‘Sad and sobering’

April is National Child Abuse and Neglect Awareness Month in Fort Bend County. The Awareness Field, above, has 2,274 stakes with blue ribbons, representing the 2,274 children who were abused or neglected last year in Fort Bend County.

2,274.

That’s the number of children in Fort Bend County who suffered abuse and neglect last year, authorities say.

And those are just the children who have come to the attention of authorities.

To remind citizens to be vigilant of child abuse and neglect, organizers have planted 2,274 white stakes with blue ribbons in front of the historic Fort Bend County Courthouse on U.S. 90 in Richmond.

A similar “Awareness Field” was set up in Stafford.

A banner in front says “Blue Ribbon Project: Fort Bend County.” Below those words are “2,274 ribbons for 2,274 abuse cases” in six-inch tall blue letters.

The banner and ribbons will remain in place throughout April, which is National Child Abuse and Neglect Awareness Month in the United States.

Members of the Exchange Club of Fort Bend County, Child Advocates of Fort Bend County and the Light of Hope dedicated the two Awareness Fields.

They had help from local Boy Scouts, The Los Canalas and Family Motorcycle Club, Bikers Against Child Abuse, the Clements Excel Club, the Lone Star Exchange Club, the Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office and other individual volunteers.

“The reality that we must confront is most children never tell of their abuse and will continue to live in the shadows,” Kelli Metzenthin, president of the Exchange Club of Fort Bend told a crowd gathered at the courthouse to dedicate the awareness fields on Thursday.

“In 2008, I personally and professionally became involved in this movement, and in 2008, statistics showed that one in four girls and one in six boys would suffer abuse and/or neglect before the age of 18. Sadly, as of today, those statistics have not changed.”

Metzenthin assured those present that more cases of abuse and neglect are being reported each year.

“It’s not that we haven’t worked hard,” she said.

“We have more awareness. We have more children reporting. More parents and more teachers are reporting abuse.

“But the statistics are still the same, so we have a lot more work to do.”

She said it is the mission of Exchange Clubs nationwide to promote child abuse awareness and to work on slashing that horrible statistic to zero.

Fortunately, she added, 22 organizations and agencies in Fort Bend County have joined forces to battle child abuse and neglect, “take perpetrators off the streets and place children in homes that are safe.”

Fort Bend County Judge KP George thanked the organizations and agencies taking part in the annual awareness event, and he noted that almost 200,000 children across Texas are reported abused or neglected each year.

George proclaimed April as National Child Abuse and Neglect Awareness Month in Fort Bend County.

Ruthanne Mefford, CEO of Child Advocates of Fort Bend, said 2,274 reported cases of child abuse and neglect “is a tragic thing.”

She said it takes the entire community to prevent child abuse and awareness.

Because blue is the national symbol of child abuse and neglect awareness, Mefford encourages citizens throughout April to wear blue ribbons on their lapels, put a blue ribbon on their automobile’s radio antenna or use blue in other ways to bring attention to the problem of child abuse and neglect.

Fort Bend County District Attorney Brian Middleton pledged to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law anyone who abuses or neglects children.

“Crimes against children are sad and sobering,” Metzenthin added.

“As you leave here today, I ask you to keep in mind the excellent work being done to serve the children of Fort Bend County and beyond. Together, we are taking steps to make our communities more aware of the problems and preventing child abuse close to home.”

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