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Children's flag day remembers victims

April 29, 2002|BY SARAH MULLIN

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

A bright red flag was raised Friday morning in front of Berkeley County Court Annex 1 in Martinsburg as a memorial to children who have died from acts of violence, preventable accidents or child abuse and neglect.

The ceremony was one of many across the nation commemorating Children's Memorial Flag Day.

The Eastern Panhandle began participating in the event last year after the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources purchased flags for all 55 counties in the state.

A school child in Alameda County, Calif., designed the flag, which consists of a group of blue figures on a red background representing children holding hands along with one figure outlined in white. The outlined figure symbolizes young victims of abuse and neglect.

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In 1998, one case of child abuse or neglect was investigated for every 23.8 children in the state, according to the Children's Home Society.

"The rates here are pretty high, and they are getting worse," said Deborah Barthlow, regional director for the Children's Home Society of West Virginia.

The organization is in charge of various youth programs, the Martinsburg Children's Shelter and a family preservation program.

Kathy Boylan, tri-county community services manager for Health and Human Resources, said that in a month's time the department receives about 130 referrals - people who call in with information on alleged child abuse.

She said about 75 percent of the referrals are found to be valid.

In the last year, there has been an increase in "drug babies" - born dependent on drugs because their mothers were users - and in sexual abuse cases, she said.

"Where we used to have four or five sexual abuse cases a month, we now have 15 or 16 a month," Boylan said.

Boylan attributed the increase in referrals and abuse cases to the spread of awareness through events like Friday's memorial.

"The only way we can find out about it (abuse) is if people tell us," she said.

She added that sexual abuse used to be ignored and brushed aside, and now people are coming forward and reporting it.

"I don't think there is more sexual abuse; I just think there is more being reported," Boylan said.

To report an act of child abuse or neglect call 1-304-267-0100 or 1-800-352-6513.

Children's Memorial Flag Day was designated in 1998 by the Child Welfare League of America as the fourth Friday in April.

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