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Fifty-six pairs of shoes were set out on the steps of Pittsfield City Hall on Friday to symbolize the average number of children =with confirmed abuse and neglect cases each month in the county.
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Berkshire lawmakers and local leaders attended the event.
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Jennifer Valenzuela, executive director of the Children's Trust, speaks at the event.

Shoes at Pittsfield City Hall Give Shocking Visual of Countywide Child Abuse

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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Amy Hall, president and CEO of Child Care of the Berkshires, speaks at Friday's annual Step Up event at Pittsfield City Hall.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — One case of child abuse is too many, Berkshire leaders say.

The steps of City Hall were lined with 56 pairs of children's shoes on Friday, representing the average number of children with confirmed abuse and neglect cases each month in the county. The Children's Trust and Child Care of the Berkshires coordinate this shocking visual yearly.

"Let's just take a minute and realize how many kids that is. That's probably about the number right here that are all together," Jennifer Valenzuela, executive director of the Children's Trust said.

"Fifty-six is  too many children that are being entered into our system and that something is happening in their home. The last time we were all here it was 2019 and there were 58 pairs of shoes so we're doing better. We've gone down by two a month."

She said the goal is for more children to have access to great child care and strong adult support. How does this become a reality? Strong programming and a strong workforce.

"Our home visitors and our family support staff wake up every day and they give unselfishly to the families across Massachusetts. They're supporting our families day in and day out. They're helping them learn about parenting and child development and helping them get set up in the systems that are available and signing up for programming. They're listening to the highs of what it is to be a parent and the lows and for those of us who are parents here, we know that there are many highs and lows," Valenzuela said.

"Their stories of why they do this are heartfelt and I've been going around the state over the last year and a half since I started. What I hear over and over again is, 'I love what I do. I wake up every day and I'm so grateful for the engagement I have with these families and the partnerships that we create. I want to do this for as long as I possibly can.'

"The problem is, they can't afford to stay. We're not paying our workforce enough for them to be able to live and to sustain in this type of work."

She added that the No. 1 reason that home visitors leave the position is pay. The trust is trying to increase the Healthy Families program visitors' starting wage from $17 an hour to $20 an hour, which she said isn't even enough.

State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier underlined this point.

"When it comes to prevention, we need to support families. The best place for a child is safely at home. I'm going to say that again, the best place for a child is safely at home and we can do a better job protecting our kids and supporting our kids if we support their families and that's just exactly what Healthy Families do," she said.

"Secondly, the workforce. Let's ask ourselves a question. Why is it that the lowest-paid people are the people who take care of others? Why is it that the lowest-paid people are the people who take care of others? We could think about historically, for example, why that is true and we can't get away from the fact that it's because historically the people who take care of others are women, and women for centuries went without pay at all."

She said we have to pay our workers if we really want to fix the wrongs in this world.

"This isn't 56 a year. This is 56 a month," the state rep emphasized. "This is a grave problem that we have in our community and until we are all decided that we're going to take this problem on and be part of the solution, we are never going to have these numbers reduce."

Mayor Peter Marchetti said this is a disheartening statistic.

"Our children should be protected, loved, and cared for as they grow," he added. "As a community, we need to provide support to all the children and families. We need to take proactive measures to ensure we support caregivers and connect them with the resources they need. Housing, food, and education are some of the basic needs to be met."  

Amy Hall, president and CEO of Child Care of the Berkshires also highlighted the importance of collaboration.

"It really does take everyone to impact the number of shoes that are here today and it takes people who work every day. It takes families, it takes neighbors, it takes community members, it takes home visitors," she said.

"Those people directly affect the families but we can't necessarily do the work we do without leadership that is here today and also without the parents who will let us into their homes and let us make a difference and work with you to make you strong."



She thanked the trust for its years of sponsorship, saying that without its support "we couldn't do the evidence-based programming that we do that truly impacts children and families every single day."

Aleigh Gancarz, a graduate of the Healthy Families program, credits her child's and her own growth to the program. She began in 2020 as a "young, anxiety-ridded first-time mom with a very small support system and an even smaller baby" and has blossomed since.

"Your visitor becomes part of your family. They get to watch your child grow and develop as well as you as a parent grow and develop. It's such a special bond that has lasted long after graduation. My worker and the program have continued to go above and beyond to help my child and myself whenever needed," she said.

