Psychology professor Joseph Galano stooped down to plant another blue pinwheel in front of the Integrated Science Center Monday. Galano’s particular pinwheel was one among thousands of pinwheels planted to comprise over 60 gardens planted across Virginia in honor of Child Abuse Prevention month.
The pinwheel was designated as a child abuse prevention and awareness symbol by Prevent Child Abuse America, the anti-child abuse advocacy organization spearheading the national pinwheel gardens.
“I think the pinwheel is a wonderful sign of hope for the future,” Galano said. “I want to be a bridge and [to] think we can get kids to end up like students here at William and Mary with bright futures … That your generation will learn from our mistakes.”
PCAV, Galano and Professor Lee Huntington, in accordance with a 10-year long partnership between the College of William and Mary and PCAV, are in the midst of a battle against Virginia General Assembly budget cuts. Child abuse prevention and social service programs have lost more than $5 million to General Assembly budget cuts since 2006.
“I commend what they are doing for child abuse prevention in planting the gardens,” Delegate William Barlow (D-64) said. “It is safe to say their efforts have been significant in combating child abuse, which is a troubling issue. It is one thing to have crime in your streets, but another to have crime within the home.”
Delegate Barlow, whose district includes Williamsburg, was ambivalent in his response to PCAV suffering a net loss of $1.5 million in the past year.
“Child abuse preventative programs are only one part of a large budget,” he said. “We want to do everything we can for these programs, and there are an awful lot of cuts in the budget that I disagree with. It [the budget cut] was necessary, but unfortunate. I wish everyone was working also to generate more income.”
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s initial budget recommendation to the general Assembly in January suggested $2 million of the $4 million of the funds allocated toward child abuse and neglect prevention programs be cut. When the General Assembly voted $500,000 of these $2 million be restored, the money was subsequently threatened by McDonnell’s budget amendment arguing the $5 thousand should be taken away.
“You see so much compassion in words toward child abuse, but that passion needs to be translated into action,” Galano said. “We are spending millions on prisons but pennies on families.”
Galano stressed that between the budget restrictions and economic depression the success of these child abuse programs cannot continue. Galano characterized Virginia’s one million cases of child abuse in 2010 as shameful.
“What makes me so passionate and pissed off is this economic depression,” Galano said. “We have a long history of when economic depression hits it always hits our children the most.”
In 2010, the number of child fatalities due to child abuse increased by 29 percent. 44 children died this past year due to child abuse alone. Four of those children were four years old or younger.
“We are cutting child abuse and neglect prevention services to those who need it most—those in poorer communities,” Galano said. “McDonnell’s program’s end result will be creating more emergency hospital room visits. Healthy Families Virginia is the only program that is really combating the child abuse program. We are the only ones that address the problem beforehand.”
A report issued in 2010 by the American Academy of Pediatrics compared data with the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System and determined a positive correlation between unemployment and child maltreatment. Each 1 percent increase in unemployment was associated with a 0.5 per 1000 increase in confirmed cases of child maltreatment.
“Cutting funds is just another way to continue the vicious cycle,” Galano said.
As an organization, PCAV does not directly provide social services to children. Instead, it oversees the technical, legislative and economic assistance of several child abuse social service programs, one of which is HFV. For the last ten years, Galano has served as a researcher and evaluator for HFV, which conducts weekly home visits to at-risk child abuse families.
HFV designates at-risk families by using social factors such as race, marital status, age and, most importantly, previous child abuse and neglect. These are factors responsive child abuse organizations have found to be correlated with child abuse. In addition, previous child abuse and neglect, according to a study conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, increases risk for alcoholism, drug use, depression, smoking and STDs.
“At a time when our organization is creating the best results it ever has, especially in the midst of an economic depression, we should be expanding,” Galano said. “It has been proven that during an economic crisis, fathers beat their kids more. But instead, all we see is budget cuts.”
Galano expressed outrage over the closing of several programs in Halifax and the Virginia Eastern Shore as the result of a budget cuts. According to Galano, additional program closings will result in more than a third of needy families losing services by these programs.
Professor Galano is currently submitting a letter to delegates in the General Assembly arguing against the recent recommendation from McDonnell to cut an additional $5 thousand.
Galano and PLAV Executive Director Johanna Schuchert agreed that the best way to combat child abuse was through preventative measures which prioritize cultivating a positive relationship between parent and child.
“It is important to start at the beginning, which is why we [Healthy Families Virginia] provides prenatal care and classes that instruct single mothers on raising an infant, then a two-year old, and so on,” Galano said.
According to Schuchert, PCAV switched their symbol for Child Abuse Prevention Month from the blue ribbon to the pinwheel to stress the importance of positive thinking in relation to the overwhelming problem of child abuse in the United States.
“This used to be an epidemic,” Schuchert said. “Now that people know it is a problem, we don’t want them to be thinking that one person cannot make a difference.”
Pinwheel gardens can be seen at Langley Air Force Base, Fort Lee, in public schools, and in most daycare centers in the state.
Professor Galano retired this past year from teaching at the College, but still conducts evaluative research with HFV and remains an advocate with the PCAV.
“Galano has moved from being an objective scientist to a tireless advocate,” Schuchert said.