JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — “Unrelenting tragedies of child abuse and neglect in Jacksonville and Onslow County” will be the focus of a town hall meeting at Jacksonville City Hall on Tuesday night, officials announced Friday.

The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the council chambers. It is open to the public and will be broadcast on the local-government television channel G-10. The town hall is organized by Turning Adversity into Success for Children in Onslow, an intergovernmental task force.

Child abuse cases have been on the rise locally since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Jacksonville Public Safety press release. In Jacksonville, there have been five child deaths linked to abuse or neglect in the past three years, including four deaths of children under the age of 1.

Jacksonville Public Safety Director Mike Yaniero is calling for a community response to the issue.

“That’s the call,” Yaniero said. “We have to stop these deaths.”

The town hall will feature a panel consisting of representatives from law enforcement, One Place’s Child Advocacy Center, social services and other public agencies.

This is the first of town halls scheduled quarterly in 2023 to address child abuse in Onslow County. Those in attendance can submit questions, while residents unable to attend in person can submit questions through social media using the Onslow County TASCO page on Facebook. Moderators will monitor the TASCO Facebook page during the town hall to answer questions from those who are watching the live broadcast on G-10.

TASCO’s role is a multidisciplinary task force that was created as a partnership between Onslow County and the City of Jacksonville. The task force is comprised of more than 30 stakeholders and participating community members who work in every aspect of the fight against child abuse and neglect, including treatment of victims. Members come from agencies and fields including law enforcement, health care, social work, education, ministry, among others.

Tondrea Leach, executive director of PEERS, coordinates the task force’s activities and will explain TASCO’s mission at the town hall. After a series of community cafes that brought neighbors together for information and discussion sessions, Leach and other task force members are looking at the town-hall sessions to build broader community awareness about the problem and kick-start a broad-based campaign to end child abuse.