within our own community so that children will trust adults to be able to come forward and have someone to talk to,” said Dudding.

If you suspect child abuse or neglect you can contact the anonymous Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-4-a-child or 1-800-422-4453.

About the Author:

You can watch Lindsey during Virginia Today every weekend or as a reporter during the week!