Vigil Shines Light On Child Abuse Problem

In the past six months, more than a thousand cases of neglect and abuse have been reported in Harrison County alone. That's why the group "Professionals Advocating Children Together" holds a candlelight vigil every year at Jones Park, to shine a light on this growing problem.

Thursday night was their third candlelight vigil. They say every lit candle symbolizes hope for the forgotten children who continue to suffer.

"Some homes that you may drive by and you go, 'There's no way anybody lives there,' well I'm gonna tell you there are people that live there and sometimes they are children," PACT member Beth Casey said.

Along with the neglected children are those who face abuse everyday in neighborhoods throughout South Mississippi.

"We're looking at infants that have fractures. Or shaken baby, which is where somebody just shakes the child and causes permanent damage, one of the side affects being blindness."

Three years ago the child advocates of PACT started the candlelight vigil. They felt it was time to shine a huge spotlight on child abuse.

"What we're hoping to accomplish is to heighten public awareness."

By getting the community involved now, members hope to solve another long term problem.

"Ninety-five percent of those that are in prison were abused and neglected children. So the question is, do you want to deal with the problem now while it's in its infancy, or do you want to deal with a monumental problem?"

Before this vigil, Quinn Barnes had no idea child abuse and neglect was such a problem in our area.

"I will certainly looks at things differently," Barnes said. "We have a tendency to want to turn a deaf ear when we see things that we don't think are really there. It's going to make me more aware to open my eyes and my ears."

The Department of Human Services tries to fight child abuse, but their job is difficult with recent under-staffing problems.

The department does have some of the state funds needed to hire more case workers. But even with recent hires, each worker still investigates about 90 cases at a time.

To get involved in the fight against child abuse and neglect call 865-7000. And if you ever suspect abuse or neglect, it is your responsibility to report it to DHS or your local police department.