CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Center for Children’s Justice is calling on fellow West Virginians to be a hero for children.

Members of the community were invited to a “Light up the Capitol” event Friday night at the steps of the West Virginia Capitol Building to show their support for child abuse victims. With glow sticks in hand, dozens of supporters were able to light up the capital city.

Misty Atkins, director of the West Virginia Center for Children’s Justice at the West Virginia State Police, put on the event. The biggest program within the Center for Children’s Justice is “Handle with Care,” a defending childhood initiative, tailored to reflect the needs and issues affecting West Virginia children. It is a statewide trauma informed response to child maltreatment.

Atkins said she wanted to “light up the capitol” to show kids that they are not alone and there are plenty of people who want to support them.

“It lets children know that their cries are not going unheard,” Atkins said. “We are all stronger if we stand together.”

April is also Child Abuse Prevention Month. West Virginia ranks third in the country for child abuse cases, according to Atkins. One in every 10 children in West Virginia may experience sexual abuse. More than 600 allegations of child abuse were made in 2023.

“We are showing current child abuse victims and past child abuse victims that we care and we’re here for them,” said Atkins.

Cynthia Persily

Cabinet Secretary for the WV Department of Human Services Cynthia Persily and U.S Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia Will Thompson were both in attendance.

There have been recent cases of child abuse and neglect in West Virginia. Neglect is the most common form of child maltreatment in West Virginia, making up over 82% of child abuse cases.

“Together, let’s be the voice that speaks for the voiceless,” said Persily.

Persily said her staff is making sure they meet every report of child abuse and neglect with diligence. She encourages anyone who suspects or knows about child abuse or neglect to speak up and report it to their abuse and neglect hotline.

“If you see something, say something,” said Thompson.

Will Thompson

For many years, U.S. Attorney Thompson has seen countless child abuse cases. He’s been working on them for much of his career. He applauded those in attendance Friday night for showing up and being a supporter, but also challenged those at the steps of the State Capitol Building to take the next step and make a difference in a young person’s life.

“Do something that would be positive in a child’s life,” he said. “This is something that we should be focused on 365 days a year.”

There is also an ongoing situation of children in the foster care system. There were more than 2,700 kids waiting to be adopted in 2020, according to Atkins. Of the 7,200 children in the foster care system now, 85% of those cases include drug usage.