Vigil shines light on dark issue of child abuse

By Chris Berendt Staff Writer

April 15, 2014

As rain fell around the Clinton Farmer’s Market Monday evening, a large crowd gathered for a candlelight vigil to show unity against child abuse, with the hope that shining a light on an everyday issue might one day see it washed away completely.

The vigil, a joint effort between Sampson County Department of Social Services (DSS), the Sampson County Community Child Protection Team and the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Program, featured performances by the Falcon Children’s Choir and the CHS Troopers step team.

Patrick Giddeons, Guardian ad Litem program supervisor for the Fourth Prosecutorial District, read a proclamation by Gov. Pat McCrory in recognition of April being Child Abuse Prevention Month. The proclamation stated that all children deserve to have “safe, stable, nurturing and healthy homes and communities that foster well-being,” noting that child abuse and neglect is a public responsibility affecting both the current and future quality of life in North Carolina.

“Child Abuse Prevention Month is about awareness, but more importantly than that, it is about taking action. What can you do to prevent child abuse?” Giddeons asked. “Each and every one of you can do something to prevent child abuse. Everyone can.”

That can mean being a foster parent for an abused, neglected or abandoned child, serving as a Guardian ad Litem advocate in court for a child or mentoring a child through the church or in the community.

“Everything you do matters and everything you do counts. Remember that,” Giddeons said.

Child Protective Services supervisor Jane Dudley, who organized Monday’s event, talked about the importance of child abuse and neglect awareness.

“Some of you cannot imagine this and some of you have lived this nightmare,” said Dudley, who donned a blue scarf covered in blue ribbons and pointed out the blue ribbons around the market. “The blue ribbon has become a national symbol for children who have endured child abuse and neglect at the hands of those who were supposed to protect them.”

In the spring of 1989, Bonnie Finney of Norfolk, Va. tied a blue ribbon to the antenna of her minivan as a sign to her community of her personal battle against child abuse, Dudley told the crowd. It allowed her to share the story of her three battered and bruised grandchildren, victims of abuse at the hands of her daughter’s boyfriend. Finney’s 3-year-old grandson Michael was ultimately found beaten, bruised and bound in a weighted toolbox at the bottom of a swamp.

“Blue serves as a constant reminder of the fight for the protection of children,” Dudley remarked. “So tonight we pause with a moment of silence to remember Michael and all the others who have been lost as a result of neglect and abuse. We especially remember the children of families in Sampson County who have been impacted by child fatalities this year.”

There were two such fatalities in the past year.

Shannon Blanchard, volunteer coordinator of a local Multi-Disciplinary Team that began reviewing local child abuse cases in October 2012, said 102 cases have been reviewed in the year and a half since, 86 of which were sexual abuse cases. That MDT consisting of members of DSS, the Health Department, Sheriff’s Office, Clinton Police Department, GAL and Eastpointe Mental Health, along with Clinton Medical Clinic, Sampson Regional Medical Center and both local school systems.

“Effective child abuse prevention strategies succeed through partnerships created among citizens, human services agencies, schools, faith communities, health care providers, civic organizations, law enforcement agencies and the business community,” Giddens read from the resolution.

Blanchard, Dudley and others spoke during a meeting last week, raising awareness of the rampant epidemic of child sex abuse, explaining the benefits of a Child Advocacy Center and urging people to get involved in realizing such a center here.

There are 58 open cases of child sexual abuse in Sampson. Currently, there are 34 Child Advocacy Centers that provide service to 78 counties across the state. Sampson is not one of them. The county could benefit from a CAC, which would offer a neutral safe haven for children that allows investigators, Social Services, medical professionals and others to more effectively serve the child without overwhelming them or causing them to relive their experiences, Blanchard said.

She urged those in attendance Monday to get, and stay, involved with that effort or help assist in anyway they could.

At Monday night’s vigil, the CHS Troopers offered a step routine, while the Falcon Children’s Choir sang three selections, including “O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing,” “Awesome,” and “I Almost Let Go.” Wrapping up the ceremony, the crowd of more than 100 people sang “Amazing Grace” as they simulated the individual lighting of battery-operated candles in a circle, one by one.

“I’m so proud of what you have done here tonight,” said Dudley, choking back tears.

“To everyone who is here, you are a part of the community wherever you’re at, at any time — you are responsible just as we are for protecting children, and we thank you every day for what you do,” said DSS director Sarah Bradshaw. “Just being here has been a testament to what you’re willing to do to raise awareness and prevent child abuse and neglect.”

Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at