CROWN POINT — Several Region leaders and child advocates gathered to put a spotlight on child abuse prevention and awareness in a candlelight vigil.
The Candlelight Vigil for Victims of Child Abuse was held Wednesday evening at the old Lake County Courthouse in downtown Crown Point.
In light of April being child abuse prevention month, Geminus Community Partners, Indiana Department of Child Services, CASA, and Kids First Trust Fund collaborated to create an event that memorialized children who have died from abuse and spread awareness on the issue.
“I think if we don’t talk about the tough things in our community, how can we address those parts of reality so we can conquer them together and address and resolve these issues?” said Ellis Dumas, regional manager for the Indiana Department of Child Services.
Dumas said foster parents and volunteers are in great need throughout Northwest Indiana.
In a somber moment, candles were lit for a moment of silence to reflect on the young lives lost to child abuse and neglect. Rick Cochran, senior pastor of Living Hope Church in Merrillville, led in prayer. He said that it is important for faith-based groups to play an active role in child abuse prevention. Living Hope Church, for example, helps connect individuals with assistance for food, rent, utilities and other necessities.
“Churches and faith groups offer a lot of human resources such as volunteers to fill vital roles in community projects,” Cochran said. Nicholas Neal, director of program development for Geminus, said effectively preventing child abuse and neglect takes a holistic approach, including helping families with basic needs and providing financial stability.
“This has really been our first real in-person event since the pandemic,” Neal said. “Talking about the need to stay together on this, we’ve had some great speakers, from Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter to Lake County Juvenile Court Judge (Thomas) Stefaniak,” Neal said. “We have a lot of child advocates and city council members here, too. It’s about collaborating and understanding the issues at hand.”
Neal said anyone who is in need of assistance or wishes to volunteer or donate to the cause can call Geminus Corporation at 219-757-1800.
Rehana Adat-Lopez, director of the Lake County Court Appointed Special Advocate program, said one way people can take an active approach to helping children is to volunteer with CASA. Volunteers act as advocates for children who are involved in child abuse or neglect cases.
“Numbers are high, there are over 1,000 kids in the system,” Adat-Lopez said. “And we need an advocate for each one.” She urged anyone interested in learning more to call 219-738-CASA.
LaShaunta Pierce local office director for the Department of Child Services, said people can be an advocate for children is by keeping their eyes and ears open.
“I think the public would be shocked to know how many cases of child abuse there are in their communities,” Pierce said. “Unless they are in a situation or have dealt with that in their families, people don’t notice. The Indiana Department of Child Services encourages people, if you see something, say something. Please call, no matter how big or small. And if you are unsure, call us anyways and let us determine if something should be investigated.”