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Stark Cries for Help

Children: Billboard campaign by a nonprofit group uses plaintive messages to publicize child abuse and recruit foster parents.


Hundreds of plaintive slogans, some written in a childlike scrawl, are being displayed on billboards throughout Los Angeles County in a dramatic plea for help.

They're part of a campaign by the Children's Bureau of Southern California, a nonprofit organization, to raise awareness about child abuse and encourage more adults to become foster parents.

"We are trying to get the public to feel the pain of a child in that private moment that we don't usually see," said Alex Morales, executive director of the Children's Bureau. The ultimate goal, he said, is to make the hitting of a child an unacceptable option.

The Children's Bureau hopes to find homes for some of the 41,000 county children living apart from their parents because of abuse or neglect. The billboards--200 so far, another 200 to be displayed in the coming weeks--represent the largest public service effort in the organization's 91-year history.

There are three styles of billboards. One features a pair of parents' commands: Answer your father. (SLAP.) Don't talk back to your mother. (SMACK.) Another is a child's plea: (SLAP) mommy don't hit me again. (SMACK). All contain the Children's Bureau's motto, "Give A Child A Chance," and a phone number to call to volunteer one's services.

So far, a number of corporations and individuals have responded to the posters and offered to help, said spokeswoman Susan Waddell.

In the United States, one of 10 children will be physically abused, and three of 20 girls and one of 20 boys will be sexually abused, according to the U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect.

Battering and neglect by parents are the leading causes of death for young children in this country, the board reported. Three thousand children are murdered each year by a parent or caretaker. Ninety percent of the victims are under 4.

The Children's Bureau provides counseling and placement to more than 5,000 parents and children each year through its nine offices in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

"Foster parents with a normal family can show kids how to live a life where you are not going to be abused," said Donna Haendiges, 44, a West San Fernando Valley woman who has opened her home to 39 children over the last six years as a foster parent. Haendiges and her husband Mike, who both work out of their home as satellite TV salespeople, have four children of their own, one of whom was adopted after living in the house as a foster child.

The advertising space for the campaign was donated by Gannett Outdoor Advertising and the Eller Media Co. The public service campaign was designed by Asher/Gould Advertising.

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