Children's Voice Article, March/April, 2005
Flagging Child Abuse
Hundreds of communities will fly the Children's Memorial Flag in April this year to honor children lost to abuse and neglect.
By Jennifer Michael
Janet Craig vividly remembers the first time she learned about CWLA's Children's Memorial Flag initiative. Craig, Director of Training and Consultation for the Children's Home Society of West Virginia, was participating in CWLA's annual national conference when then CWLA Executive Director David Liederman asked all conference attendees to look under their seats where they'd find a brochure about the Children's Memorial Flag. He asked them to take a minute, read the brochure closely, and consider organizing events in their hometowns to promote the flag and raise awareness of child abuse.
"I picked it up and became quite enamored by the idea," Craig says. "Then it just took on a life of its own."
Over the past several years, Craig has helped pull together a steering committee of state and local leaders to promote flying the Children's Memorial Flag on the fourth Friday in April. This year, all of West Virginia's 55 counties are expected to honor the Children's Memorial Flag through flag raising ceremonies, memorial services, candlelight vigils, informational fairs, lunches, receptions, and even a statewide school essay contest.
"Our goal is to have the flag flown at every county courthouse," Craig says. Efforts are also under way to encourage West Virginia family members of children who have died violently to fly the flag, if they wish. Some agencies have taken to flying the Children's Memorial Flag year-round. And state and local government leaders are encouraged to fly the flag every time a child dies violently in West Virginia.
West Virginia isn't alone in its efforts. Since CWLA launched the Children's Memorial Flag initiative in 1998, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have come on board to support the campaign. Nearly 300 organizations and 100 cities nationwide also took part last year in flying the flag atop county courthouses, in the middle of town squares, and on the front lawns of child advocacy agencies.
Large or small, Children's Memorial Flag activities achieve the same goal-heightening public awareness of the number of children who die violently each year, and calling attention to child abuse and neglect. Each year, local flag-raising ceremonies and memorials have drawn the attention of local broadcast and print media outlets, inspired governors to issue proclamations, and provided an opportunity to award and recognize local leaders, foster parents, volunteers, and other child advocates for their time spent working on behalf of children.
All of these activities have taken life because of the brightly colored Children's Memorial Flag. The flag's distinctive design depicts the 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.
Inspired to Action
Sometimes all it takes is the symbolic value of a flag to motivate people to take up a cause, such as child abuse prevention. The use of flags to represent important issues and inspire calls to action has deep-seeded roots in humankind, according to David Martucci, Past President of the North American Vexillological Association and editor of the New England Journal of Vexillology (the study of flags).
"Obviously, the merit and worth of a flag is much more than its components," Martucci says. "A flag inspires an emotional response in people once they understand its meaning. People will do things in the name of the flag they are flying that they normally wouldn't do."
CWLA's hope is the Children's Memorial Flag will continue to inspire people nationwide to devote themselves to helping stem the number of children lost to violence every year. The United States leads the world in homicides against children and youth under age 15, accounting for 73% of all homicides and 54% of all suicides of children, birth to age 15, among the world's top 26 industrialized countries. In 2002 alone, the last year for which data is available, 1,390 children died as a result of abuse or neglect in the United States.
CWLA strives to make it easy for member agencies and others to take part in the Children's Memorial Flag initiative. Flags can be ordered online, as well as bumper stickers, magnets, and lapel pins depicting the flag; downloadable images of the flag are also available.
The website also offers ideas on how to participate in Child Abuse Prevention Month and Children's Memorial Flag activities. For example, CWLA is gathering signatures online in support of its proposal with Alameda County to commemorate the Children's Memorial Flag on a U.S. postage stamp. Nearly 400 individuals and organizations actively support the stamp initiative, but more signatures are needed.
Another way to show support is by participating in CWLA's online charity auctions on eBay, April 15-22. The auctions will garner financial support for the Children's Memorial Flag initiative and raise awareness about the need to eliminate violence against children. To learn more about the auction and how you can get involved, visit www.ebay.com/cwla, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
CWLA invites participants in Children's Memorial Flag activities to be as creative as they'd like and share their stories and photographs on the flag website to help inspire others to get involved. The site already has numerous testimonials and photos from agencies across the country. For example:
This year, CWLA expects even more organizations to take up the Children's Memorial Flag initiative. Long before April, many organizations were already making plans and spreading the word. The Family Law Society, a student organization at the University of Florida College of Law, set up a table on campus during the holidays last December and sold several hundred dollars worth of CWLA bumper stickers, magnets, and lapel pins to fellow students to raise money for the Children's Memorial Flag fund.
- In April 2004, Child Abuse Prevention Services (CAPS) in Elkhart, Indiana, held a children's Memorial Service during which a sheriff's department honor guard raised the flag, a local bagpiper played, and a CAPS employee performed an original song about the effects of child abuse. A county prosecutor, a juvenile magistrate, and CAPS President and CEO Daryl Abbott spoke. Participants dedicated a Children's Garden of Hope to the memory of two young women murdered in the area and lit candles to honor the 51 Indiana children who died as a result of child abuse and neglect in 2003-2004.
- During an April 2004 ceremony in Shelby County, Tennessee, Nancy Williams, Director of the Memphis Child Advocacy Center, reminded the community that child deaths are preventable and that by raising the Children's Memorial Flag, they issue a call to the community to get involved in helping prevent these tragic deaths. Participants observed a moment of silence as the Memphis police color guard raised the flag. Then officials read the names of Shelby County children who had lost their lives due to abuse; a hand bell choir tolled as the names were read. Memphis Chief Prosecutor of Child Abuse Kevin Rardin reminded the crowd that every member of the community is required to report suspected child abuse.
- In addition to leading a flag-raising ceremony in front of the county courthouse in Marion County, West Virginia, last April, Marion County's social service agencies also sponsored a Child Watch Tour. Participants toured their community's various neighborhoods to learn more about the often confusing, stressful lives of children in the foster care system. They spent the day riding a school bus, carrying their belongings in a bag, not knowing when they would receive their next meal, and spending much of their time talking to lawyers, hospital staff, school guidance personnel and psychologists-a day not unlike those experienced by children in foster care.
"We received a fantastic response from the student body," says Family Law Society member Corinne Stashuk, who learned about the flag initiative after happening upon CWLA's website. "In addition to raising money for the Memorial Flag Project, it also raised awareness about CWLA, the Memorial Flag, and child abuse in general. It was a great starting point for the Memorial Flag Campaign we have planned for April."
As for Janet Craig and the West Virginian participants, they kicked into high gear in January to begin planning efforts.
"Flying the flag is only a small part in raising public awareness about the problem of the loss of so many vulnerable children," Craig says. "I trust the flag will become a symbol to every man, woman, and child that we are all responsible to protect one another."
Jennifer Michael is Managing Editor of Children's Voice.
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