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Head start center celebrates child abuse prevention

NATCHEZ — Little Nathan Smedley and Prinston Franklin grinned and giggled as they both climbed into the cab of the Natchez Fire Department’s bright red fire truck on Wednesday.

“Do you all want to hear the fire truck make some noise? You might want to cover your ears,” Lt. Wesley Knibbs of the Natchez Fire Department said to a group of children who gathered around the fire truck outside of the AJFC Community Action Agency’s head start center housed at the Thompson School on North Union Street.

The fire truck made a soft chirping sound.

“Whoops, wrong button,” he said, followed by a roar of laughter from the group of kids.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention month, and the AJFC and Natchez Children’s Services celebrated with a program Wednesday and invited the City of Natchez police and fire departments, the Adams County Sheriff’s Office and Alcorn State University to participate.

The children were able to see the inside of the fire truck and police and sheriff’s cars up close while the school helped raise awareness for child abuse.

Pinwheels also decorated the front lawn of the school for the program.

Catherine McPhate, who is the executive director of Natchez Children’s Services, said blue pinwheels represent the children who have been in abusive situations across the region.

“Natchez Children’s Services has a display of 288 pinwheels on the Natchez bluff and that is the number of kids we saw last year in the five counties we serve,” McPhate said.

Natchez Children’s Services helps children in Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Claiborne and Wilkinson counties by providing a neutral setting and trained professionals to conduct forensic interviews with children to assist law enforcement and Child Protective Services with their investigations of possible child abuse, McPhate said.

Natchez Children’s Services placed the pinwheel display on the bluff on April 1 for National Child Abuse Prevention month and will remove it Saturday, May 1, she said.

“That is just to bring awareness and shed light on child abuse prevention,” she said. “Although it is an unfortunate, sad topic, we do it to shed light and bring awareness to what is going on in our own community.”

All adults are considered to be mandated reporters of child abuse, McPhate said.

Anyone who knows or suspects an abusive situation can call the Mississippi Department of Child Protective Services hotline at 1800-222-8000.

With questions for Natchez Children’s Services, call 601-442-6858.

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