First Witness presents month-long 'I Stand With Kids' campaignOn a typical spring afternoon, the downtown Lakewalk is filled with locals and tourists alike who are walking, biking, or sightseeing along the shores of Lake Superior. But on Monday, April 30, the Lakewalk will get a few new guests who have their own message to share.
By: Julie Krienke, Budgeteer News Staff Writer
On a typical spring afternoon, the downtown Lakewalk is filled with locals and tourists alike who are walking, biking, or sightseeing along the shores of Lake Superior. But on Monday, April 30, the Lakewalk will get a few new guests who have their own message to share.
Hundreds of “Blue Kids” figures will line the Lakewalk from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on this day, as part of a campaign launched by First Witness in Duluth, called “I Stand With Kids.” Colored blue to represent Child Abuse Prevention Month, each wooden figure will be sponsored by a Northland individual, nonprofit organization, or business to raise funds for First Witness services.
“The figures are representing action — that there is something you can do to prevent child abuse in your community,” said Beth Olson, executive director of First Witness. “It’s a great way for people to take a stand because their name will be on it.”
On the day of the event, First Witness staff will be in Canal Park providing information about child abuse prevention. As of Tuesday, the nonprofit organization had collected nearly 200 sponsored figures, with the goal of getting 325 figures sponsored by the day of the event.
“The campaign is really about helping the community find a way to get involved in child abuse prevention,” Olson said. “People usually get fearful, angry, or really sad when mentioning child abuse and don’t want to talk about it. But there’s a lot of hopeful work you can do and a lot of actions you can take.”
The “I Stand With Kids” campaign is a collaboration with the Minnesota Children’s Alliance and other Minnesota child advocacy centers. Throughout the month of April, First Witness has been posting child abuse prevention tips and videos on its website.
Sponsorship for a Blue Kids figure is $20 for individuals, $40 for nonprofit organizations, and $50 for businesses. Funds raised from the event will support First Witness services for children and families, with a portion going to the Minnesota Children’s Alliance.
“I hope this moves people to be willing to talk about child abuse and take some steps to do prevention in their own lives and with people they know,” Olson said.
First Witness opened in 1993 as a child abuse resource center focused on conducting forensic interviews for children 12 and younger who report physical or sexual abuse. Located on West Fifth Street, the organization works with a team of agencies involved in the investigation, assessment, prosecution, and medical intervention of children who report abuse, according to the organization’s website.
This means that First Witness works in collaboration with law enforcement, child protection services, medical professionals, public defenders, and other professionals to address reports of child abuse. Olson said these agencies are often involved in interviews and investigations.
Laura Zahn, a First Witness board member, said when a child alleges physical or sexual abuse, forensic interviews are conducted. These interviews are conducted by trained professionals and are videotaped.
“They are videotaped so the child doesn’t have to be interviewed five times by different folks,” Zahn said. “It saves a lot of trauma for children if it can be done that way.”
“The team we have gets together, talks with each other, and really looks at making the process of investigation as easy as possible for the family,” Olson added.
On average, First Witness conducts 90 interviews every year, of which nearly 90 percent are regarding alleged sexual abuse, Olson said. The remaining cases involve alleged physical abuse.
First Witness uses an interview process of the National Children’s Alliance. Olson said First Witness hopes to train child abuse advocates around the nation on these techniques.
In addition to interviews, First Witness also provides follow-up counseling and support groups for families and children.
“I think kids and parents need to know that there is a place where they can go if there is an issue,” said Steve Lafontaine, a First Witness board member. “Some people may not think there is that safe place to go, and we need people to be aware of it.”
The organization has a prevention program called the Safe and Strong Child Program, which takes place in Duluth schools. Zahn said that the First Witness staff travels to area schools and educates students, parents, teachers, and administrators about sexual abuse prevention.
When it comes to the upcoming event at the downtown Lakewalk, Zahn hopes the community will learn about First Witness services as well as child abuse prevention.
“We work behind the scenes a lot with situations that aren’t very pretty most of the time,” Zahn said. “This is a way to bring out something that is often hidden and that people are ashamed of. We need to talk about it.”
To sponsor a Blue Kids figure, call First Witness at (218)727-8353 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on First Witness, visit www.firstwitness.org or visit the organization’s Facebook page, “First Witness Child Abuse Resource Center.”