Rooting out child abuse in the La Crosse community

Published On: Apr 09 2013 06:03:40 PM CDT   Updated On: Apr 09 2013 06:05:54 PM CDT

More than 1,700 pinwheels cover the lawn of the YMCA this month, each symbolizing a kid involved in a child-abuse report in La Crosse County last year.

"But there's three times more that don't get called in. People don't want to, you know, interfere. They're afraid to do that," said Lori Furlano, family system specialist for Family & Children’s Center's Healthy Families program.

That hesitation can have a big cost for the community.

Furlano said victims of child abuse often grow up with self-esteem problems, which can lead to high-risk behavior.

"So what do you do? You turn to things that make you feel good -- drugs, alcohol, maybe you get a high from stealing," said Furlano.

According to the most recent Wisconsin Child Abuse and Neglect Report, 4,808 children were abused in 2011.

Thirty-two Wisconsin children died from abuse that year.

The report also showed 83 percent of the time, it was the parents who were abusing them.

Social worker Carolynn Devine said there are plenty of programs to help those parents get their lives back under control.

“I don't think that most parents who abuse their children are bad people. I don't think that they're people who want to hurt their children. I think a lot of parents are under a lot of stress,” said Devine. “I think there are situations where they were raised the same way, and we all know that we act the way we were taught to act."

Devine works with every child-abuse patient who comes through Gundersen Lutheran.

She said people who think child abuse isn't a reality in their community should think again.

"I think if some of those people actually saw some of these victims, and saw the marks on their bodies, and saw the bruises on their little arms, and little babies who are physically abused, I think that they would change their minds about the importance of it," said Devine.

Devine said a lot of the time, it's the children being victimized who eventually report the abuse.

She said parents should empower kids with information about what they can do to help themselves by starting a conversation about what is not okay for an adult to do to them, and who they can go to if they feel they've been treated inappropriately.

According to the National Children's Alliance, nearly half of child-abuse victims will never receive services.

Anyone who suspects a child is being abused should make a report to La Crosse County Human Services by calling 608-784-4357.