Flags honor 126 children who died in Florida last year

OKEECHOBEE — A ceremony was held in Flagler Park on March 27 in memory of the 126 children who died of child abuse and neglect in Florida last year.

One hundred and twenty-six flags were placed in the park by CASTLE, a non-profit dedicated to preventing child abuse. Each flag bore the name of a child who had passed away due to abuse and neglect. Okeechobee Sheriff Noel Stephen and Okeechobee council member Noel Chandler were among the flag bearers who helped place the flags in the park.

CASTLE’s annual fund manager, Chris Roberston, addressed the crowd gathered to pay tribute to the children who lost their lives.

Okeechobee City Council member Noel Chandler and Okeechobee Sheriff Noel Stephen lead the way as flag bearers during the ceremony held on March 27 to honor the 126 children who died of abuse and neglect last year in Florida. Photo by Richard Marion.

“All too often in the news we see the tragic events that occur such as children left in cars or forgotten about and discovered drowned in the backyard pool,” Mr. Robertson said.

“Unfortunately, some of those children are in this flag field. But CASTLE is here to help.

We’re here to help with positive parenting skills so that this flag field is not here in years to come.”

CASTLE currently runs five programs in Okeechobee County. Safe Families is an in-home education program. High Hope for Kids is a support group for children of divorce. Positive Parenting is a parent education and support workshop. Families in Between is a seminar for parents who are divorcing. And finally, Strengthening Families is a family strengthening program for at-risk families.

“Children don’t have the opportunity to select their parents,” continued Mr. Robertson. “And parents are influenced in how they raise children based on how they were parented. So child abuse and neglect can go from generation to generation. We’re here to help break that cycle.”

According to CASTLE, 98 percent of child abuse is committed by the child’s own parents or someone known to the family. Crying, toilet training, and feeding are the most common triggers of physical abuse. CASTLE reports that Florida’s death rate from child abuse is twice as high as the national average.

Okeechobee Mayor Dowling Watford, who in the past has served on the board of CASTLE, thanked everyone in attendance for coming to the ceremony, including his fellow city council members.

“If seeing these flags doesn’t touch you, I don’t know what will,” Mayor Dowling Watford said. “I was blessed to have the greatest parents that anybody could ever wish for. But these children here and many others in our community don’t have that luxury. CASTLE, through their training and education programs, help prevent this.”

If you’re interested in donating to CASTLE or want to volunteer for their next memory field you can reach them at 863-467-7771, or at their Facebook www.facebook.com/castletc/.

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