River Bridge in Glenwood Springs spotlights survivors of child abuse during April
By filling gardens with pinwheels, Mary Cloud said she hopes to remind people that every child deserves happiness.
“The symbol for child abuse prevention month is the pinwheel, the blue pinwheel,” Mary Cloud, Assistant Director at River Bridge said. “The pinwheel is supposed to represent that whimsical, fun spirit that a child should have in their own childhood. Every child deserves a happy childhood.”
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and River Bridge Regional Center, a nonprofit child advocacy organization located in Glenwood Springs, will be setting up pinwheel gardens up and down the Colorado River and Roaring Fork valleys from Parachute to Aspen. The pinwheel project is part of a nationwide effort lead by Prevent Child Abuse America, and the pinwheels used by River Bridge were donated by the Colorado PCA chapter, Illuminate Colorado.
Within the last five years Cloud said the center has seen a 37% increase in referrals for care. When a child is abused, it can be weeks, sometimes years before they tell anyone, and Cloud said it is important to believe survivors to establish a sense of trust when they do come forward. For the gardens there will be one pinwheel to represent each child who received care during 2020 from River Bridge — 760 in total.
“We also know that this pinwheel could potentially or will represent a child that’s going to be seen this year. It’s trying to bring a visual message to the community that our children need us. They need us to be aware, they need us to be a voice for them,” Cloud said.
River Bridge will be holding multiple virtual events throughout the month of April to continue to raise awareness and educate families about signs of child abuse. Paige Quist is a survivor of sexual abuse and a spokesperson for the center. April is also Sexual Assault Awareness month and Quist said by sharing her story she hopes to encourage others to do the same.
“I originally didn’t even know what happened to me, I couldn’t quite comprehend it. … It was through coming forward and seeing that I didn’t have to be silenced and seeing that there were so many other victims before me,” Quist said.
Quist is a freshman at the University of Oregon studying psychology in the Clark’s Honors College. She wants to one day be a sex therapist and a psychotherapist, and said she hopes to one day work with young adults to help them with mental health and other sexual assault survivors. She said by being vocal about her experience she wants to help chip away at the stigma surrounding conversations about sexual assault.
“I want people to be comfortable with finding their voice, to be breaking the silence society has put on things like this. I want them to understand the severity of what happens when people commit these crimes and all the factors that go into why victims stay silenced,” Quist said.
If child abuse goes untreated, Cloud said it can have lifelong consequences for the individual, potentially leading to behavioral problems or homelessness. One in 10 children will be sexually abused before they turn 18 and 90% of the time the offender is someone the child knows.
“I think one of the biggest misconceptions is, ‘oh my family is so strong, oh my child is so smart, it wouldn’t happen to my child. It wouldn’t happen in our family.’ … It crosses race, it crosses gender, it crosses socioeconomic status. … It can happen to everyone’s family,” Cloud said.
Alex Hauser, an intake caseworker at Garfield County’s Department of Human Services, works closely with River Bridge and writes in an email that her job is centered around child survivors.
“Beside identifying safety and risk concerns, the work we do revolves around establishing safety for the children, and offering services if need be for the children and the families we work with. We have a child-centered approach and build on a child’s inherent capacity for resiliency,” Hauser writes.
She writes that signs something may have happened to a child are not always highly noticeable. Something families can do, she writes, is maintain open communication between parents and children to remind them that they can come forward if something does happen.
“A sudden and unexplained change in demeanor, appearance or behavior could be indicators,” Hauser writes. “General advice for families with children that can speak is to have open conversations with your children and follow through with addressing concerns that are brought to you.”
River Bridge will continue to serve abuse survivors and help them get back to a place of mental and physical well-being, Cloud said. While the topic is challenging to discuss, Cloud said ensuring children are safe, happy and healthy will lead to a more empowered community dynamic for everyone.
“Through more awareness, prevention and discussions, yes, we hope to one day work ourselves out of a job. We pray that there would be a life without child abuse where all children grow up in happy, healthy, safe homes, schools, communities everywhere. But unfortunately at this time we know our services are called on more and more,” Cloud said.
– “Report concerns you observe or know of by calling the state-wide reporting hotline, 1-844-CO-4-KIDS. You have the option to remain anonymous, and it is important to speak up for our children.” Alex Hauser said.
– If you’d like to create your own pinwheel garden to help raise awareness find more information at copinwheelsforprevention.org to order up to 100 pinwheels for free.
– Reach out to Mary Cloud directly if you are interested in volunteering and helping to spread awareness at email@example.com.
– More information about events held during April can also be found on the site, https://www.riverbridgerc.org/. For webinar courses it is $15 to attend, but there have been some donated so if cost becomes an issue, Cloud said again to email her to gain access.
Reporter Jessica Peterson can be reached at 970-279-3462 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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