It’s fitting that the two Wichita women fighting child abuse with yard signs and plastic bracelets call themselves “God’s grandmas.” They are doing God’s work in urging people to call the police if they fear for a child’s welfare, a crusade they’ve now taken to local middle schools.
Beverly “B. Kay” Van Es and Lily “Madrene” Hill told us two years ago that they were inspired by The Eagle’s coverage of the death of Vincent Hill, the 19-month-old North Newton boy abused so badly by his mother’s live-in boyfriend that a prosecutor said there were “very few parts on this child’s body that were not injured in some grievous way.” A neighbor’s call to the state child abuse center about Vincent hadn’t prompted action, so the Harvey County sheriff had suggested that anyone concerned about a child’s welfare call 911.
That’s where Van Es and Hill came in, printing up and distributing yard signs and bumper stickers warning, “Be aware. Child abuse can be anywhere!!! Call 911.” The colorful bracelets followed. Where others might have been worn out by the resulting national attention, or distracted by other priorities over time, Van Es and Hill have kept at it. They say they’ve spoken to more than 600 middle-schoolers in just the past month, tapping into a receptive demographic eager to join the grandmas in making a difference in the community.
The two retirees, who met in water aerobics, handle the tough topic with plain, grandmotherly talk, telling the children that “nobody touches you where your swimsuit covers” and urging them to tell a teacher if they or friends have been touched that way. They also bring up Jerry Sandusky, sex trafficking, bullying and – in a preventive message to future potential abusers in which they use a crying electronic doll – the stress involved in caring for a baby.
It may be hard to measure whether the grandmas’ grassroots efforts spare any suffering. But there is no doubt about the scale of the problem, nor the commitment to combat it on the part of the professionals at the Wichita-Sedgwick County Exploited and Missing Child Unit, the Child Advocacy Center of Sedgwick County and other agencies.
The EMCU and the center deal with nearly 2,500 children a year who are victims of sexual and physical abuse or Internet crimes. Police reported three cases of suspected child abuse in one week last month. Last week saw another arrest, in the case of an 11-month-old brought to a hospital with what police called severe head trauma.
Clearly, there is still work to be done on behalf of children’s welfare in our community. To report child abuse, call either 911 or 1-800-922-5330.
“Honestly,” Van Es told The Eagle’s Tim Potter, “if more people would get upset and say, ‘What can I do to help?’ I think you would be amazed what can happen.”
Godspeed to God’s grandmas. May they inspire others to consider what they can do to help, and then do it.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman