by Laurel Hayles for Eugene Daily News
Let the little children come … for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven
The statistics are terrifying:
- 2009: 20.4% of children abuse victims were less than 1 year old; 48.1% were under 6 years old.
- 2,324 child abuse cases were alleged; 682 were substantiated.
- 113 cases of physical abuse
- 82 cases of sexual abuse
- 428 cases of neglect.
- Contributing Factors:
- Drug & alcohol abuse 42.1%;
- Domestic violence 31.7%;
- Law enforcement involvement 27%. (1)
- 5,376 reports; 45% assessed; 32% founded.
- 1,722 children placed in foster care.
- 30.8% abuse/neglect referrals related to domestic violence;
- 44.8% related to substance abuse.
- Of 1,277 substantiated cases, 47.3% of abused children were 5 years old or younger;
- 37.4% were between 6 and 12 years old;
- 15.3% were 13 years and older. (2)
(1) Oregon Department of Human Services: Children, Adults and Families Division (2010. 2009 Child Welfare Data Book (pp 1-36). Office of Program Performance & Reporting.
(2) Anna Cox, Research Analyst, Department of Human Services: Children, Adults and Families Division, CFFO reports dated 9/15/11 and 1/23/12.
Inherent in all forms of abuse is mental and emotional abuse. Children are trusting by nature. If an adult tells them something they will believe them. They also know that their word against the word of an adult means little, if anything. They are quick studies: Any attempt to stand up for themselves is usually met by severe retribution. Oftentimes it is a matter of accepting the known evil over facing the unknown. As the numbers above show, the rates of abuse drop significantly as children get older, due primarily to two factors: kids get bigger and understand something is wrong and are more likely to do something about it, and sadly, adults who abuse children find older children less desirable.
The stories are horrifying:
* December 2009: A 16 year old girl died as a result of severe trauma. Paramedics described her as they found her in a bathtub: her body was skinny, small and frail, so emaciated, you could see her bones. The cuts and wounds on the girl’s lips were old and appeared never to have received any medical care. The girl’s front teeth were broken, and there were severe wounds on her legs and back. The grand jury indictment against her mother and stepfather ruled her death was a result of neglect and maltreatment and “… intentional maiming and torture.” Her name was Jeanette Maples.
* March 2010: A 9 year old boy was hospitalized with severe burns and multiple broken bones including a fractured pelvis that was consistent with being involved in a 40 MPH crash or falling from a three-story window. The boy reported being tossed in a creek, being force-fed baby formula, being forced to sleep on the back porch with a blanket if he was good, or in a bathtub with a towel. Kitchen cabinets were locked to keep him from stealing food, and he was kept from participating in family nights when the rest of the children had soda and popcorn. No name released – this child is still alive.
Those are just two cases that have made recent headlines. In our “enlightened” society of sensationalist gossip=news, we’ve grown accustomed to the outrageous. What does it take to shock us? To make us stop and say, “Enough! Make it stop!” How do we do that? How can we make it stop?
Understanding the Issues.
Child abuse takes many forms; the main categories being physical abuse (beating), sexual abuse, and neglect. What is the definition of “physical abuse”of a child? Is it a swat on the butt? A smack on the hand? A slap in the face? Oregon law defines physical abuse as “an injury to a child that is not accidental.” In other words, if you did the same thing to an adult they could press charges of assault and battery. But children are not adults. They are smaller, weaker, and they know this.
“Sexual abuse” does not just mean an adult forcing a child to have sex. It is, literally, any kind of touching that is sexual in nature. We would never expect young children to fondle each other, let alone have intercourse. “Neglect” is a more difficult abuse to define and prosecute. The simplest definition would be the failure to provide basic needs: adequate food to maintain health and promote normal physical development, adequate clothing for the relative climate, and safe housing.
So what can we do? We are lying to ourselves if we say, “I can’t do anything to make this not happen. I don’t know these people. It’s not my problem.” These are excuses – not facts. We can do something to make this not happen. We do know these people. It is our problem.
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” – Nelson Mandela
Changing The Paradigm.
Define The Problem: Parents who abuse their children.
Anyone who hurts anyone else needs help. It doesn’t matter if they are hurting themselves (self-mutilation, drugs, starvation, etc.) or if they are hurting someone besides themselves. Adults who abuse or neglect children need to be identified immediately so they can receive the help they need to stop.
Create The Solution: Become accountable to each other.
