St. Peter acts as host school for child abuse prevention effort

COLUMBIA — The state of South Carolina joined with the nation in designating April as National Child Abuse Awareness Month. The theme of this year’s campaign was “In Loving Hands, Kids Blossom.” Gov. Mark Sanford called on all South Carolinians to “work together to prevent the abuse and neglect of our children.”

This year, Prevent Child Abuse South Carolina invited faith communities to assist it in its efforts to prevent the mistreatment of children around the state. Father Carson Bush, parochial vicar at St. Peter Church, was part of the multidenominational task group that worked with the organization.  

Prevent Child Abuse wanted to take its message to a number of schools, but because of a lack of resources it could only focus on one school this year.  It will base future initiatives on the pilot program.

Father Bush suggested that St. Peter School be the host school since it had the unique environment of being a faith community with a school. The idea took root and St. Peter School was happy to assist.

Principal Madeline McMillion was a critical factor in the success of the program as she collaborated with Father Bush on their approach. Her sensitivity to the children and their emphasis on prevention created a nonconfrontational learning opportunity for St. Peter students and their parents.  

“The one thing we were able to offer as a community of faith was the ability to begin this process in prayer,” said Father Bush. “We gathered to the altar, and the children were so willing to respond.”

 After Easter break, the school had a Mass to begin the campaign. There were five intentions, each of them represented by a blue candle that was lit from the Easter candle. Father Bush explained to the children that the “big candle” represented Jesus’ light in the world and that the blue candles represented their hope shining in the world.  

“Just as we celebrate Jesus, the light of the world going out into the world, we too must take our light out into the world,” he said in his homily.

Together they prayed for healthy and happy family life, praying for all parents and caregivers. They also prayed for those children who are abused and for the end of abuse.  

“I thought this month was a fantastic start. I especially loved the liturgy because it had such meaning,” said McMillion, who also sent home to the parents two handouts from Prevent Child Abuse SC: “Twelve Alternatives to Lashing Out at Your Child” and “Bullying.”

The school decided to do an art project for the campaign, and children in all grades drew pictures of a nurturing and happy family.  

“We wanted to come up with something positive for the children to illustrate alternatives to the negative,” said Dawn Ambruzs, the school’s religion and art teacher.

Ambruzs said that the project started real dialogue in her class as children shared with one another the happy times they have had with their families.

“Parents don’t get a manual with the birth of their child; they have to learn in the field, and we understand that it can be rough,” said McMillion, who believes that prevention and awareness programs can make a difference.  

Father Bush will continue to serve on the task force, and hopefully the tide will turn against abuse in South Carolina as communities come together in prayer and parents are taught how to maintain active and positive communication with their children.

“If we can prevent one child from being abused, the whole effort was worth it,” said Father Bush.