A familiar sign of spring is back, as brightly colored pinwheels pop up in support of the community’s youth.

After a year away due to the pandemic, the Kids’ HOPE Center’s annual pinwheel planting event reappeared this year, with a small group of center staff decorating the center Thursday and partner organizations across the region decorating their decorations and gardens.

 “It’s something very bright and cheerful,” said Julie Marshall, the center’s senior child and family advocate. “We’re always known for pinwheels that are surrounding the property.”

The tradition marks the start of National Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month, an important month for the community to recognize the children the center helps.

“It really is just a way for them to show their support for the kids that we see,” Marshall said of the community partners who purchase and put up pinwheels in the center’s annual fundraiser. “It helps bring awareness — so many people are asking questions.”

The Kids’ HOPE Center, a program of Bay Area Hospital after starting in the District Attorney’s office in the early 1990’s, provides support services to children and youth who experience child abuse.

Center staff can conduct interviews with survivors so they don’t have to tell their stories multiple times to law enforcement and other agencies, and the center can provide assistance with basic needs items like clothing or shoes or referrals to other social services.

This year’s planting event to mark the start of the month didn’t look quite like previous ones: Due to the pandemic, four staff members gathered to place pinwheels along Thompson Road, and no community partners were gathered to hear speeches about the center’s work.

That meant it took a little longer to put up the 317 pinwheels — one for each child the center served in 2020.

That number’s lower this year than previous ones: Marshall said having children at home more during the pandemic actually decreased the amount of children the center served.

“That was really down quite a bit from the previous year,” Marshall said.

The decrease doesn’t mean there were fewer instances of child abuse last year — instead, Marshall said the reports of child abuse likely decreased because children weren’t in school, where many staff members can observe and report signs of abuse.

“Kids aren’t in school. There’s not responsible adults with eyes on these kids,” Marshall said.

Since some grades have been going back to school, Kids’ HOPE Education Coordinator Sarah Bright said they’ve started to see an uptick in reports.

“Once kids slowly started going back to school, we saw more kids, because teachers are the large majority of mandatory reporters,” Bright said.

Still, the time away likely means a lot of cases could have been missed.

“It’s really hard for all of us, because we know that the stress of not having any money and no jobs (during the pandemic), that only angers perpetrators even more,” Bright said.

The staff at the Kids’ HOPE Center are hoping Thursday’s event and the cheerful pinwheels all around town remind the community about the challenges that some children face — and that the center’s there to provide them neutral support services.

“It’s really just to give that child a voice. It’s so rare that kids get that experience,” Marshall said.

More information about the Kids’ HOPE Center, including how to receive services, report child abuse or donate to the center, is available on its website at www.bayareahospital.org/Services/Kids--HOPE-Center.aspx.

Reporter Zack Demars can be reached at worldnews3@countrymedia.net.

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