Be a superhero with Children’s Board of Hillsborough County and help prevent child abuse

Blue and silver pinwheels spin and sparkle in the sunlight, symbols of hope that every child can grow up happy, safe and healthy.

Hundreds are planted in the landscape or perched atop the fence outside the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County. They are reminders of what it means to save a child from abuse and neglect and the value of community support for families in crisis. Thousands of these “pinwheel gardens” can be found across the country.

On April 18th, the Children’s Board will host “You Too Can Be a Superhero” in recognition of April as Child Abuse Prevention Month. The public is invited to learn how to prevent child abuse and neglect through community involvement. The event will be from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Tampa Firefighters Museum, 720 E. Zach St. Light refreshments will be served.

The guest speaker will be Scott Juceam, an advocate for child abuse prevention. He also speaks out on the topic of shaken baby syndrome. Other attendees will include guardians ad litem, judges, and representatives of law enforcement.

“We want children to be healthy in every way,” Children’s Board of Hillsborough County Executive Director Kelley Parris says. “I think it’s important to support children and parents in your community. You’re only as good as how you treat children.”

The Children’s Board, created in 1988 by Hillsborough County voters, uses tax dollars to provide grants to a network of partners and programs that foster a child’s growth and success. Special emphasis is placed on pregnant women and young children.
The message for April is that prevention can keep families whole and reduce the number of children who suffer abuse and neglect and wind up in foster care. Members of the community at large can also be part of the prevention team.

Children's Board of Hillsborough County Executive Director Kelley Parris“So, in keeping those children and families out of the larger systems of care, whether mental health, juvenile justice or court system, we are concentrating on getting them upstream,” Parris says. “We work closely with the school system in that regard.”

Putting support in place keeps situations from escalating, she adds.

According to FLHealthCHARTS, Hillsborough County had more than 2,400 children from birth to age 17 in foster care in 2021. Statewide, there were more than 25,000 children in foster care.

Annually since 1979, the White House and other state governments, including Florida, have issued proclamations to heighten awareness of child abuse prevention. This year the proclamations come after nearly two years of a COVID pandemic that upended normalcy.

For some families, the pandemic created home confinement situations and financial stresses that Parris says increased incidents of domestic violence. But the reports of domestic violence decreased, she says.

“There were no eyes on the child and people were confined,” Parris says. Now, reports are increasing because “the key to keeping children safe is to have eyes on that child,” she says.

On April 18th, attendees can learn what signs to look for, and what steps they can take if abuse or neglect is suspected. And they can learn about the resources available within the community to aid children and families.

The Children’s Board publishes an annual Family Guide, in English and Spanish, that details its investments in about 65 nonprofits and partnerships and more than 100 programs that guide children toward bright, productive futures.

The programs offer a broad range of options including family support, vision screening, arts, early learning, out-of-school activities and water safety. Also, seven Family Resource Centers are open throughout the county.

Several town hall meetings are scheduled in the next weeks to get community input on the types of programs and help that is needed.

“These town hall meetings drive the investments we make in the community,” Parris says.

At a recent town hall, she said one woman spoke about her struggle with post-partum depression. She was able to get a referral through one of the Family Resource Centers.

Another major cause of stress for families is the lack of affordable housing and the possibility of eviction, Parris says. There are individuals who didn’t have rent issues before COVID, but Parris says, “COVID hit and now you’ve got a multitude of first-time evictions, which is preventing these families from being rehoused."

“That is a critical issue in Hillsborough County," she says." Lots of families are living in cars right now.”

For more information, visit Children’s Board of Hillsborough County, Florida Health Charts  and Scott Juceam.

To report child abuse or neglect in Florida, call 1-800-962-2873.
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Read more articles by Kathy Steele.

Kathy Steele is a freelance writer who lives in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa. She previously covered Tampa neighborhoods for more than 15 years as a reporter for The Tampa Tribune. She grew up in Georgia but headed north to earn a BA degree from Adelphi University in Garden City, NY. She backpacked through Europe before attending the University of Iowa's Creative Writers' Workshop for two years. She has a journalism degree from Georgia College. She likes writing, history, and movies.