Pinwheels recognize hundreds touched by child abuse


By Donna Thornton/News Editor
    Etowah County officials and staffers marked National Child Abuse Prevention Month in a ceremony in front of the Etowah County Judicial Building April 9.
    During the ceremony, attention was directed to a colorful display that signifies a sobering statistic: 266 blue and silver pinwheels spin in honor of the children interviewed at the James M. Barrie Center last year in cases of reported physical or sexual abuse.
    Patricia Falcon said this year marks the 10th anniversary of the center, which continues to meet the needs of Etowah County children who must deal with law enforcement and the judicial system in relation to crimes committed against them, or crimes they witnessed. The center provides forensic interviews with child victims or witnesses.
    Additionally, the center provides eduction for children, parents and mandatory reporters – teachers, doctors, childcare workers, ministers and others who are legally required to report suspected abuse to authorities.
    Falcon said the center is adapting education to the current environment, educating about online safety and the risks children might face from cyber-predators today.
    During the ceremony April 9, Falcon recognized Jane Hicks and Lesa Osborn, two founding members of the center’s board who were instrumental in getting the center started, and Christie Knowles, who has provided years of service and assisted with legal processes, policies and procedures.
    Falcon said of the 266 children interviewed at the cen-ter, 91 percent were interviewed in cases of reported se-xual abuse.
    Etowah County’s Presiding Circuit Judge Allen Millican said when Etowah County’s judges met to discuss direction for the court system, one of their concerns was moving child abuse cases through the legal system in a prompt manner. Millican siad Circuit Judge Billy Ogletree already had a docket dedicated largely to child abuse cases, and Millican plans a similar docket soon.
    Ogletree praised the courage of the children who come forward and face the court system to bring abusers to justice. He said he’d seen these children “stand with their heads held high, facing the person who abused them, to tell the judge why this person should be sent to prison.
    “I want to commend the 3,000 children who’ve had the courage to walk through the process,” Ogletree said, in the 10 years of the Barrie Center’s existence.
    All the judges present, along with Carole Griffith of the Etowah County District Attorney’s office, praised the Barrie Center for helping lay the groundwork for prosecuting child abuse cases by conducting forensic interviews in a comfortable, secure environment for children. Etowah County Department of Human Resources Director Teresa Sauls stressed the importance of partnerships with all agencies in investigating child abuse cases, and instilling confidence in the public that such cases are being handled properly.
    “For every pinwheel out there, there are some we don’t know about,” Sauls said, spreaking of abused children. All agencies need the public to have confidence to report suspected abuse.
    On April 16, the Gadsden Symphony Orchestra will perform at Gadsden City High School in a fundraiser for the Barrie Center. Mandatory reporters of abuse will receive free admission to the concert.

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