STARKVILLE, MS – It’s a problem that plagues every community, child abuse.
“A child is an innocent person and often times they really can’t be able to help themselves,” said West Point Police Chief Avery Cook.
Law enforcement said they’re seeing a rise in the number of reported child abuse cases.
Sally Kate Winters Family Services reports from 2016 to 2017, the organization saw a 73 percent increase in the number of child abuse interviews they conducted.
The abuse comes in different forms, and Sally Kate Winters is on the front-line in many of these investigations.
“Sally Kate Winters provides forensic interviews for child victims of abuse, so we do felony child abuse investigations and we interview kids who’ve been abused,” said Morgan Colley, Children’s Advocacy Center Advocate at Sally Kate Winters Family Services.
Now the organization is sharing its knowledge.
During a Child Abuse Investigation Training on Monday, law enforcement officers, child protective services, and first responders learned new techniques for spotting signs of mistreatment.
“We’re trying to help provide law enforcement with every tool that they need to investigate child abuse and child sexual crimes especially,” said Steven Woodruff, investigator for the district attorney’s office. “We’re seeing an uptake in that in our community, and we don’t think that it’s just now starting to happen, we think that it’s just beginning to be reported more.”
“We’re doing two different presentations, one on corroborating evidence, so we have a child that discloses something and getting them to think about some of the minor details that a child might bring up in their testimony to make their story come alive,” said Jim Holler, who conducted Monday’s training session. “This afternoon we’re doing one more investigative piece, especially physical abuse investigations and what the investigators can do to help the kids to help make their stories come alive.”
Holler is a former police chief with more than three decades of law enforcement experience.
He said the tools everyone learned during the training session are important and can help prosecutors be more effective.
“Just trying to put all the facts together and making sure that we’ve got the details, so we can bring a strong case to our prosecutors office, and hopefully that case will be strong enough to go proceed without a child having to testify,” said Holler.
Sally Kate Winters and the district attorney’s office co-sponsored the training session.
Criticism raised over ending Child Abuse prevention program
Lewiston, Maine – The LePage administration is being criticized for its decision to end a statewide program aimed at preventing child abuse and neglect, even as Maine has witnessed its second horrific case of child abuse in three months.
State officials say the $2.2 million Community Partnerships for Protecting Children program duplicates other Maine prevention programs and is not evidence-based.
Maine Department of Health and Human Services officials surprised nonprofit leaders in a meeting a few weeks ago by saying the program that launched more than a decade ago would not be renewed, and did not give clear reasons why, said officials with Opportunity Alliance, the South Portland-based nonprofit that started the program.
“It is our duty to the Maine taxpayers to ensure that programs we fund are not duplicative of one another,” DHHS spokeswoman Emily Spencer said Wednesday in an email response to questions from the Press Herald.
“Their money needs to be spent in the most effective and efficient ways possible.”
The decision by DHHS preceded the death Sunday of a 10-year-old girl in Stockton Springs, who authorities say died of battered child syndrome. It came after a Wiscasset woman was charged with depraved indifference murder in connection with death Dec. 8 of a 4-year-old girl in her care.
Ken Kunin, superintendent of South Portland schools, which works closely with Opportunity Alliance on the program, said DHHS is “wrong” that the program is providing services available elsewhere.
“It doesn’t duplicate. They offer direct help and support for families and communities,” Kunin said. “It’s been a tremendous asset in South Portland. More kids attend school, are healthier and parents have really been connected to services. It’s really been a tremendous program.”
Debra Dunlap, regional director of Community Partnerships for Protecting Children in southern Maine for Opportunity Alliance, said it makes no sense to eliminate prevention programs that can stop family problems from becoming acute.
“It would be like building hospitals with only emergency rooms,” Dunlap said.
In southern Maine, where the program has been established for about a decade, CPPC partners with about 60 groups, including schools, nonprofits, law enforcement, local governments, churches and others to identify and help families at risk of abuse and neglect.
