April 25, 2018  

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Planting Pinwheels: ‘Garden’ Recognizes Children During Abuse Prevention Month

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USM School of Social Work students erect pinwheels as part of a display on the University's Hattiesburg campus to raise awareness about child abuse. (Submitted photo)

It sounds counterintuitive, Karie Chatham admits, but when the number of reports of abused children go up, it’s actually a good thing.

Chatham and colleague Riley Herrin of the Kids Hub Child Advocacy Center in Hattiesburg teamed up with the University of Southern Mississippi School of Social Work to recognize abused children by planting a “pinwheel garden” on campus earlier this month.

To raise awareness with its Pinwheels for Prevention project, Kids Hub has planted gardens around 14 locations and four county courthouses in Forrest, Lamar, Lawrence and Marion counties during April, which is National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

A Visual Reminder: ‘We’re Actually Able to Help Them’

Small blue-and-silver pinwheels represent the 414 children that Kids Hub served in 2017, and two large pinwheels memorialize two children who were killed in 2017; courthouse gardens reflect just the numbers for their respective counties.

“Sometimes when we see the numbers rise, and they do rise (from 366 in 2016), it's really discouraging because you're like, ‘Man, it's just getting worse and worse,’ " says Chatham, the center’s community outreach coordinator and a USM alumna from the School of Mass Communication and Journalism.

“But the reality is that it might be a good thing. Because statistically there's more children being abused than what's being reported. So although one child might be reported, there might be five that's not.

“And so if the community would pay more attention and start reporting, if we start being aware and taking a stand on this, we might see the numbers rise, and that's a good thing in that situation because that means we're actually able to help them, versus them living in silence.”

Child Advocates, Law Enforcement Partners

Kids Hub works with law enforcement in the four-county area to provide services to children and families where there are allegations of serious abuse or neglect that would rise to the level of a felony, or in the cases where children have witnessed a violent crime. Trained staff conduct forensic interviews in a child-friendly environment at the center, with law enforcement observing, and also provide other services in a victim-advocacy role.

Herrin does both; she is on staff as a forensic interviewer and is also interning as a victim advocate as part of the requirements for her master’s degree in social work at USM.

“I think one of the most powerful things about Pinwheels for Prevention is that we don’t know how many kids in this community walk by our pinwheels and know that they are being seen right there in that pinwheel garden,” she says. “And they know that they’re not forgotten. That we’re still honoring them in a way.”

Experience for Social Work Students

Herrin, who will graduate in 2019, says opportunities like her internship provide students with a real-world learning environment. 

“Kids Hub has partnered with the social work program to ensure we have some interns there, so they get hands-on experience working with kids and get to see the job from a lot of different aspects. We work with Child Protection Services and law enforcement at Kids Hub, so it’s a lot of experiences in one location.”

This is the second year that the School of Social Work has hosted a garden, in conjunction with its undergraduate BSW Club, the social work honor society Phi Alpha and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars.

“Of course as social workers, we work hard to advocate for children and work tirelessly in the child welfare system to protect children and keep families safe,” says Rachel Lahasky, a clinical instructor and the BSW Club faculty adviser in the School of Social Work. “We are always honored to partner with Kids Hub and enjoy the opportunity to bring about awareness to Child Abuse Prevention Month on our campus.”

Garden on Display Through May

The campus garden is located on the south side of Fritzsche-Gibbs Hall (map), adjacent to Pearl Street. It will be in place until the end of May. That visibility is important to undergraduate social work student Janay Morgan of New Orleans, who was among nine students planting pinwheels.

“Not too many people know about causes like this,” she says. “I think it’s very important for us to come out here and have something to demonstrate that children are losing their lives, children are being abused and neglected. And I think it’s just an important way to show that we care.”

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Learn more about the USM School of Social Work and Kids Hub Child Advocacy Center.

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