Children's Memorial Flag Day
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Children's Memorial Flag Inspires Communities Nationwide to Eliminate Violence against Children
By Shay Bilchik, Past President and CEO, Child Welfare League of America
Every year in America, nearly 3 million children will be reported abused and neglected, and more than 1,000 will die from abuse or neglect. That is why in 1998, the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) launched the Children's Memorial Flag Campaign, an innovative public awareness initiative designed to draw attention to the problem of violence against children in this country.
The centerpiece of the initiative is a simple, moving image - a flag depicting bright blue, doll-like figures of five children standing side-by-side, holding hands against a red backdrop. A sixth child in the center is represented by a thin, white chalk outline, symbolizing a child lost to violence. Appropriately, the flag's design is not the creation of an adult, but a 16-year-old youth from Alameda County, California. The Children's Memorial Flag honors and acknowledges each lost child and raises public awareness about this enduring issue.
In 2001, under the leadership of Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV), the United States House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill declaring the fourth Friday in April National Children's Memorial Flag Day. This year it falls on April 26th. On this day, governors, mayors, directors of social service agencies, hospitals, police chiefs, parents, educators, corporations, national organizations, individuals, and families unite by flying the flag, issuing proclamations, or participating in ceremonies to memorialize children and build support for ending the violence.
Many years, all 50 states and their governors have embraced Children's Memorial Flag Day as a way to publicly show their support for families affected by violence against children, and to ensure that Americans are working together both locally in their communities and nationally in Congress to eliminate this issue.
Clearly, Children's Memorial Flag Day has allowed communities across the United States to transform tragedy into triumph. Communities have held candlelight vigils, memorial services and information fairs. In the words of Janet Craig of the Alliance for Children, Inc. in West Virginia, "Flying the flag is only a small part in raising public awareness about the problem of the loss of so many vulnerable children. I trust the flag will become a symbol to every man, woman, and child that we are all responsible to protect one another." The Flag motivates people to view violence against children in a new light by providing them with a real, tangible way to support societal and cultural change. Craig has been an inspiration for other states. Through her work, she has motivated all 55 of West Virginia's counties to fly the Children's Memorial Flag at the county court houses.
While other states have begun to follow in West Virginia's footsteps, many of the remarkable stories to emerge out of the Children's Memorial Flag initiative have been more local or individual in scope. In Michigan, a community was united in a ceremony on Children's Memorial Flag Day when a group of fourth and fifth grade students from Walnut Elementary School in Lansing read statements about their thoughts and feelings about violence in their neighborhoods and schools after the Children's Memorial Flag had been raised. Though the Flag only fluttered for one day, the impact of the youths' words lasted long beyond the ceremony, inspiring the community to take action to protect its children.
In Fort Worth, Texas, the Children's Memorial Flag flies every day in a very special place called the Garden of Angels. The Garden of Angels is the final resting spot for children who have been victims of violence, including Amber Hagerman -- whose 1996 murder inspired the Amber Plan child abduction alerts and tougher state and federal laws against child abduction. The Children's Memorial Flag flies side-by-side the United States Flag to honor these silent fallen angels and bring a sense of community and solace to their relatives and friends.
For these individuals, communities, organizations, and states, the work begun during Child Abuse Prevention Month and on Children's Memorial Flag Day does not end in April. The Children's Memorial Flag Campaign has sparked a movement across America to stamp out child abuse. Concerned citizens nationwide rally around this issue all year long, but April is oftentimes the month when we garner our newest supporters. We invite you to join us!
For more information about the Children's Memorial Flag Campaign and child abuse prevention, or to download a list of Ten Things You Can Do for Child Abuse Prevention Month and Children's Memorial Flag Day, visit the Child Welfare League of America on the Web at http://www.cwla.org/advocacy/memorialflag.htm or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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