Pattsi Thornbrue never envisioned becoming a child abuse prevention advocate, but she believes the system of placing children back into abusive homes needs to change.

“We’re put here for a reason and a purpose to do this and we’re going to do it,” said the 48-year-old Guthrie woman. One mission is to “bring awareness to the community that child abuse is real and it happens every day. There’s things you can do about it — get involved.”

Thornbrue is a child advocate with a group called Kelsey’s Purpose, created after a Meeker 2-year-old died in 2005. Kelsey Briggs was placed back into the home of her birth mother and stepfather — who were suspected of child abuse — and died one month later.

The Kelsey Briggs Law, which went into effect Nov. 1, 2006, is designed to “provide more accountability with judges to place a child in a certain situation,” and also frees up money for special investigations of possible child abuse and to hire 100 more caseworkers.

Members of Kelsey’s Purpose, like Thornbrue, want to ensure children are put into safe environments and want to educate the public about child abuse.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Following is more about child abuse and the Kelsey’s Purpose group, from Thornbrue’s perspective:

Q: To what does your group aim to bring awareness?

A: There are parents that abuse their children and we need to bring awareness to that. We need to bring awareness to the help that’s out there. There’s different organizations and agencies you can go to get help, but those have to be funded and we’re having trouble getting a lot of those funded.

Q: What are the signs of child abuse?

A: Obvious signs are bruises, broken bones. Like in Kelsey’s case there were nine months of bruises. That’s obvious signs of abuse. Children act out a lot of times when they’re abused. That can go from one spectrum to another. That can be violent tendencies, withdrawn. There’s a huge spectrum of things that you can look for. If you see something that you suspect as child abuse, even if you do not know — and I don’t care who it is — you need to report it. If it’s nothing, then no harm done. If it is something, you may have just saved a child’s life.

Q: When people think of child abuse, they may think of physical or sexual abuse. Are there other types of abuse?

A: There’s emotional and mental abuse. You can mentally and emotionally knock a kid down, beat a kid down with your words.

Q: Do you think a lot of people are afraid to come forth?

A: I think we’re always, ‘Oh that’s my neighbor,’ or ‘Oh, that’s my brother-in-law and I don’t want to get them in trouble’ and they don’t report it. ‘Well, I don’t really know for sure.’ You can’t do that. Children are dying. We are the voices of these kids. Children have no rights in Oklahoma … we need to be their voices until we get more rights for children in Oklahoma and that’s what we’re trying to do.

Q: What measures would you like to see in place to protect children?

A: We need harsher punishments. People that abuse children walk out the door. I mean they get a slap on the wrist. You hurt an animal and you may go to jail for 10 years. I have seen very, very, very few parents that abuse their child and go to jail. There are some, I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but it doesn’t happen very often. We have to get tougher laws.

Q: What is Kelsey’s Saturday?

A: Kelsey’s Saturday, which is April 29, has grown to over 13 states and two countries. We have Australia and Canada involved in that. And we go and we hand out information on child abuse, hand out Kelsey stickers — just trying to get the word out that this is real and there need to be some major changes made.

(Jaclyn Houghton is the CNHI News Service Oklahoma reporter.)

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