About two dozen kids stuck pinwheels into the lawn in front of the Catholic Diocese of Spokane on Mission Avenue Wednesday in recognition of Child Abuse Prevention Month.
The pinwheels, student speakers explained during the event, have traditionally represented childhood innocence but, in recent years, have become symbols of movements against child abuse.
“The pinwheels are a source of hope and that’s what Jesus is,” Bishop Thomas Daly said at the event before the group recited a prayer. “When young people are abused, they lack the one thing Jesus offers us, which is safety.”
Duane Schafer, director of the diocese’s Office of Child and Youth Protection, said all adults who work through the diocese receive background checks before beginning their work and another background check after five years, although any crimes involving children will flag them to the diocese at any time. Adults also get training to spot the signs of abuse in children and address abuse with kids.
Schafer said adults trained through the Catholic Diocese of Spokane know not to ask too many questions, as that is the responsibility of trained investigators.
“If a child tells you they’ve been abused, the first thing people tend to do is start asking questions, which is the last thing you should do,” Schafer said. “You want to make sure it’s a safe environment. You should be reassuring them that it’s the right thing that they told you.”
They also know to be mindful of kids who seem scared of certain adults, wear several layers of clothes or have a sudden change in their behavior.
According to data from the Administration for Children and Families, over 3.5 million children were abused in 2018, the most recent year for which the federal government has data.
Schafer said virtual schooling during the pandemic made the issue more important in 2020 and 2021, as many kids had fewer trusted adults around if they need to report abuse.
“Be sensitive to the fact that a lot of child sexual abuse and child abuse in general happens every day,” Schafer said. “It’s a major issue our children experience.”
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