Throughout the month of April the Wythe County Department of Social Services, in conjunction with dozens of other community organizations, clubs and government agencies will be placing a major emphasis upon child abuse awareness and prevention.

The effort is part of a national initiative launched by the United States Department of Health & Human Services aimed at promoting the social and emotional well-being of children and families.

Kristin Shumate, who serves as Wythe County’s Child Abuse Prevention Coordinator, says her agency is seeking to prevent child abuse before it happens.

“In the wake of recent tragedies throughout our region, the department will be stressing child safety and best practices for ensuring all Southwest Virginia children are given the greatest childhood possible,” said the veteran service worker.

Education efforts of the Wythe County Department of Social Services will include notifying parents through the county’s school system with child-safety / child abuse information, as well as providing parents of newborns with “safe sleep” information in order to safeguard against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

According to Shumate, over 120 infants died in the Commonwealth last year while sleeping. She says many of these deaths could have been prevented had safe sleep practices been implemented.

Proper safe sleep practices for infants require the newborn to be placed upon its back and under no circumstances should any baby ever co-sleep with parents.

“Co-sleeping increases the risks of suffocation and strangulation for young children. Parents who roll over during their sleep could inadvertently crush or suffocate their children,” said Shumate.

To highlight safe sleep practices, the agency will be showcasing a crib inside the Wythe County Department of Health’s waiting room throughout the month. The display crib will contain a baby doll and provide onlookers with instructions pertaining to best practices for safely putting a young child to bed.

The department will also be placing pinwheels throughout the community – the pinwheel serves as the symbol for healthy starts for all children.
An additional reminder that April is Child Abuse Prevention Month will be blue ribbons, another symbol for child abuse awareness. Members of the agency will be wearing the lapel ribbons as well as distributing them to area schools and doctors’ offices throughout the month.

“In recognition of Child Abuse Prevention Month, the county joins thousands of other community organizations throughout the nation in declaring child abuse to be unacceptable. We appreciate the efforts of the Wythe County Department of Social Services in tirelessly working to provide our county’s children with the best start possible,” said Tim Reeves, Chairman of the Wythe County Board of Supervisors.

Additional facts concerning sleep related deaths in Virginia:
(From the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner reports)

* 95% of the deaths were preventable

* 90% were related to an unsafe sleeping environment

* more than half of the infants were found on their stomach or prone, babies are to be put to sleep on their backs

* 70% of the infants were exposed to secondhand smoke.

* 57% of the cases adults were co-sleeping with the infant

* 73% of the cases the infants were sleeping on a surface not intended for infant sleep at the time of death

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