April showers bring blue pinwheels: Mississippi community pushing awareness for child abuse

Published 7:00 am Sunday, April 9, 2023

As blue pinwheels begin to appear, Natchez Children’s Services is working to raise awareness of child abuse in Adams County.

In 2022, Natchez Children’s Services helped 285 children in the five-county area it serves, with 148 of those children in Adams County, said director Catherine McPhate.

There are only 12 centers like Natchez Children’s Services located throughout Mississippi. Altogether those 12 centers saw 8,837 children for various forms of child abuse and neglect. The number one issue has been sexual abuse cases, McPhate said.

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To help raise awareness for National Child Abuse Prevention Month, blue pinwheels have been placed around the courthouse, where they will remain throughout the month. Each pinwheel represents a child that the organization has helped.

Natchez Children’s Services, a non-profit organization, provides a safe space for forensic interviews, victim advocacy, and trauma therapy for both children and adults.

McPhate said it was founded as an orphanage in 1816 and in 2012 became a Children’s Advocacy Center. Through the years, the goal has always been to help children, McPhate said.

In 2019, the Natchez Children’s Services moved from the former Natchez Children’s Home to its current location on Fatherland Road behind Westminster Presbyterian Church. The space is isolated so that victims have privacy with a welcoming garden and fountain in front and rooms with toys inside. It’s a place where children can feel safe, McPhate said.

“We are kind of secluded but we do want people to know that we are here,” she said. “We are not trying to be hidden. We want the community to know that we are here and the services we provide.”

McPhate said Natchez Children’s Services helps children between age 3 and 18. They also have services for family members as well.

“If they need therapy or someone to check in on them, we can definitely do that because trauma doesn’t just affect the child. It affects the whole family unit,” she said.

Cases are referred to the center by Child Protective Services, but everyone has a responsibility to report incidents or suspicions to CPS, she said.

“All adults are mandated reporters,” McPhate said. “Anyone can make an anonymous phone call to Child Protective Services or make a report to law enforcement.”

A 24-7 hotline allows people to report abuse cases as they occur, McPhate said. That hotline is 1-800-222-8000. It can also be done online at mdcps.ms.gov. Just click on the big red button at the top of the home page to make a report, she said.

Common signs of abuse can be when a child becomes withdrawn or has emotional outbursts, shows difficulty with relationships, poor concentration or any other unusual mood or behaviors.

If a child has marks and bruises, lacks hygiene or is hungry, these can all be red flags of abuse or neglect, McPhate said.

Even those who aren’t around children or don’t see the signs can still help the cause by donating to Natchez Children’s Services or by volunteering, she said. Some ways to volunteer include helping out with fundraisers or maintenance around the facility or providing comfort items such as snacks to give to the children.

For more information, contact the center at 601-442-6858 or visit natchezcac.org.