Daviess County Family Court Judge Julie Gordon spoke to Owensboro Innovation Middle School students Thursday about her role in working with families to combat child abuse and neglect. Students also placed blue pinwheels — the symbol for child abuse prevention — in the school’s front lawn.
April is recognized annually as National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
In 2020, there were more than 24,000 cases of substantiated child abuse and neglect in Kentucky.
Amanda Hirtz, Family Resource Coordinator at the middle school, said it’s important to note those are only the substantiated reports — meaning there are likely far more.
Hirtz organized Thursday’s program for the middle schoolers, encouraging them to both feel comfortable telling an adult if they are in a negative situation and to watch for signs of abuse or neglect among others.
Gordon — who is the first Family Court Judge in Daviess County — told children that if they ever have to appear in a family court it can feel scary, but she’s there to help them.
“You think of court sometimes as deciding who’s right and who’s wrong and deciding on punishments for people,” she said. “That’s not what family court is about. In any type of child abuse or neglect situation, we try to figure out what the problem is. Parents love their kids, but usually there’s some kind of issue that has led us to the position where kids are put at risk. We try to figure out what’s going on and how to solve the problem.”
She continued, “We try to do whatever we can with all the community providers we work with to try to remove those obstacles families are facing so kids can be safe and so everyone can be happy and healthy together.”
Gordon on Thursday signed a proclamation declaring April as Child Abuse Prevention Month in Owensboro-Daviess County.
The proclamation notes that “preventing child abuse and neglect is a community problem that depends on involvement among people throughout the community” and that during periods of challenges “families feel more vulnerable and as a result child abuse and neglect increases drastically.”
If further reads that child abuse and neglect can be reduced by making sure families have support to raise children in healthy environment, using help from all citizens as well as child abuse prevention programs among various community partners.
Hirtz noted that abuse can occur in several different forms, including physical, emotional, verbal or mental abuse, as well as sexual assault or neglect. She also said children who have been abused may have unexplained injuries, fear of going home or fear of specific people or places, or a change in eating or sleeping behaviors.
“Everyone has a role to play in ensuring kids are safe and protected,” Hirtz said. “If you see a friend or family member with any of these signs, or if you are worried about a friend or loved, please tell a safe adult.”