More than 300 pairs of children’s shoes were displayed at the Cache County Courthouse on Monday, one for each substantiated case of child abuse in the county in 2017.
“It’s very emotional, when you think of the children who wear these shoes,” said Esterlee A. Molyneux, executive director of The Family Place.
Each pair was unique: sparkly blue boots a little girl might wear to school, tiny dress shoes for a toddler to wear to church, barely worn sandals for a baby just old enough to walk.
This year, there were 364 cases of child abuse and neglect in Cache Valley, significantly fewer than the 451 cases in 2016.
“Collectively, we are making a difference,” Molyneaux said.
Molyneaux said many parents of abused children don’t mean to hurt their kids. Neglect is the most common form of child abuse in Utah, occurring in 47 percent of cases, according to data from the Utah Department of Child and Family Services.
“Sometimes they just don’t have the right tools or knowledge,” Molyneux said.
Molyneux said The Family Place works to bridge this gap by connecting parents with the tools they need. The nonprofit offers therapy, parenting classes and both weekly and emergency child care.
“I want parents to know that there are resources to support the really great work that they’re doing,” Molyneux said. “It truly is a sign of strength to reach out and ask for support, because none of us can do this alone.”
Molyneux said the community can play an important role in helping these families.
“If we all reach out a helping hand instead of the pointing finger of judgment, then we can help these children,” Molyneux said.
Sen. Lyle Hillyard, the event’s keynote speaker, said “we’ve come a long way” during his 34 years as a legislator, but there is still progress to be made.
“As we look at these shoes here, they represent not just children who are hurt,” Hillyard said, emphasizing the role mental illness and drug addiction often play in child abuse.
Molyneux said she doesn’t want those who see the display to feel hopeless or disempowered because they don’t know what to do to help.
“We know what we can do,” Molyneux said. “We can rally around each other and put aside our pride and ask for help. We can work together without judgment as a community.”
Miss Cache Valley Emily Robinson worked with the Cache Valley royalty to gather the 364 pairs of shoes displayed Monday. Robinson said after the event the shoes will be donated to Soles4Souls, a charity that gives shoes and clothing to those in need around the world.