The Saturday morning sun shines bright over Main Street Park in Rutland. The grassy quadrangle serves as neutral ground between the calmness of the townhouse-strewn neighborhood and the bustle of U.S. Route 7.
There, a crowd of over 100 people wearing blue and pink T-shirts intermingles around the gazebo, while a small speaker blasts Jason Aldean and Carrie Underwood. Many bring their infants and toddlers, who chase each other around, play with moon sand and get their faces painted with pastel crayons; while parents and volunteers conversate and consume coffee and donuts. After some opening remarks from Mayors David Allaire (R) and Lucas Herring (I) of Rutland City and Barre respectively, the crowd marches down West Street holding picket signs that say, “Prevent Child Abuse,” and “Nurture Every Child!”
The city of Rutland hosted Prevent Child Abuse Vermont’s annual “Walk for Children.” Going on its 29th year of existence, the walk promotes the awareness and prevention of child abuse in communities around the state.
Ed Bride, deputy director of PCAVT, said that there is always an aura surrounding something like this. Overall, he said that the atmosphere was positive, and all participants respected and supported each other in a mutual concern for an important issue.
“Everybody’s in it for prevention, and we’re all working together for the same goal,” Bride said.
Founded in 1976 in Montpelier, PCAVT’s mission is to promote healthy relationships within families, schools and communities, according to their website. They collaborate with organizations including schools, childcare centers, correctional facilities and domestic violence shelters, and provide programs to educate parents and other adults about facilitating a child’s well-being.
Additionally, the organization refers people to the Visiting Nurses Association of Vermont and Department of Health for home visits. They also publish The Vermont Parent’s Home Companion and Resource Directory; which is given to new parents at the time of the birth or adoption of their child.
“It’s not hard to get support,” said Executive Director Linda Johnson.
One significant program that is provided is training to prevent Abusive Head Trauma, or Shaken Baby Syndrome. Ann Shangraw, manager and trainer for the program, said this type of abuse is different from others because it is mostly caused by lack of experience rather than intent. She explained that adults who are less experienced with childcare and development are more likely to cause harm because they do not know what to do when an infant cries, and they snap.
“It’s really that stress. So, we’re all at risk if we don’t have good stress management skills,” Shangraw said.
The walk itself began at Main Street Park and headed down West Street, before looping past Merchants Row and onto Center Street. Participants moved up the hill and back to the park, where they ate hot dogs and mingled. Prizes were given to teams who raised the most money, and staff members raffled off prizes for participants, including gift cards, PCAVT tote bags and a propane grill.
The most prominent group at the walk consisted of members standing in solidarity for Harper Rose Briar; a 6-month-old Pittsford girl who died in January from diphenhydramine intoxication after her caregiver gave her an overdose of Benadryl. Briar’s mother, Marissa, said an event like this touches her family's hearts because it allows them to tell her daughter’s story and to inform others of the dangers surrounding medication and newborn children.
“It’s really important for us to spread awareness (and) to make sure that it doesn’t happen to anybody else,” Briar said.
Referring to sexual abuse, Johnson mentioned the difficulties concerning victims and their ability to speak up. She said most children are reluctant for fear of betraying a parent or someone close to them and are easily manipulated into silence with threats and gifts. Additionally, she said that due the non-violent nature of most cases, victims are left with figuring out how to feel.
“Many survivors talk about the betrayal of their bodies, so it leads to more confusion,” Johnson said.
At around 11:30 a.m., the crowd dispersed and PCAVT staff members and volunteers packed up. Johnson added that one of the biggest takeaways from this event is that it is an adult’s responsibility to protect children. She said it is important that every citizen pays attention to every child that they know and is aware of the fragility of the next generation.
“It’s just like at the airport,” Johnson said. “If you see something, say something.”