(Southaven, MS) The deaths of two DeSoto County children, one in Olive Branch and the other in Horn Lake, came within weeks of each other, and made public DeSoto County’s dirty little secret: DeSoto has the third highest rate of child abuse in Mississippi.
”It shocks me that we have such a problem here, yes it does,” said Joe Russell of Southaven.
He added he thinks there’s a difference between discipline and abuse, and there’s way too much abuse.
Experts say they’re not surprised most people don’t realize so many children live in danger.
”If you aren’t directly related to the child abuse and what goes on with the kids, you really don’t know that it’s happening because it’s a secret crime. People don’t talk about it,” explained Ashley Schachterle.
That’s why she helped start DeSoto’s first child advocacy center, Healing Hearts.
She says child abuse affects everyone.
Child abuse doesn’t just hurt DeSoto Countians in the heart – it also hits them in the wallet.
It’s already brought an increase in state workers to address the problem.
”The state has put an additional 30 employees in the DHS Department, which gives us 50 on the ground in DeSoto County,” said DeSoto Supervisor Lee Caldwell.
And putting those workers in DeSoto County offices costs local taxpayers.
”The Board of Supervisors has to come up with housing for the additional personnel which is gonna cost the taxpayers about $150,000 a year” Caldwell explained.
That’s why donor-supported groups like Healing Hearts are important.
”We saw 171 kids last year, and we provided services to 228, and that’s just since March,” said Schachterle.
Parents say more people need to speak up when they suspect child abuse.
”Silence; that’s what’s hurting these children, bottom line,” said Russell.
Starting March 29th, Healing Hearts will put up displays of hundreds of pinwheels around the county to bring attention to the problem and to hopefully encourage donations.