We need to stop being ostriches who stick their heads in the sand, saying “If I can’t see it, it isn’t there.” Tina Morgan, Director of Kids’ FIRST agrees. “Reporting suspected child abuse is the best way to guarantee it is stopped. Children are not our property – they are our future.” She added, “You can make an anonymous report and have no fear of retribution – although the cases of someone retaliating are so few as to be a non-issue. We are just afraid of getting involved.”
Every one of us must become accountable for and to each other. This means we must rip ourselves away from our iPods, iPhones, and iPads, and really see our neighbors. When was the last time you did more than nod or wave as you get into your car to go to work? Have your recent conversations been longer than five words as you pass each other to get the mail? Invite your next-door neighbor to your house for dinner every week – and have them do the same.
Become a vigilante on your block: Which of your neighbors has children? What are their names? Ages? Is their home clean enough that you would let your children go over there to play? Really see the children around you – are they wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants when it is 80 degrees outside? Are they often sick? Do they look healthy? Happy? Are they timid around adults? Do they look you in the eye when you talk to them? Do they glance away or at their parent for an answer when you ask them a question? Do their parents let them come over to play with your children in your home? Here’s an easy test: Reach for something above a child’s head, or gently put your hand on their head or shoulder. Did they flinch? Duck their head down? Any of these are warning signs that something may be wrong.
Becoming accountable to each other means stepping outside of our self-insulating comfort zone of anonymous citizenship, and taking responsibility for ourselves and each other. Any harm that is done to a child is done to us – and if we allow it to happen because we choose not to see it, it is the same as if we had done it ourselves. We don’t need to wait for something to go wrong before taking action. Simply knowing that we are all a part of our neighborhood community, that we are all protecting each other, could become the one thing that would stop child abuse from ever happening in the first place.
TAKE ACTION: If you have reason to believe that a child is being abused or neglected, report it immediately. Contact law enforcement or the Department of Human Services Child Welfare Program at (541) 686-7555.
Define The Problem: Abusive foster parents.
Sadly, the very homes where children who are abused by their parents have been placed are often promoting yet more abuse. Foster parents and their homes are rigidly investigated prior to placement, but due to lack of state funding, continued maintenance is lacking.
Create The Solution: Become a foster parent.
Do you have a stable job that pays you well? Do you have a nice home in a good neighborhood? Are you a parent of one or more children who are in school? The criteria for becoming a foster parent is much lower than this. Becoming a foster parent would mean giving an abused child the opportunity to heal and grow in a healthy and nurturing environment. For more information go to http://www.oregon.gov/dhs/children/fosteradopt/pages/foster/index.aspx.
TAKE ACTION: Contact 800-331-0503 to find out how you can be a foster parent.
Define The Problem: Caretakers who abuse children.
It isn’t just natural parents or foster parents who abuse children. We have all heard of the cases of teachers, babysitters, or others who work with children being the ones who abuse them. Many times these cases of abuse are reported by other children or the victims themselves, but are not taken seriously. We need to stop assuming that just because someone has an official title or degree that they are exempt from being accountable for their actions.
TAKE ACTION: If you know or suspect a caretaker is abusing a child, report it immediately. Contact law enforcement or the Department of Human Services Child Welfare Program at (541) 686-7555.
* Become an advocate.
CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) represent children in court where cases of child abuse have been alleged. These advocates are volunteers and are paid no money for their time. Advocates receive training and are one of the first lines of defense for children who have been abused. As the CASA website says, “These dedicated, highly-trained community members serve as fact finders for the judge by researching the background of each assigned case. They speak for the child in the courtroom, representing the child’s best interests, and work to move the child as quickly and effectively as possible through the system and into a safe, permanent home.” Anyone who meets the basic criteria can become an advocate, if you can donate 10-15 hours per month. This work is a vital part of answering the issue of child abuse that has already happened. For more information go to http://www.casa-lane.org.
TAKE ACTION: Contact (541) 984-3132 to become a volunteer with CASA.
* Become an assistant.
Kids’ Forensic Intervention Response & Support Team (Kids’ FIRST) is a program that “… provide(s) a warm, child-friendly setting where children can be interviewed, receive medical exams to help criminal investigations, and testify before Lane County’s specially-convened grand jury for child abuse cases. The Center eliminates the need for a child to be shuffled through police stations, doctor’s offices and courtrooms, sparing the child fear and trauma often associated with these experiences.” Victim Advocates serve children who have been victims of physical or sexual abuse or have witnessed domestic violence, making a one-year commitment to work 8 hours per week. Childcare volunteers donate one evening per week to assist in providing activities for children of at-risk families while their parents or guardians attend classes on parenting, anger management, and counseling. Their most immediate need is funding, followed by volunteers. For more information go to http://www.lanecounty.org/Departments/DA/KidsFirst/Pages/default.aspx.