Opportunity Alliance officials argue the program has saved children from difficult circumstances, although they acknowledge that like many prevention programs, the benefits are difficult to measure. Just two years ago, the state expanded the program to other communities, such as Bangor and Belfast, which makes the move to end the program all the more puzzling.
“The safety of kids in Maine is in jeopardy, and supportive services for families who need help will be vanishing,” said Mike Tarpinian, executive director of Opportunity Alliance.
Child abuse has been in the spotlight in Maine recently with some high-profile cases, most recently in Stockton Springs, where Sharon Carrillo, 33, and Julio Carrillo, 51, were charged in the beating death of Marissa Kennedy. She was Sharon Carillo’s daughter and Julio Carrillo’s stepdaughter.
Police reported the 10-year-old received daily beatings from the Carrillos for months before dying on Sunday. The Office of Chief Medical Examiner performed an autopsy and determined that Marissa died of battered child syndrome.
The Carrillos have been charged with murder, and made a court appearance in Belfast on Wednesday.
Neighbors from when the family lived in Bangor said they called police and Maine DHHS over concerns about child abuse, but it’s not clear why Marissa was allowed to continue to live with the Carillos. The couple moved from Bangor to Stockton Springs last fall.
Tarpinian said it doesn’t make any sense to end a program that had been helping to reduce the number of abuse cases in the state over the past decade. In Cumberland County, where CPPC has been established the longest — for about a decade — substantiated cases of child abuse or neglect plummeted from 445 in 2008 to 261 in 2016, the most recent year available, despite DHHS launching more child abuse investigations during that decade.
Opportunity Alliance officials say because so many factors go into the trends, including state policies, cultural trends, overall declining crime numbers, demographics and other issues, it’s impossible to know exactly how much the prevention program helped.
“We know we played a really critical role,” Dunlap said. “We know more kids are living safely with their families because of this program.”
By the numbers
Statewide, substantiated abuse and neglect cases dropped from 2,521 to 2,268 from 2008 to 2016, although most of the CPPC programs outside of Greater Portland are much more recent — starting after 2015.
The $800,000 per year state contract with Opportunity Alliance is slated to end Sept. 30, as are contracts with four other nonprofits, including Penquis in Bangor, Community Concepts in Augusta and Broadreach Family and Community Services in Belfast, either in September or this summer.
The state spends a total of $2.2 million per year on the prevention program, Tarpinian said, and a quality prevention program will save the state money as fewer children end up in crisis and need Child Protective Services and in foster care. The state announced on Wednesday that it was operating with a $128 million surplus.
The CPPC program began as a pilot program in Portland by the Opportunity Alliance in the mid-2000s, and a comprehensive program launched in 2008 in South Portland’s Redbank Village and Brickhill apartments. The program has since expanded to all of southern Maine, Lewiston, Augusta, Bangor and Belfast.
Spencer said the programs duplicated the state’s Child Abuse and Neglect Councils, which are entities created by the Maine Legislature to prevent child abuse and neglect.
“Maine’s (Child Abuse and Neglect) Councils serve the same families that the CPPCs were intended to serve,” Spencer said.
Dunlap said the Child Abuse and Neglect Councils do not have the resources to conduct community-based programs like CPPC does, and the programs do not duplicate each others.
Spencer said the program is not “evidence-based” and that there was also a question of funding.
“When originally established, DHHS believed that the CPPCs were an evidenced-based program,” Spencer said. “Upon further research as we considered renewing and expanding, it has been determined that they are not evidenced based, but are seen as a method for engaging communities with the goal of preventing child abuse.
“This is the same goal of Maine’s statutorily established CAN Councils.”
‘Best that’s available’
But Dunlap said that CPPC, while not meeting the rigorous scientific standard of evidence-based, is the best that is available. There are no community-based prevention programs that meet the evidence-based standard DHHS is seeking, she said.
