MARIETTA - Though it is the only county-wide levy on the ballot in November, proponents of the Washington County Children Services levy are doing everything in their power to make sure the levy gets the attention it needs.
That includes recently posting a four-minute video online that local residents said they found disturbing to watch.
The 1.46-mill, 10-year levy, would generate nearly $1.6 million dollars annually for Children Services. To get the word out and highlight the need for the proposed levy, a group of volunteers called the Friends of Children Services Levy recently posted the video on their Facebook page.
Though the video features graphic photos of abused children and deplorable living conditions that are all local cases, the group says the shocking video was necessary to make people aware of the child abuse epidemic in Washington County.
"The child abuse problem is getting worse and worse," said Ginny McVey, chairwoman of the levy committee.
The levy committee has been showing a 20-minute version of the video at presentations around town and decided to shorten it to get the attention of local voters, said McVey.
Just The Facts
Washington County Children Services is placing a 10-year, 1.46-mill levy on the November ballot which would generate $1,599,337.28 annually.
It would cost the owner of a home appraised at $100,000 an annual amount of $44.71.
Money raised through the tax levy would be used for operational costs and for the reinstatement of the School Outreach and Prevention Program (SOPP), a federally funded program that was abolished in July 2009.
To see the video, visit the Friends of Children Services Levy Facebook page at www.facebook.com/childrenservices or the Friends of Children Services Levy YouTube page at www.youtube.com/user/FriendsofWCCS
Some of the images shown in the shortened video include: a bathtub filled with feces that the family was scooping out of a broken toilet to continue using it, excess skin on the legs of a 5-month-old infant who was starved by a mentally ill mother, severe burns on the leg of a small child in diapers and the bruised neck of a 6-year-old girl who was held down and raped.
The narrator describes the events surrounding the photos, which were all real cases that occurred in Washington County. The narrator also tells the story of a 2-month-old infant who died after being struck by her father.
Local resident Shara Ellenwood, 26, of Belpre, saw the scenes recently and said she feels people need to see the video's shocking content because otherwise they ignore the harsh reality of child abuse.
"People don't get it unless it is put right in front of their faces," she said.
Washington State Community College student Anna Burns, 18, of Caldwell, needed time to collect her thoughts after seeing the video. Though she said she thought the video helps raise awareness, the images were not easy to look at, she said.
"That was just sickening," said Burns.
The levy committee gave a lot of consideration to what images to use, and in the end actually scrapped many of the more shocking images, said levy committee member James Vuksic.
"We did not know what would be acceptable or not so we ran hours and hours of these photos and then screened them out," said Vuksic.
The group worked with Washington County Prosecutor Jim Schneider to compile photos from cases that were not current or recently closed and in which no people or locations could be identified, said Vuksic.
Unless they go into open court, cases involving children are confidential. Therefore its hard to make the general public aware of the quantity and seriousness of the cases Children Services handles, said Vuksic.
"We tend to look at our county or our town as an island or oasis. People seem to think that sort of stuff does not happen here," he said.
According to the video, the agency handled 1,661 referrals, involving 2,454 child victims last year.
"What we're trying to do is protect our children," said McVey.
The funds from the levy would help Children Services restore the School Outreach and Prevention Program which would provide at least one prevention specialist to each school district. The program was cut in 2009, said McVey.
The funds would also help restore staff positions and raise foster parent payments from $20 to $28 a day.
Though the video is admittedly shocking, it is representative of situations Children Services handles on a day-to-day basis, said McVey.
So far the video has gotten positive feedback, she said.
The longer 20-minute version has been shown to around 40 groups, including local Rotary clubs, seniors at the O'Neill Center, the Marietta Health Council and various building and trades unions, said McVey.
"Everything has been very supportive. A lot of people say to us that they had no idea this kind of stuff was happening here locally," said McVey.
The group hopes even more people will see the video between now and the November election. More than 10,000 copies of the video are being burnt to DVDs to be distributed throughout the county, said Vuksic. The video can also be accessed from the group's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/childrenservices.