Children's Memorial Flag Day recognizes April as Child Abuse Prevention Month


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PRINCETON — A flag raising, ringing a bell and a solemn walk around a courthouse were symbols Friday of the 77 children lost in West Virginia last year to abuse and neglect.

Ceremonies marking Children's Memorial Flag Day were conducted outside the Mercer County Courthouse as part of Child Abuse Prevention Month. The Mercer County Commission issued a proclamation April 9 declaring that April would be that month.

"Children are the future of West Virginia and we continue to work towards a state that is greater for them than the one we grew up in," County Commission President Bill Archer read from the proclamation. "Finding solutions to child maltreatment requires input and action from everyone, and education efforts increase public awareness about ways to recognize and prevent child abuse. Prevention remains the best defense for our children and families."

Somber numbers showed that preventing child abuse and neglect is urgent and ongoing. Edwin Bennett with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human resources told the audience outside the courthouse about preliminary child welfare statistics for 2023.

"This last year in 2023, things weren't good," Bennett said. "Child Protective Services referrals for the state were about 24,106 referrals investigated throughout the state. Nine hundred and sixty-seven of them were investigated here in Mercer County. According to the Department of Human Services Child Law Dashboard, the state currently has 6,126 kids in custody. Of those 197 are from here in Mercer County. That makes it the sixth highest in the state for the number of kids in care."

"Those are still with us, though," Bennett said.

Preliminary statistics from the West Virginia State Medical Examiners Office are sobering, he said. Investigations are continuing, but there were 77 preventable deaths in West Virginia in 2023 due to factors such as crashes and abuse. Of those, eight were from the Mercer County area including McDowell, Raleigh and Wyoming counties.

The flag day's keynote speaker, Dr. Samantha Byrd with Concord University, said she knew many in the audience by working with them in the social work program and with some of them as a foster and adoptive parent. She spoke after lighting a ceremonial candle for children who have been lost to abuse and neglect.

"These are not just numbers on paper — they are our children, our future, and their losses leaves an unforgettable mark on our community," Byrd said. "Those losses are a grim reminder that there is still much work to be done in ensuring the well-being and safety of every child. We cannot simply mourn their loss; we must also take action."

Local professionals working to aid the county's children were recognized. Awards were presented to Alyssa Crawford, the Integrative Collaborative Assistance Resources Education (ICARE) facilitator for Mercer County Schools; Sgt. Mark Haines with the West Virginia State Police; and Betty Brainerd, executive director of the Wade Center in Bluefield.

Archer rang the bell outside the courthouse 77 times for each child lost to abuse and neglect, and the participants concluded the ceremonies with a quiet remembrance walk around the courthouse.

Artwork for Child Abuse Prevention Month was on display at the Mercer County Courthouse, so participating children competed in a coloring contest.

Coloring contest winners included the following students.

Kindergarten: first place, Eva Houchins; second place, Oliver Garcia; and third place, Faith Thompson.

First Grade: first place, Addelyn Meadows; second place, Novalee Thompson; and third place, Ma'Kih Mays.

Second Grade: first place, Kynlee Wimmer; second place, Brooklyn Bogart; and third place, Shaina Nelson.

— Contact Greg Jordan at

Contact Greg Jordan at