Valley celebrates Month of the Young Child |

Valley celebrates Month of the Young Child

Cindy Ramunno
Vail Daily/Shane Macomber From left, Amy Drummt of the Vail Rec. District and Liz McGillvray of the Children's Garden watch over the kids as thay play in Red Sandstone Park Wednesday in Vail

April is the ‘Month of the Young Child’ and locals are commemorating it with various activities and events throughout the valley.

The Month of the Young Child, which began in 1971, is part of the National Child Abuse Prevention Campaign aimed at children eight and younger. The month emphasizes the health and growth of young children.

Neglect and abuse

The National Association for the Education of Young Children is the world’s largest early-childhood education association with over 100,000 members and a network of close to 450 local, state and regional affiliates.

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The campaign for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect is a nationwide effort to create awareness of some of the dangers children face. The idea to celebrate young children came from that campaign.

Sixty-three percent of the nation’s substantiated mistreatment cases fall under ‘neglect,’ including malnutrition and lack of supervision. The other 37 percent are physical, sexual or emotional abuse.

No single solution

According the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, almost 3 million children are the subject of a protective services investigation or review each year. Of those, almost one million are found to have been abused or neglected.

In Eagle County, there were 375 reports of suspected abuse or neglect in 2003, with only 2 percent of those actually going to court.

“In Eagle County, we have programs that support and strengthen families in doing their job,” says Kathleen Forinash, director of the county’s Health and Human Services department.

Eagle County receives strong local support from the board of commissioners and through that, unique and supportive programs are offered for parents, Forinash said.

Some of the factors that contribute to parents abusing or neglecting their children include job loss, poor health, financial difficulties, drug and alcohol abuse and mental health problems.

“Sometimes, parents go through a rough patch and need extra help,” Forinash says.

In addition, Eagle County is offering help for Spanish speaking families at Avon Elementary during the evenings. Eagle County’s goal is to work with families through educational programs to keep families together.

‘Village’ approach

Though not the case in Eagle County, child protection agencies have a huge workload. State services, along with agencies in other counties, are often under-funded and under-staffed. Add to that a high volume of calls and agencies can become over-burdened.

Some agencies, moreover, respond only after an abuse has occurred without offering services in the area of prevention.

In efforts to prevent abuse, the National Association for the Education of Young Children has taken the ‘village’ approach, meaning that friends, families and neighbors are encouraged to report child abuse and neglect.

An impediment to that approach is that some people are uncomfortable reporting a family member.

Critical years

Area preschools, at-home child care facilities and elementary schools gathered in various spots yesterday to celebrate the Month of the Young Child. Many child advocates and supporters have been wearing purple ribbons in the last weeks signifying the importance of the event.

Educators are also encouraging adults to share a special activity with a child, read a special book to a child and generally support young – and not just in April, but year-round. Young children are going through critical years of development and educators are trying to promote life-long learning skills.

Gypsum mom Tiffany Myers says she’s thrilled with the care her two young sons are receiving. Her oldest son, Jesse, is at Sunshine Mountain preschool in Eagle, while her youngest, Kellen, is at Stacie Book’s home day-care in Gypsum during the days.

“Both of my boys are loved and cared for and I don’t worry at all about their well-being while I’m at work,” says Myers, who adds that at Sunshine Mountain, kids are educationally enriched above and beyond expectations.

“Jesse is learning Spanish at Sunshine Mountain. He loves it there and he is thriving,” adds Myers.

A local funding source for valley child care is Caring for Kids. Caring for Kids recently hosted a kindergarten readiness seminar for local parents. Director Jeanne McQueeney also says that the local organizers have done a wonderful job celebrating the Month of the Young Child with their students.

“We provided some funding for transportation, balloons and cookies,” says McQueeney, adding that each site chose how to spend funds to best suit their children.

On parade

Celebrations were held all over the valley yesterday. Those organizing the celebrations were Agnes Harakal, Kayla Roper, Sandy Brown, Nancy Nottingham, Liz McGilluray and Cass Galloway.

In Minturn, the annual tradition is to have young kids parade around the town. In Gypsum, children gathered at the town offices for a short ‘building parade’. In Eagle – with the help of the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District – kids marched down Broadway.

“The parades are a spin-off of an original parade that we would do at the Vail town offices,” says Nottingham, who’s the general manager of child care for Vail Resorts. Nottingham has worked with area children for decades in that role and also in the Beaver Creek and Vail ski schools.

Roper – who organized events in Gypsum – says the events celebrated the importance of the children with whom educators and counselors are with every day.

“The well-being of our youth is critical – these celebrations were wonderful and motivating,” she says.

Caring for Kids

– For more information on Caring for Kids and other early childhood education programs in the valley, call McQueeney at 328-328-0774.

– For more information on abuse and neglect in Eagle County, or to report a concern, call 328-8840 and ask for a case worker.

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