Since last July, Johnston County social workers have looked into more than 1,100 cases of suspected child abuse.
Caseworkers with the Johnston Department of Social Services say preventing child abuse starts with education. They say education starts with awareness.
Throughout the past month, dozens of blue pinwheels have twirled in Smithfield to turn people’s attention to helping end child abuse.
The pinwheels, located along North Bright Leaf Boulevard next to a DSS building, highlight a banner sign. It reads, “The fight to protect our children is one we must fight together.”
It goes on to note that in 2013, 25 children in North Carolina died because of abuse.
Christina Hooker, an investigator with Johnston County DSS, said North Carolinians are required by law to report suspected child abuse.
Some states require that only adults with children report suspected abuse. However, North Carolina and 18 other states require any citizen who suspects child abuse or neglect to report it.
“It’s important for the public to step in,” Hooker said.
Social worker Kimberly Legath said most people aren’t aware of how many children are abused on a regular basis. The 1,106 cases social workers have assessed since last July is consistent with tallies from recent years.
“They need to know that, ‘I can help save a life’ and ‘I can help prevent this,’” Legath said.
DSS has staged the pinwheel garden before. This year’s display was scheduled to run at least through April.
Robert Tarpey is manager of child protective services for Johnston DSS. He said he’d like the pinwheels to stay up throughout the year.
“I don’t want to stop the awareness in April,” Tarpey said. “This is a year-long process.”
Public-awareness campaigns like the pinwheel garden can often produce direct results, Tarpey said.
For instance, caseworkers usually have a booth at the Ham & Yam Festival in Smithfield. It’s common for people to approach DSS staff at the event and talk about a problem they’ve seen or had at home, Tarpey said.
“We are available 24/7,” Tarpey said.
“We tell people that we’ll make the decision,” he added. “You make the call.”
To report suspected abuse, or to learn more about the issue, call Johnston County DSS at 919-989-5300 or 919-989-5422. After business hours, people can call the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office at 919-989-5010.
Dunn: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104