“Every aspect of the model we are using is based on research that shows what families need to keep kids safe from abuse,” Dunlap said.
“It’s not a simple recipe where you can put the ingredients in and get a cake. How do you prove something that didn’t happen?”
It is difficult to count how many people are served by the community-based programs, Dunlap said, but in South Portland, at least 1,630 individuals are helped per year.
The community-based prevention programs provide many services and are difficult to explain, Dunlap said, but one example is the Neighborhood Resource Hub on Westbrook Street, between Redbank and Brickhill in South Portland. The hub is a combination food pantry, and a place where people can connect to social services that they may not be aware of, such as signing up for federal heating assistance, Medicaid or Affordable Care Act insurance. Employers will post job listings looking for workers.
Becky Morse, a volunteer at the Neighborhood Resource Hub, said she has seen how the service benefits families.
“It’s a safe place, and it gives people a sense of security where people can go and get their questions answered, find out where to get help. They can be instantly directed,” Morse said.
She said the food pantry is also a great resource to have within walking distance, as people can pick up bread and fresh vegetables.
Sharp rise in Child Abuse, Neglect cases in
SAN ANTONIO, TX – The number of cases of child abuse and neglect in 2017 has gone up almost 36 percent from 2014.
After more than 5,846 cases of child abuse and neglect in 2013, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services saw the numbers steadily drop down to 4,550 in 2016. Last year, however, the number of cases exceeded the 2013 figure with 6,175 confirmed victims, a 35.71 percent jump from 2014 when the numbers began to fall.
“In 2017, we had the largest number of confirmed victims of child abuse and neglect,” said Anais Biera Miracle, spokeswoman for the Children’s Shelter of San Antonio.
Besides the growth in Bexar County’s population, Judge Peter Sakai, who hears many of the cases in Children’s Court, said: “It’s drug addiction. It’s mental health issues. It’s domestic and family violence.”
Sakai said the Children’s Court has been dealing with the situation by “aggressively looking at the high rate of removals with more preventive measures.” He said, for example, there’s the family preservation docket.
“We try to get custody orders for relatives and getting children out of the foster care system and back with family,” Sakai said.
But Sakai said the bottom line is more resources for prevention.
Miracle said the shelter is trying to develop more strategies to effectively reach parents grappling with substance abuse, mental illness and learned behavior from generation to generation.
5-year-old Bronx boy’s parents left him home alone for a night in feces-stained apartment
New York – The flies and the neighbors were still buzzing Saturday after a 5-year-old boy was abandoned all night by his parents inside their vermin-riddled Bronx apartment.
Mom Charlotte Lewis, 49, and dad Wilfred Lewis, 59, were arrested for leaving the child home alone — except for the cockroaches, rats and flies.
“A couple of times they would leave the door open and I always told my boyfriend, ‘Oh, that house is kind of disgusting,’” said Deanna Strom, 27, one day after a FedEx deliveryman discovered the lonely boy.
The Kingsbridge Ave. apartment, in addition to the living critters, featured feces splattered across the walls when cops arrived on the scene Friday afternoon.
A stench of decay wafted from the apartment Saturday, when a squadron of flies remained visible through a hole left in the front door where the knob was missing.
“I couldn’t imagine that at all,” Strom said about the vile conditions inside the home. “It was pretty disturbing.”
On top of the repugnant state of the residence, there was no food inside the refrigerator, authorities said.
The parents were arraigned in Bronx Criminal Court Saturday night on endangerment charges.
Prosecutors said three out of the four children recently had scabies and the little boy left alone had bugs on his body and in his coat.
“This is not a case of poverty, but severe child abuse and neglect,” said Assistant District Attorney Nick Lastella.
There was combination of live and dead rodents in the home and “significant blood smears in the apartment, particularly in the bathroom and on the toilet,” Lastella said.
The boy told police that he last saw his parents on Thursday night, cops said.
