CARTERVILLE – Everyone has the power to stop child abuse, so said Derek A. Hobson on Wednesday at this year’s opening day for Child Abuse Prevention Month at John A. Logan College.

Hobson, regional administrator for the Southern Region of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, helped to get the prevention month and this year’s theme of “how will you help” started.

The 31-year DCFS veteran led a chorus of about 50 people in the audience, asking them to repeat with him, “I have the power to stop child abuse.”

Though perhaps true -- more people are calling the DCFS hotline to report abuse -- the so-called "hidden epidemic" is on the rise in Illinois, Hobson said.

In Illinois, a child dies because of abuse or neglect every three days. The death rate is higher in Southern Illinois. Every day in the United States, four to seven children die because of abuse and reports of abuse are made every 10 seconds, Hobson said.

Though more people are reporting abuse, the numbers remain “staggering,” Hobson said.

“It tells us we have more work to do,” he noted.

A proclamation from Gov. Bruce Rauner, declaring April as Child Abuse Prevention Month was read by Tim Daugherty, John A. Logan College’s vice president for Student Affairs and Community Education.

April has served as prevention month across the country since 1983 and efforts to raise awareness about abuse prevention in Southern Illinois have been spearheaded by a number of organizations.

Wednesday’s kickoff was planned by Prevent Child Abuse Illinois, the DCFS, the Poshard Foundation for Abused Children, the Perry-Jackson Child Advocacy Center and Shawnee Healthy Families.

Jo Poshard, the Foundation’s executive director, anticipates the need to always maintain awareness efforts. Too often, people tend not to believe abuse will happen in their communities, she said.

As people educate themselves about the signs of abuse, why it happens and that it occurs across socio-economic lines, abuse can be prevented, Poshard said.

“That is the best thing we can do to try and prevent child abuse. I think as our awareness and consciousness grows, we’re going to be able to make a difference,” she said.

Elaine Duensing, a Healthy Families associate with Prevent Child Abuse Illinois, encouraged people to help bring attention to the issue by wearing blue ribbons or participating in Wear Blue Day on April 10.

Planting pinwheel gardens, another symbol of child abuse prevention, is another encouraged activity.

“The well-being of children in our nation and in our state is the common concern of all of us,” Duensing said. “All children deserve a great childhood because children are our future.”

Williamson County State’s Attorney Brandon Zanotti was also a guest speaker, promising stiff prosecution of those who harm children and pointing to recent sexual assault convictions as an example.

“This kind of behavior is absolutely not going to be tolerated in Williamson County,” Zanotti said. “We are going to come down as hard as the law allows on people who do these terrible things to children.”

Support of advocacy groups, such as the Williamson County Child Advocacy Center or the county’s Court Appointed Special Advocates program, only help in that cause, Zanotti said.

To report abuse, call the DCFS hotline at 1-800-25-ABUSE. It is staffed 24 hours every day of the year.

Zanotti also encouraged people to call 911 if they suspect abuse.

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Nick Mariano is a reporter for The Southern Illinoisan covering Saline, Franklin and Jefferson counties.

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