TAKE ACTION: Contact (541) 682-3938 to become a volunteer with Kids’ FIRST.
* Become a counselor.
Healthy Start / Healthy Families is a program that helps first-time parents by providing free home visits from parental experts to try to reduce stress factors including money, friends, family, and parenting issues. It includes providing books, clothing, and reimbursement for supplies to maintain a healthy home environment. For more information on how you can help go to http://cms.oregon.gov/OCCF/hso/Pages/index.aspx.
TAKE ACTION: Contact 541-682-3358 to help Healthy Start / Healthy Families.
* Become a volunteer.
The Relief Nursery provides families with tools to address parenting challenges, and where children participate in therapeutic early childhood programs. Based on the belief that the best person to raise a child is that child’s parent, this organization addresses multiple family risk factors including drug abuse, poor parenting skills, poverty, and mental illness. According to the 2008-2010 Evaluation of the Oregon Relief Nurseries (Portland State University), families enrolled for six months in a relief nursery program see the following results: Foster care placements reduced from 394 to 179 days; new placements reduced from 57 to 5; family risk factors decreased by 13 percent; positive parent-child interactions increased by 30 percent; 63 percent increase in parents reading to their children at least 3 times a week; a 22 percent increase in families living above the federal poverty level; emergency room services decreased by 16 percent; and a 32 percent increase in participant families’ employment rate. For more information go to http://www.reliefnursery.org.
TAKE ACTION: Contact 541-343-9706 to help the Relief Nursery of Lane County.
* Become a supporter.
ShelterCare of Lane County is one of several local organizations that provide emergency housing for homeless families with children, as well as transitional support when families obtain permanent housing. Lucy Vinis, Development Director says, “Our biggest need is for resources for these children: the loss in funding from Lane County in 2011 compelled us to close our Children’s Resource Center, which provided an educational and recreational outlet for children and much-needed breathing room for their parents residing in our Family Housing Program. We are now seeking to re-open that Center, with volunteer staffing and limited hours. We’re concerned particularly about having both educational supplies and recreational games. There are currently 11 teenagers living there who would love to have movie nights; video games to play; all of the usual things.” For more information go to http://www.sheltercare.org/programs.
TAKE ACTION: Contact Gene Obersinner, Volunteer/Intern Coordinator, at 541-686-1262 ext 305 to support ShelterCare of Lane County.
* Become a mentor.
Big Brothers / Big Sisters of Lane County is part of the national organization that where “(y)outh and teens are matched with caring volunteer adults who are trained to focus on trust-building and the achievement of goals by engaging youth/teens in one-on-one outings, and learning and recreational activities in the community.” The only requirement for being a Big Brother or Big Sister is a desire and willingness to help at-risk kids by providing them with support and encouragement, helping them become their own best advocates and defenders. As their website declares, “Our mentors are people just like you — parents, grandparents, college students, realtors, lawyers, waiters, forensic scientists, bakers, carpenters, painters, police officers and retired folks… any caring adult who is willing to spend 12-15 hours a month with a kid — and listen, share, and inspire. Home-makers and professionals alike come together in our community to help support our upcoming generation of leaders; come join us!” For more information go to http://www.bbbslane.org.
TAKE ACTION: Contact Francesca MacCormack, Associate Director of Services at (541)344-0833 ext 103 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org to become a Big Brother or Big Sister.
* Become a friend.
The Boys and Girls Club of the Emerald Valley is located at the Westmoreland Center close to downtown Eugene. This non-profit organization is funded primarily by grants and donations from the community. Recently forced to temporarily close its doors due to lack of funding, it has reopened and is stronger than ever. Providing more than just a safe place for school-aged children between ages 6 and 18 to go to after school, they provide age-appropriate game rooms as well as homework assistance, computer training, and healthy meals. While some of the staff are part-time or full-time paid positions, the majority are volunteers, including high school seniors and University of Oregon students, who donate their time to monitor the activities and provide assistance. For more information go to http://www.bgcev.net.
TAKE ACTION: Contact 541-345-9939 to volunteer with the Boys and Girls Club.
You don’t need to look to a third world country to find a child in need – you only have to look as far as our community. If you can’t volunteer your time, take that $20 per month (one latte a week) and donate to any of the organizations above. With approximately 250,000 employed adults over age 18 living in Lane County, if every one of us donated $20 per month it would equal $6,000,000!
Talk about changing the course of history….