TOWN OF POUGHKEEPSIE – The Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse in Dutchess County is the first of its kind in New York, dating back to 1973. On Friday, the center staff joined with elected officials and community leaders to bring awareness to April being the National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
Executive Director Kimberly Haight stood at the center in front of 532 pinwheels placed behind her, one for each child who came to the center during 2020. “The pinwheel is the symbol for child abuse prevention,” said Haight, because they represent the “whimsical, lightheartedness of children.” Haight told those gathered that five children in the United States die each day from abuse and the age group abused the most are children under the age of one year old.
Armed with those statistics, Haight announced a new program, “Project Protect 2021” aimed at training civilians to recognize the signs of child abuse and how to report it to the authorities. The hour-long virtual training will be available on April 13. The center’s goal is to train 2,021 people to aid in its mission to prevent children from the dangers of being abused.
Dutchess County Undersheriff Kirk Imperati said that “training is paramount” as he endorsed the efforts of the center.
The training, available via Zoom, is presented by center team member Rick Keller-Coffey, a retired Poughkeepsie school-teacher. Haight said that Keller-Coffey’s training is “easy to understand and easy to digest,” for those interested. “People will learn how to identify warning signs of abuse and react accordingly thanks to Rick’s presentation.”
District Attorney William Grady spoke and pointed out that prevention programs weren’t always available and the Poughkeepsie-based Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse is at the forefront. “Dutchess County was the first county in the state to have a recognized center,” said Grady. He also recalled a case several years ago in which a young abuse victim was reluctant to testify until a “Therapy Dog” was introduced. The child became more expressive and after lobbying by Grady, the state court system granted permission for the dog to be present in the courtroom during the trial. The introduction of the dog in the Poughkeepsie courthouse was another first in the state. “We had the first court-certified” comfort dog in New York.
County Executive Marc Molinaro called the new training program “critically important to protect our kids.” He noted that being able to identify the indicators early will lead to preventing abuse. “The last 14 months have exposed the stresses that exist in families and communities,” indicating that the center has started to see a rise in reported cases of abuse.