Behind the blue pinwheels: Child Abuse Prevention Month

LYNCHBURG, Va. (WDBJ7)-- In between traffic, peaking through flowers and even on the trail, you will see hundreds of blue pinwheels spinning across the Lynchburg region.

Behind each one is a story.

"Each pinwheel is to signify a child that has been abused and neglected through out Central Virginia," said Susan Shutt, a manager for CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates.

CASAs are an added voice for children in court who may have been abused, a number that is on the rise.

"The need is great," said Shutt.

In Lynchburg alone, there were 625 more abuse cases in 2018 than 2017, according to the Department of Social Services.

The amount of children abused far outpaces the number of CASA volunteers. More than 100 children are waiting for an advocate.

In 2017, CASA served 270 children. In 2018, that number jumped to 310. So far in 2019, CASA has served 327 children.

Shutt works in Bedford, which currently has the largest CASA case load. She attributes some of that increase to drug addiction.

"We have children that have been severely beaten. We have children who have been sexually abused," said Shutt. "We have children who have severe physical neglect because their parents are using drugs."

Commonwealth's Attorney for the City of Lynchburg, Bethany Harrison, said not all child abuse cases rise to a criminal level, but of the ones that do, more people are being charged with Felony Child Abuse Not Resulting in Serious Injury.

"In 2017 we had seven cases for that charge," said Harrison. "In 2018 it went up to 38 cases."

Both offices continue to see an influx, and as they do, they say the pinwheels have never been more important.

"Behind this pinwheel you're going to see a 14 year old who was sexually abused," explained Shutt. "Behind this pinwheel is a child who is suffering from medical neglect."

"When you see them next year, there are going to be more and more of them," Shutt continued. "That's why we need people to volunteer and advocate for these children more than we ever did."

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. The pinwheels will stay in place until the end of the month.