A World Full of Pinwheels

Denise McCaffrey

“What difference is a hunk of plastic going to make?”  That’s what the delivery guy asked me the other day as he unloaded 25 giant boxes filled with thousands of pinwheels.  “I don’t get it” he said. “How is a pinwheel going to stop child abuse?”

Truthfully, I was kind of taken aback by his question.  Other than “It will raise awareness,” I didn’t know what to say.  And of course, he was in a big hurry so I didn’t have time to think about and articulate my answer. Nor did he want to stick around and have a deep philosophical discussion about the best ways to protect children.

You would think as the Executive Director of Prevent Child Abuse Illinois I would have a pat answer at the ready to rattle off when anyone asks me about pinwheels.  And I do.  But his question was different.  His question wasn’t “Why a pinwheel?” or “What does the pinwheel mean?”  His question was specific.  “How is it going to make a difference?”

It will raise awareness, but to an outsider, like the delivery guy, that was a lame answer.  As I started into my elevator speech about raising awareness, he looked at his watch and continued throwing boxes into the storage room. It will raise awareness. He didn’t get it and he didn’t care.  I needed a better answer.

To get my better answer, I asked myself “How will it make a difference? What do I want the pinwheel to do?”  I want it to remind everyone that child abuse, including child sexual abuse and neglect, happens. It can happen in their community, in their school, in their church and among their family and friends. I want it to remind adults that it is our responsibility to protect children, that all children deserve great childhoods, and that we all have a role to play in preventing abuse. I want the pinwheel to unite us in our goal to make the world a safe place for all children.

I believe the world is ready.  Something happened a few years ago when the stories of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church surfaced.  It began a dialogue about the issue and movement towards change.  I think the legal cases and all the stories in the news lately about sexual assaults, sexual abuse, and victims coming forward to confront their abusers, have built on that movement and have gained momentum.  I am inspired by the #MeToo and #NeverAgain messages, and I believe that we are at a tipping point in this country, where we can talk about child abuse, child sexual abuse, and child neglect. We can talk about how it happens, who’s at risk, and who’s doing the abusing.  And, we can openly discuss what each of us can do to protect children.

Truly each of us have role to play.  What can we do?  Parents can learn the facts, learn how to talk with their children about abuse, and reach out for help when they need it. Law makers can fund programs and pass laws that put children and child safety first.  Educators, law enforcement, civic groups, faith-based and other organizations can create a culture where no one is afraid to come forward or afraid to talk about abuse.  Survivors can tell their stories, and can educate us on the realities of abuse, neglect, betrayal and childhood trauma, those horrible things that happen behind closed doors.  All adults can learn from these stories, they can learn the warning signs of abuse and neglect, and they can know that they are part of the solution.   As adults it is our reasonability to pay attention, to speak up, and to be willing to have the difficult conversations about child abuse.

That’s it.  I have my better answer. The pinwheel is a call to action.  A symbol we can rally around to share the message, to remind us of what’s important, and to encourage us to do what we need to do for children.  After all, children are our future. To have a better world we need to keep our children safe.

“How is a pinwheel going to stop child abuse?”  It isn’t. But I am. I am going to answer the call to action. And, I know I’m not alone. I know you’re with me.

Denise McCaffrey is the Executive Director of Prevent Child Abuse — Illinois, with a degree in Social Work from the University of Illinois at Springfield.


This article first appeared in March 2018 as part of The Healing Voices Magazine third annual Special Edition on Child Abuse Prevention.

The second Special Edition on Child Abuse Prevention is here.

The first Special Edition on Child Abuse Prevention is here.

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