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Child abuse prevention urged at annual vigil

The Light of Hope vigil Monday night was partly meant as a remembrance for children who have suffered child abuse and neglect, but possibly more important was an effort to promote awareness so that abuse may be prevented.

The vigil at the Fayette County Circuit Courthouse — attended by more than 100 people — has been held since 1986 and kicks off National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

"We're here tonight because there are children who are hurting. There are children who need adults to stand up for them," Stewart Dawson, chaplain for the Lexington fire department, said as he led the invocation.

There were 5,115 child abuse or neglect cases in Fayette County reported to the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services from Jan. 1, 2008 to Feb. 28, 2009, according to Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky. Those cases involved 5,908 children.

"People, unless they are involved in the system, really have a hard time believing how extensive it is," said Debra King, director of Court Appointed Special Advocates for the Children of Fayette County, which sponsored the event. "Even these statistics are just the tip."

Margie Cherry, a therapist with Specialized Alternatives for Families and Youth, told of spending her own childhood in the foster care system.

"Adults become monsters to you, and you don't want anything to do with them," she said. "They need one person who makes them feel safe and is on their side."

She urged those present to support the special advocates program, whose volunteers act as a voice for children in the court system.

Peggy Seithers of Cynthiana said in an interview that she hopes blue-and-white pinwheels in front of day cares in Harrison, Nicholas and Scott counties and blue ribbons on police cars will remind people to report child abuse.

"I'm hoping that it will bring child abuse awareness to the forefront," Seithers said.