"Not to mention after you graduate from Berkshire Healthy Families there's an option to join parent-child clubs, which is also a very helpful program. My child loves getting to see our visitors every week and the books and toys that they bring, which are usually educational and we get to keep them and still play with them to this day."

Gancarz's visitor gave her a wealth of confidence.

"There's no handbook for parenting. Sure there's instincts but if you're not confident in yourself, it's easy to feel like you're always doing the wrong things," she explained.

"I used to be so worried. Worried I didn't know what I was doing, that my baby needed more, that I wasn't doing enough or doing things right for her to help her reach the stars but Berkshire Healthy Families always assured me that I was doing well and as I was enough for her."

Through resources that the program connected her with, Gancarz was able to secure a job and leave an abusive relationship. She also became a parent leader in the program.

"I credit my visitor for our freedom. I texted her that I needed help and she got us out of the situation that same night without any hesitations. I don't think she realized how much she actually helped us later on," she said.

"That one well-being check is what set us free and I'll always be grateful for that. She continues to check in and stand by our side, something about my own family rarely even does. I honestly can't say I know where I'd be without Berkshire Healthy Families. I'd probably still be a scared and anxious stay-at-home mom in an abusive relationship. I probably wouldn't have the confidence and independence I do today."

State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli explained that he would like to say he's happy to be at the event but he wished he wasn't there.

"I would love to have this be eradicated and that none of us have to be here on an annual basis to remind you of what's going on right in our own backyard," he said.

State Rep. John Barrett III remembered his time as a school teacher over 40 years ago when the state issued an edict requiring teachers to report child abuse.

"I think two days later, I saw a young girl and I'll never forget what I saw when she came into my room that morning in fourth grade and her name was Denise. Denise was bruised from head to toe and I said 'What happened Denise?' And she said, 'Mommy said to say that I fell down and I have these bruises now,'" he said.

"Well, I brought her down to the principal's office and I think that's one of the first reported child abuse cases and the sad part of it is we, as teachers, had been seeing it for years before we were required to do anything."

He said there is nothing sadder than looking at a young child with tears coming down their face because of something that happened at home.

"I really hope that all of us can go out tomorrow, today, into the future, every day, thinking about these shoes, and thinking about how we personally can make a difference so there are less shoes," Hall said, explaining that people to need to connect with neighbors and family and offer help if they see a person struggling.

"Speak up, connect, and together we can make less shoes here in the future."


Tags: child abuse,   children,   

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Letter: Berkshire State Delegation Needed to Pass Ban on Puppy Mills

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

The public may be aware that I spear-headed local legislation in Pittsfield and Lenox banning the sale of puppies from puppy mills at pet stores. Berkshire Voters for Animals and the Massachusetts Humane Society were strong advocates and helped immensely.

I have received an email from Berkshire Voters for Animals stating, "There is still one of our bills in its original committee that needs to be released by June 14th or it will not have a chance to be passed this session. Time is running out for Massachusetts lawmakers to advance legislation that will prevent commercial dog breeders (puppy mills) from trucking cruelly bred puppies into pet shops. New York, Maryland and California have successfully passed similar laws. Massachusetts should be next!"

The appeal was that "We need you to contact your rep to ask them to contact the House Chair of the Environment Committee to release the bill."

It is my hope that the bill makes it out of committee and not die there, as too many good pieces of proposed legislation often does. I cannot stress how popular these initiatives were. In Pittsfield, I have had ordinances pass that took literally as much as one-half a decade to get passed. No so with this. Dozens upon dozens showed up in support for the ordinance. The Pittsfield City Council passed it immediately, with no debate.

Lenox has an open town meeting where any town resident can show up and vote, and of the dozens upon dozens of people that attended (it may have been over 100, but I am not a good judge of audience size), not a single one voted against the legislation when put to a final vote. In fact, that vote was almost instantaneous.

According to the letter, Sen. Paul Mark and he has spoken with the Senate chair. I respectfully request Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, Rep. John Barrett, and Rep. Smitty Pignatelli, excellent legislators of the Berkshire Delegation of whom I am fond of, to help pass S.550/H. 826/S. 549, "An Act banning the retail sale of cats and dogs in pet shops" before the 2024 legislative session ends. This salutary law is enjoys widespread and practically unanimous support from the public.
 

Rinaldo Del Gallo
Pittsfield, Mass.

 

 

 

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