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Organizations serving Rowan and surrounding counties highlight resources during Child Abuse Prevention Month

Samantha Morrill

All through the month of April, blue pinwheels have been spinning in the wind all over the town of Morehead to bring awareness to child abuse and the ways it can be prevented.

As part of the efforts, the Rowan County Fiscal Court acknowledged a new group of volunteers in the area. April 16th was proclaimed CASA Gateway Day.

CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. CASA volunteers are appointed by judges to serve in child abuse and neglect cases. Once assigned to a child, the volunteer researches their case and makes a report to the court as to what is in the best interest of the child.

Beth Ellis is the Executive Director of CASA of the Gateway Region. She said there are many kids who can benefit from the program.

“Earlier this year, for 2023, there were 149 petitions between the four counties that were filed last year for abuse and neglect of children. So, in Rowan County there was 68, Montgomery there was 60, Bath there was 14, and Menifee there was 17 petitions,” said Ellis.

CASA of the Gateway Region is the newest chapter in the commonwealth, and Ellis said they’ve learned a lot from other Kentucky chapters. She recalls a story involving a Casa volunteer and a young boy from Lexington.

“He needed a hearing test several years ago, and so that CASA [volunteer] advocated for a hearing test to be court ordered, you know in their recommendation to the judge, and they court ordered it. They got a hearing test. The kid got hearing aids. His behavioral issues got better. He was put back in a regular classroom and graduated,” said Ellis.

Ellis said she hopes to eventually have enough volunteers so that one can be assigned to every case filed.

“We want nothing more than to see these kids have a safe and permanent home, so we would love to be able to serve all of those,” said Ellis.

At the Rowan County Judicial Office, Sarah Stacy is the Assistant County Attorney. She works hard in and out of the courtroom to advocate for children who are victims of child abuse and neglect.

Stacy said in cases where drug abuse is a factor, helping parents get treatment so they can eventually regain custody of their children is generally the best outcome. This is a process called reunification.

“However, there are some more severe cases of child abuse neglect, and you know sometimes where child abuse is very intentional and there’s not really a lot of services that we can offer to help rehabilitate these parents,” said Stacy.

Kentucky’s child abuse and neglect hotline can be reached at any time by calling 877-597-2331. Stacy said when it comes to reporting child abuse and neglect it is best to follow the “If you see something, say something.” rule.

“There’s a common misconception that only certain people are what’s called mandated reporters in Kentucky. You know, certain people in the school systems or nurses, or those kinds of professionals. Of course, everybody is mandated in those kinds of professions to report any suspected child abuse, but actually everybody in the state of Kentucky, our statute says that anybody in the state of Kentucky that suspects should report,” said Stacy.

Whitney Watercutter is the Service Director at Rowan County Middle School. She said when it comes to children, teachers must build a trusting relationship with them because most of the time they want to talk.

“If they are in abusive situations, a lot of times they’ve been coached not to speak to you, but building rapport with them, letting them know you care, and letting them know you’re there for their benefit and the benefit of their family,” said Watercutter.

Watercutter is also co-chair of the Rowan County UNITE Coalition, an organization that aims to build a safe, healthy, and drug-free community. She said a lot of times child abuse and drug abuse go hand in hand and UNITE has several resources available so parents can get the help that they need.

“We do camps for kids. We do Shoot Hoops, Not Drugs. They have multiple school programs. I mean, just any program you could really think of, UNITE’s got one for it, and that’s something that really is like more of a preventative tool as well,” said Watercutter.

The Morehead community painted the town blue for Child Abuse Prevention Month, but Beth Ellis with CASA Gateway said this is a year-round job.

“It starts with one advocate. It starts with one child, and it starts with one life that we get to change,” said Ellis.