Authorities found his mother at Montefiore Medical Center where she works as a nurse. Prosecutors said she is enrolled in a masters program at New York University.
The boy’s father is a technician for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
The couple has three other kids — a 12-year-old girl, a 13-year-old girl, and a 15-year-old boy — although none were at home when police arrived.
All four kids are at Montefiore for observation, prosecutors said. Bail for their parents was set at $15,000.
Child Abuse reports up, morale poor among
Iowa social workers, consultant reports
Child abuse investigations in Iowa have increased 43 percent since last year, but the state’s response to those reports needs work, according to a wide-ranging review released Friday.
About 8.2 children of every 1,000 in Iowa are in foster care, higher than the national rate of 5.5 per 1,000, the report by the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group shows.
“One long-time external partner observed that the emphasis on working with families and on reunification seems to have been lost.”
The consultant’s review of child welfare practices in Iowa criticized both the Department of Human Services for high turnover and poor morale among caseworkers and state policies and spending priorities.
It was initiated amid investigations into several reported child abuse cases that were not caught in time, including the deaths of Natalie Finn of West Des Moines in October 2016 and Sabrina Ray of Perry last May.
Ray’s adoptive parents and other family members face multiple felonies next year following her starvation and physical abuse.
Finn’s mother was convicted of first-degree murder and kidnapping this month. Her ex-husband, Joseph Finn II, goes to trial next month.
The reviewers made numerous short- and longer-term recommendations that likely will be discussed next month at the Iowa Legislature.
The consultants found morale is poor among state social workers.
And while Iowa’s Department of Human Services enjoys a largely stable workforce, turnover and caseloads are high in Polk and Linn counties.
Staff complain that training is insufficient and the state for too long has expected them to do more with less.
The report recommended, among other things, that Human Services:
Provide more accurate caseloads of child welfare workers in each Iowa county and more competency-based training;
Provide better services and communication with children and families; and
Eliminate barriers to its central abuse intake system.
“The department will look closely at the recommendations to see what we can move on within the agency, and what may require legislation or additional action,” spokesman Matt Highland said.
Mandatory reporters of child abuse in Iowa voiced frustration with the state agency charged with investigating abuse because they weren’t able to find out what happened after they provided information, the report found.
“Physicians, educators and providers of community-based prevention services… expressed frustration with their inability to communicate with DHS, particularly following their having made a report,” the report said.
Educators complained that parents often disengaged because they were able to figure out where abuse reports originated, and then those same reports resulted in no intervention by social workers.
“Several also cited situations in which this has resulted in parents’ retaliation against children as information made available to the parents made it clear that children disclosed alleged maltreatment,” the report states. “In these cases, children may cut off communication with teachers, counselors or mentors with whom they had previously trusted.”
But in some places, the report was as much a critique of state leaders’ policy and spending priorities as Iowa’s child welfare practices.
“Child welfare intervention should not be viewed as a substitute for universally available basic health, mental health and supportive community services that can help families, especially those in poverty, to voluntarily access resources needed by themselves and their children that may keep their needs from escalating to the point that they result in a report of abuse or neglect,” the report said.
The state’s child welfare system is not doing enough to engage children’s parents in assessing needs related to child safety and evaluating progress, according to interviews with youth, parents, grandparents, foster parents and DHS case managers.
“One long-time external partner observed that the emphasis on working with families and on reunification seems to have been lost.”
Another issue: Agencies that contract with Human Services are receiving $500 per family for each referral, regardless of whether the family uses the voluntary services.
The consultants voiced concern about child welfare being housed within the Department of Human Services, the state’s largest agency which juggles sizable responsibilities.
They also said its staff is tasked with administering so many programs in search of efficiency, their understanding of child welfare initiatives and policies is hindered.
“Assessing the often multiple and complex needs of families and children who present to child welfare systems requires substantial clinical knowledge and skill in gathering and interpreting information,” the report said.