Blue-ribboned trees fight child abuse

Apr 3, 2013

"Blue Ribbon Tree" in downtown Kalamazoo
Credit Stella Chivikas / KCAN

The annual “Blue Ribbon Tree” campaign to fight child abuse and neglect in Kalamazoo County gets underway this week. It’s sponsored by the Kalamazoo County Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Council.

The Council’s Executive Director Karen Hayter says child abuse and neglect is a growing problem in the Kalamazoo area. She says the number of confirmed cases in the county has more than doubled since 2005. Hayter says more than 4,000 cases of abuse and neglect were reported to Child Protective Services in 2011 alone.

KCAN Board Chairwoman Angela Moe says about 80 percent of those cases involved neglect, according to the annual Kids Count report. Moe, who’s a professor of sociology at Western Michigan University, says neglect covers everything from withholding affection to not getting medical care when a child is ill.

KCAN sign
Credit KCAN

Hayter says there are many causes of child abuse and neglect, although a big one is poverty. Substance abuse and a lack of parenting skills are others. She says KCAN offers free materials and training for kids and parents as well as teachers and other professionals who come into contact with kids. Hayter says it is important for the latter to know that state law requires them to report suspected cases of abuse and neglect.

KCAN members will tie one blue ribbon on a tree near the Radisson Plaza Hotel in downtown Kalamazoo for every reported case of abuse and neglect in Kalamazoo County in 2012. Moe says the display will be dedicated during the monthly Kalamazoo Art Hop on Friday, April 5th, and will remain through the rest of the month. The organization will launch its annual “Be a Lifesaver” fundraising campaign on April 12th through the 14th. Moe says more than a hundred volunteers will hand out information about the issue and ask for donations at various locations around the county.

Hayter says she’s encouraged by an increase in the number of investigators at Child Protective Services in Kalamazoo. She says that will allow the agency to find more families and children that need help. Moe says the increase in reported cases may reflect greater public awareness of the problem in recent years. She says no one who makes a report in good faith will face repercussions if no abuse or neglect is found.