There is no doubt about it. It takes the entire community to save our children from the horrors of a violent or negligent family. It takes a neighbor who isn’t afraid to report the things they see or hear. It takes a teacher to obey the laws and report the bruises or marks they see on a student. It takes a family member to help protect the innocent from the abusers.

Not only does it take law enforcement officers to help Department of Children and Family Services remove children from abusive homes, but it takes strong judges who see that a tough decision may need to be made, forcing the child to be placed with other family members or in a foster home. It also takes a community of people who are willing to open their homes, and their hearts, to being a foster parent.

Each April, Highlands County residents gather on the Courthouse Lawn as advocates for children raise awareness of the tragedy of child abuse and the need to find solutions. Our community is reminded each year during the Pinwheels for Prevention ceremony that a child’s needs have to come first.

In this area serviced by Heartland for Children, there are approximately 1,275 children in out-of-home care. Nearly 700 of these children are placed in a foster or group home setting. Of the 92 children in group care, 79 of these are teens. Those are the figures quoted on Heartland of Children’s website.

Sadly, those children in need of a loving home are dealing with more than the blow of a fist or hunger. Child welfare experts predict a 15% uptick in kids entering Florida’s foster care system.

Jessica Davis, regional executive director of Children’s Home Society of Florida, talks about how the pressures and predictors of child abuse are strongly associated with the pandemic. This includes anxiety, loss of income, loss of employment, food and housing insecurity, and declining parental mental health.

Children’s Home Society is a national leader in child abuse prevention. The region overseen by Davis includes Highlands, Hardee, Marion and Polk counties.

In addition to physical abuse, children are being abandoned and neglected by people who otherwise still love their kids. Yes, love can be part of the equation that is present, but is overrun by the control of addiction.

At a previous Pinwheel Ceremony, Carissa Marine, CEO of the Champion for Children Foundation, told guests that all children need three things: the first being community.

“A community who believes we are all created equal, no matter what continent you were born on, no matter who your parents are, no matter how much money is or isn’t in your bank account, no matter what you look like, no matter where you lay your head at night. A community who believes every child, every life has a unique purpose,” she said.

The other two things Marine said children need are family – whether blood, legal or spiritual, or all three – and love.

She said the family is needed to teach, guide and challenge. Fathers must show examples of leadership, stability, dedication and integrity. Mothers must show understanding, emotional strength and encouragement. Grandparents show the importance of heritage. Siblings teach peace, playfulness and brotherhood.

Not all children, however, are blessed with that solid family life. That’s why there is such a need for foster homes that are able to give that kind of security, safety and stability to children who don’t have it in their own homes.

Highlands County residents are encouraged to step out at 8 a.m. today to the front lawn at the Highlands County Courthouse, 430 S. Commerce Ave. in Sebring, to participate in this year’s “Pinwheels for Prevention” ceremony.

For details on qualifications and training to become a foster parent, contact Heartland for Children at 863-519-8900. To learn more, visit

To get involved in preventing child abuse, learn more at

Originally posted by: Highlands News-Sun