Event kicks off National Child Abuse Prevention Month

There was live music and games for children to enjoy Saturday during the Blue the Basin event but the true aim of the outdoor gathering of non-profit agencies and public safety officials was to educate people about child abuse and how to report it.
The four-hour free event marked National Child Abuse Prevention Month and was sponsored by the Harmony Home Children’s Advocacy Center, which is often the location where children who have been physically or sexually abused are brought in for forensic interviews.
Blue helium-filled balloons were released skyward to mark the occasion and drew applause from an appreciative group of people, even though some of the balloons got caught under a pine tree.
Patrons arrived at the South Grant Avenue location with their children in tow to enjoy pie throwing games or get a free haircut for kids aged 2 to 15. Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis and other sheriff’s representatives and members of the Odessa police and fire/rescue were there along with a number on non-profit groups offering literature about their programs.
As an added refinement grown-ups were entertained by the West Texas Jazz Project.
But the real thrust behind the event, Anthony Vandenberg, Harmony Home’s community resource director, said is to provide people with enough access to information, and to education about, child abuse and how it can be prevented.
“It’s the more education there is out there in the community, the more reports we get,” Vandenberg said.
There is a “ton of abuse” out there that sometimes doesn’t get reported for the wrong reasons. Some people in the Hispanic community, for instance, fear that if they report child abuse, law enforcement officials may question their immigration status, which Vandenberg strongly denies.
“We don’t do that,” Vandenberg said. “We don’t really ask any questions about immigration.”
Another notion Vandenberg hopes to dispel is the idea that those commit unlawful acts toward children are often stranger to them or their families. That is not true as the perpetrator is, more often than not, someone the victim knows, Vandenberg said.
“It is usually someone who is known, somebody you trust,” he said.
Marisol Espinoza, executive director for Harmony Home, said that while 2016 showed a decline in the number of child abuse cases in Ector County, the figures was still above the state average.
Statistically, there are 4.9 out of every 1,000 kids who are confirmed victims of child abuse in the state, while there are 5.9 out of every 1,000 kids who are confirmed victims of child abuse in Ector County, Espinoza said.
For a county with a relatively small population size, the numbers Espinoza cited are too high, she said.
“It’s still something we see every day,” Espinoza said.