Take a stand for children
December 15, 2011
Shocking stories of child abuse and neglect have saturated the local news in recent weeks. The tragic loss of 10-year-old Tramelle Sturgis coupled with the events at Penn State University have resulted in an extraordinary level of press and community outrage regarding the safety of our children. It is my sincere hope that our local sentiment will not simply end with outrage, however, but will result in a collective movement aimed at protecting our most vulnerable.
The South Bend Common Council on Nov. 14 passed a resolution to help raise awareness about child abuse and neglect, urging all residents to partner with those agencies working to strengthen families to demonstrate that child abuse will not be tolerated in our community. This is a call to action, and Prevent Child Abuse St. Joseph County is asking every resident and local business to answer the call. The majority of child abuse cases in Indiana stem from situations and conditions which are entirely preventable in an engaged and supportive community. Child abuse is not just a family matter, it is a community crisis. We cannot wait for someone else to take a stand.
The first step we must all take is to report any suspected child abuse to law enforcement or the Indiana Department of Child Services at 1-800-800-5556. In the state of Indiana, any person who has reason to believe that a child is a victim of child abuse or neglect has the duty to make a report. We are all mandated reporters. This law is consistently misunderstood, even by those in schools, law enforcement and other agencies charged with caring for our children.
Too many organizations have internal policies dictating that suspected abuse should be passed through a chain of command with one person identified as responsible for assessing the need and ultimately making the report. The unfolding situation at Penn State University makes clear the tragic flaws of such a system.
Reliance on internal policy may subject children to multiple interviews which could ultimately alter their responses to a Department of Child Services inquiry. It assumes the person with the responsibility to make the report will not be caught up in another issue and fail to report in a timely manner or at all. It provides staff members a false sense that they have fulfilled their duty even though Indiana state law does not absolve them of their responsibility. And most importantly, it can leave children at risk.
But organizational policies are not the only reason abuse goes unreported. People fear potentially making the situation worse, believe it's none of their business or that someone else will intervene. None of these reasons, nor any other, can begin to justify leaving a child in a potentially harmful situation.
Additional steps we can all take include simply helping a parent we know to be stressed, donating our unneeded children's items to a family in need or volunteering with local agencies serving families. We must encourage our policymakers to support family-friendly initiatives and stop looking at services aimed at children as their first target for financial cuts. This may sound like a difficult request in our current economy, but it is the economically prudent position. Nationally, the annual cost of child abuse and neglect is approximately $103 billion. But research shows that every $1 we invest in prevention results in $37 saved in eventual costs of treatment. Children who experience child abuse and neglect are 59 percent more likely to be arrested as a juvenile, 28 percent more likely to be arrested as an adult, and 30 percent more likely to commit violent crime. Sixty percent of those in drug rehabilitation centers report being abused as children. We simply cannot afford to further reduce the minimal supports we offer our families.
Nationally, five children die every day from child abuse or neglect. In the last reported year, 38 of those children were from Indiana. One is too many. Let us not react to the death of Tramelle Sturgis merely with outrage, but also with change. Join Prevent Child Abuse St. Joseph County in pledging to support our children by reporting any suspected abuse. For more information on signs of abuse or how you can make a difference visit http://www.pcasjc.org.
The time is now. Together, we can prevent child abuse. Our kids can't wait.
Jennifer Pickering is program director of Prevent Child Abuse St. Joseph County.
Signs of abuse
Children who are victims of physical abuse may be too eager to please, depressed, exhibit extremes in behavior, appear frightened of a caretaker or display an exaggerated startle response.
Unexplained bruises, welts, burns, fractures or hemorrhages are also signs. Indicators a caregiver may be abusive include harsh discipline, substance abuse, consistent description of the child in a negative manner, as well as defensive, concealing or misleading behavior concerning a child's injuries.
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