Keeping kids safe for over 25 years

After a quarter century of urging the community to “break the silence,” victims of child abuse are no longer quietly suffering.

Years ago, it was something that no one wanted to talk about, said Anna Bozza, executive director at Family and Children’s Services Niagara.

“It was very much a silent issue,” she said.

“But I think raising the awareness, educating and a number of people coming forward, it has really opened that up to say, ‘We are a community that really needs to help our kids and families. If you have concerns. If you have questions, please give us a call.’”

Bozza said the Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention program, launched 25 years ago, has “helped take away the stigma, to say we really need to come together as a community.”

Tuesday, Bozza joined dozens of others from throughout Niagara, including community partners from local school boards, Niagara Regional Police and the Niagara chapter of Bikers Against Child Abuse Canada to celebrate the milestone for the program, and the impact it has had.

They dressed in purple t-shirts with Break the Silence printed on them, and raised a child abuse awareness campaign flag at St. Catharines city hall, celebrating the milestone while continuing to ensure that they continue to share the message.

Niagara Regional Police deputy chief Brett Flynn said the NRP’s child abuse unit and internet child exploitation unit “rely very heavily on partnerships,” with organizations like FACS, and the Kristen French Child Advocacy Centre Niagara.

But he also stressed the importance of community involvement to prevent child abuse.

For instance, in a courtroom across the street from the group gathering on the front lawn of St. Catharines city hall, convicted child molester Don Grecco was being sentenced to 18 months in prison for sexually abusing three boys in the 1970s and ’80s.

“I heard a really good friend speak the other day at an FBI national academy training day. He said to the police officers, think about the greatest case you’ve ever had. Think about the best thing you’ve ever done in policing, and it only happened because somebody phoned. Somebody called. It’s not a lot of times that we trip over crime in progress, unless someone’s really not all that bright at all.”

Bozza pointed out that in the overwhelming majority of cases, children remain in the care of their family.

“Most of the kids and families we serve are with family. They’re getting the community supports that they require,” she said.

“It’s about child wellbeing and how important it is that kids are safe, and also thriving.”

Nevertheless, she said there is an ongoing need for foster parents for those relatively rare instances when children need to be removed from their families.

And that too is part of the awareness campaign, urging people to get involved to become foster parents.

“People in our community are absolutely wonderful, giving, committed individuals. We need to continue to raise the awareness so they know the need is there. That can go from fostering to volunteering, to helping families, to helping kids, to calling if they’re not sure.”

ABenner@postmedia.com

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Source: St. Catharines Standard