Etowah County Commissioners and Family Success Center employees cut a blue ribbon on July 6 to mark the start of the Blue Ribbon Campaign. Pictured, from left: FSC PEACE Program director Teresa Owens; Etowah County Chief Administrative Officer Shane Ellison; District 1 Commissioner Joey Statum; District 2 Commissioner Johnny Grant; District 3 Commissioner Jamie Grant; District 4 Commissioner Tim Ramsey; District 5 Commissioner Jeffery Washington and FSC Safe and Successful Child Abuse Prevention Program director Deana Thacker.
By Emma Kirkemier, Staff Correspondent
Family Success Center of Etowah County kicked off its Summer of Child Abuse Awareness at the Etowah County Commission meeting July 6.
According to its website, the center will be selling blue ribbons and blue lights to raise money for its “school-based abuse prevention programs,” including both the Safe and Successful Child Abuse Prevention Program and the PEACE Program.
“Because it’s the summer and children are home with their abusers a lot in the summer, we decided that it would be a good summer awareness (program) for the community to be aware that child abuse happens,” said Deana Thacker, director of the Safe and Successful Child Abuse Prevention Program.
Teresa Owens, director of the PEACE Program, described it as a “character education program” in a 2020 YouTube video posted by FSC.
“In my program, we discuss social and emotional skills and strategies with the goal in mind of strong character to help students handle day-to-day situations in a more effective and positive way,” Owens said.
Safe and Successful is an abuse education program, said Thacker. Thacker visits schools across the county, teaching students from kindergarten to 10th grade about what child abuse is and how they can report it.
“I go into all of the school systems to teach them about child abuse: what it is, how to recognize it, how to get help if they need it,” she said. “I try to teach them, you know if you have a flat tire, what do you do? You ask for help. If you don’t know a math problem, what do you do? You ask for help. So when you’re being hurt or abused, you ask for help.”
Thacker said it is important for children to recognize and report these behaviors as early as possible, claiming that if trusted adults can “discover those problems” at early ages, “then you’re not going to have them up here (as adults) with drug abuse or in the jails.”
“We talk about bathing suit area,” she said in response to the idea that teaching kindergarteners about sexual abuse must be difficult. “Anywhere you wear a bathing suit, no one touches you there unless they’re keeping you clean and healthy.”
According to a 2018 report from Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, there were 8,716 juvenile victims of violent crime in Alabama in 2018, including “29 juvenile homicide victims, 851 juvenile rape victims, 187 juvenile robbery victims and 1,438 juvenile victims of aggravated assault.”
The ALEA also reported that 50 percent of these juvenile victims were related to their offender.
The numbers for juvenile victims in Etowah County specifically were not available.
“Every dollar that we raise will help buy curriculum to put in these little kids’ hands,” said Emma Clapp, executive director of Family Success Center of Etowah County. “It’ll buy videos and curriculum to go for the PEACE program and for Safe and Successful, who see about 12,000 kids a year.”
Several commissioners thanked Thacker and Clapp for their work.
“Thank you, guys,” said District 3 Commissioner Jamie Grant. “You guys do a fantastic job, and honestly we are grateful for you and what you guys do every day, always helping our kids and our county. It goes without saying that you’ve made a huge impact.”
While FSC gifted each of the commissioners their own blue ribbon, District 4 Commissioner Tim Ramsey bought an additional ribbon on behalf of the Gadsden Fire Department, thanking the FSC representatives as well.
“Great, great organization and just great job all around,” said District 1 Commissioner Joey Statum. “Keep us posted on what we can do to help.”