The Aegis

Victims of child abuse remembered in Harford

The pinwheels planted in the flower beds in front of the Harford County Courthouse became a blur Wednesday evening, as strong winds pushed their blades around and around.

The pinwheels had been planted there, as they have in locations across the country during April, to mark National Child Abuse Prevention Month.


A common child's toy, the pinwheels are reminders of children who have been abused and neglected by adults.

National Child Abuse Prevention Month was observed in Harford County Wednesday with CASA of Harford County's second annual candlelight vigil on the grounds of the circuit courthouse in downtown Bel Air.


The acronym CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates; there are nearly 1,000 local CASA organizations across the country. The pinwheels were planted by CASA and provided by The Family Tree, a Baltimore-based group that works to prevent child abuse across the state, according to The Family Tree's website.

Those organizations are supported by volunteers who are appointed by courts and trained through CASA to conduct independent investigations of child abuse or neglect, and they work on behalf of the children as their cases move through the court system, according to the organization's website and a program provided during Wednesday's vigil.

"I have the greatest respect for CASA volunteers... they're just amazing, and I appreciate being able to work with you each and every day," Ross DiEdoardo, director of CASA of Harford County, said during a brief ceremony in the courthouse's ceremonial courtroom held before the vigil outside.

An estimated 40 to 50 people gathered in the gallery of the ornate courtroom, including volunteers and parents of the members of the Trinity Lutheran Church children's choir.

Members of the choir sang "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" and "Jesus Loves Even Me" inside the courtroom and "Prayer for Children" during the vigil.

The vigil was meant to be a candlelight remembrance, but the participants held unlit candles because of the high winds. Many parents and children also held pinwheels.

DiEdoardo and several other speakers, including Harford County Sheriff Jesse Bane, Jill Svrjcek, assistant director of the county's Department of Social Services, and Kristy Caceres, a former Baltimore County DSS worker who worked with CASA volunteers, praised the volunteers and spoke about the need to continue the fight against child abuse and neglect.

Caceres, who lives in Joppa, is the parent of a child in the choir.


"I appreciate what you do," Bane told the volunteers. "I don't know how you do it... and thank God for you."

Social Services is responsible for child welfare in Harford County, and Svrjcek said the agency accepts about 1,300 reports each year for a "child protective services response."

She said the majority of children are able to remain with their families, and the situation is handled through "intervention." The children who are in a situation that is too dangerous to return to are typically placed in foster care.

Svrjcek stressed the "community response" by agencies and community groups outside Social Services that work on behalf of those children.

She noted that, during her long career, she has seen adults that her agency served as children.

"That's not what we want to have happen, and that's the goal, is to break that cycle," she said. "I will have to say that the cycle does continue, despite our efforts, but as a social worker one of the tenets I live by is eternal hopefulness."


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DiEdoardo noted the White House had hosted conferences on children and youth from 1909 to 1969, but has not held one since President Richard Nixon was in office.

"For system-wide change, it really is going to require us to make some noise to the powers that be," he said.

DiEdoardo stressed that "as a community, as individuals, it's our duty to pay attention to what's going on around us, pay attention to the kids that we have contact with."

Bane regularly talks about Harford County being one of the safest counties in the state, but he noted not everyone enjoys that feeling of safety.

"When we look at the pinwheels that are on that lawn out there, we have to wonder how that could be, and I guess that is the point," the sheriff said. "It is not as safe as it could be for our children."

"We have more victims out there than we do volunteers," Bane said, noting that many cases of abuse are not known about until they are brought to law enforcement or the DSS.


"It is sad to say that we will probably be here again next year and the year after and the year after, and we will continue to do so far into the future until we as a society say that we need to take the bull by the horns and make the investments in our children that are necessary, so that we will no longer need the police to investigate abused children, and we will no longer need the services of CASA," the sheriff said.