More than 700 shiny pinwheels were planted throughout northern Santa Barbara County on Wednesday in an effort to raise awareness of issues related to child abuse in the region.
Officials with the North County Rape Crisis and Child Protection Center joined with civic leaders and other children’s advocates to “plant” the pinwheels — each representing five suspected incidences of child abuse in their respective area — in Lompoc, Santa Maria and Solvang.
The series of ceremonies, held in conjunction with April being designated as National Child Abuse Prevention Month, kicked off with 189 pinwheels being placed outside Lompoc City Hall, and continued with 352 being put near the Child Welfare Services office in Santa Maria and another 189 installed near the Veterans Memorial Building in Solvang.
Alison Wales, associate director of the Rape Crisis Center, said the “highly visible outreach” provided by the pinwheels, which are meant to depict the innocence of youth, has been effective in spreading the message about child abuse and prevention.
“This event is about awareness and hope,” she said. “Abuse can be hidden or not acknowledged because people are afraid to make a report. Parents and caregivers can be afraid to ask for help and education. Our partners want people to understand that there is no shame in asking for help, or attending a parenting class. It is difficult to do better until you learn that there are better ways to discipline, to interact or even help educate our children.”
In northern Santa Barbara County, there were 5,126 referrals of suspected child abuse reported over the past year and 2,705 of those referrals were investigated, according to the Rape Crisis Center.
Of those, according to data provided by the Rape Crisis Center, there were 945 referrals investigated in the Lompoc region, which includes the Santa Ynez Valley, and 1,760 investigated in the Santa Maria region.
Additionally, the Rape Crisis Center reported that it educated more than 14,000 North County children with its ChildSAFE program, provided in local schools, that focuses on combating child abuse.
Among the partnering organizations in the pinwheels campaign are First 5 Santa Barbara County, the county’s Department of Social Services, Bikers Against Child Abuse, Community Action Commission, Child Abuse Listening Mediation (CALM), Domestic Violence Solutions, Good Samaritan, Court Appointed Special Advocates of Santa Barbara County and People Helping People.
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Among the civic leaders who participated in the Wednesday ceremonies were Lompoc Mayor Jenelle Osborne, Lompoc Police Chief Joe Mariani, Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino, Santa Maria Councilwoman Gloria Soto, Solvang Councilman Robert Clarke and Alma Hernandez, a representative of 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann.
Wales said that education about child abuse-related issues is key to the overall wellness of a community.
“We feel it is important to recognize that, as a community, early childhood intervention and prevention helps with brain development, psychosocial development and, in general, a more secure environment to grow up in,” she said. “These factors lead to more secure and productive adults in society.
“The agencies that participated today believe in the education that various agencies provide in the North County to parents, teens [and] young children and [the] professional training for mandated reporters, who are responsible for reporting suspected abuse,” she added. “Simply, the more education provided leads to empowering parents and families in making better choices and outcomes for children.”
Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.