The Ouachita Area Youth Council will present a free conference, "Child Abuse Prevention & Intervention: Moving from Awareness to Action," in an effort to keep the conversation going about the prevalence of child abuse and the need for awareness in honor of National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
The event, set for 9 a.m. to noon April 24 at the Roy Rowe Educational Auditorium, 400 Linwood Ave., will feature keynote speaker Phyllis Bell, the child welfare senior adviser to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and Sherry Williamson, with the Arkansas Commission on Child Abuse, Rape and Domestic Violence.
Additional presentations will be given by Garland County Prosecuting Attorney Michelle Lawrence and other local child abuse responders and members of the multidisciplinary child abuse review team.
Linda Ragsdale, who retired last year as executive director of Ouachita Children's Center and is serving this year as chairman for the OAYC, said this free conference is the council's "effort to complement other efforts in the community to help folks to think about child abuse and ways we could better address it."
"Our group has talked about doing things in and for the community that further address our concerns and issues, and certainly child abuse is a big one, and April is Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month, so this is something we decided to put together," Ragsdale said.
"The idea is for the community to hear more about the kinds of cases that are pretty typical for our local responders to deal with and how it comes to their attention, and then what happens after it gets their attention. A lot of people, maybe they don't know what happens -- is it worth making a call? Will it make a difference? Will anybody do anything? We want them to know that it's very important to report it if you suspect some problems."
According to its website, the mission of OAYC is to provide an organized forum of area agencies and professionals that collaborate to assure needs of youths are being met as effectively and efficiently as possible. OAYC came together in 2013 to share and identify common concerns in serving youth and families in the community. It is now a coalition of over 40 youth service provider agencies and advocates in Garland County.
Sponsors of the event include Child Care Aware, a program of National Park College; Cooperative Christian Ministries & Clinic; Hot Springs School District; and OCC, which are all members of OAYC.
"They're all members of the Ouachita Area Youth Council. We're a loose group -- by choice we're not super organized, but we meet every two months to look at issues and try to inform ourselves and see where we can make a difference," Ragsdale said.
She added that just this past year, after hearing several national news stories involving horrendous child abuse that went on unreported for years, it struck her how severe the need for awareness and education on this subject is.
"How does an entire California family of 13 children, some even grown, secretly survive incarceration from two working parents, while starved and shackled to their beds for years without anyone knowing or suspecting? How do numerous bright and beautiful young gymnasts endure disguised but reprehensible sexual assaults by a renowned physician who instead of healing is exploiting his naive but highly motivated patients for his own personal gratification?
"The message has to be, don't just be aware of it and know you're supposed to report it -- we've got to empower people to know that if they think something is being done that is wrong, do something. That they feel safe and comfortable enough to report it, and that somebody will believe them, and somebody will do something about it," Ragsdale said.
"Phyllis has cordially invited us to try to get some youth at this event, at least for her presentation, because she talks in very general terms about how important it is for everybody, including potentially harmed youth, to know who to talk to and what to expect."
The doors will open at 8:30 a.m. for refreshments.Local on 04/11/2018