St. Mark’s Adult Education Meeting Summary
“Child Neglect and Abuse in Our Community”
Sunday, October 21, 2001
This morning, two of St. Mark’s parishioners, Libby Nicholson and Emily Magoteaux, lead an examination of the problem of “Child Neglect and Abuse in our Community.” This is a painful subject, one that no one likes to think about; yet it occurs in all neighborhoods and across economic and social lines. Libby works for Children’s Medical Center in Dayton, dealing with cases of child abuse in our area. Emily is a caseworker with Greene County Children’s Service’s.
Emily led off the discussion by describing to the group two different family scenarios and then asking the question as to which one of the families would more likely be the candidate to become involved with Children’s Services. Family number one, the Bartholomew’s, have children who are average or below in their schoolwork, getting mostly C’s and D’s. The parents do drugs and marijuana in the evenings, but always make sure their kids go to bed on time every night. The children are fed three small meals per day, wear dirty clothes, and suffer from head lice (although the parents do try to take care of that problem). Family number two, the Smith’s, are from a nice neighborhood and the kids do well when they do manage to show up for school, which tends to average one or two days per week. Sometimes their hygiene is lacking, but other times they are quite clean. There is usually no food around the house, so the kids have to be as resourceful as possible in getting their next meal. The parents also do drugs and marijuana, but usually don’t know where their kids are at night and don’t know what time they manage to go to bed. The first suggestion from the group was that the Bartholomew’s would be the likely candidates for Children’s Services with the logic that they were probably more involved with the system and knew which forms to fill out to be able to seek assistance. However, it turned out to be the Smith family which more than likely would become involved with Children’s Services because the school would more than likely have reported the case due to the absenteeism, and probably the police would have reported them because of any mischief they may have caused by staying out late at night or from scavenging for food.
Next, the discussion turned to defining the four major types of child abuse: a) sexual, b) emotional, c) physical, and d) neglect. The question was raised as to whether or not spanking could be considered physical abuse. The answer to that question is: sometimes yes, and sometimes no. Many of us were spanked as children and our parents did not necessarily use this form of correction for abusive purposes. Regarding child neglect, it was pointed out that the number one reason this form of abuse occurred was due to lack of education of the parents. Emotional or psychological abuse (i.e. “put down”) can be the hardest type to prove. It can be very difficult to convince a judge that the child is suffering from this type of abuse. Perhaps, the most difficult type of abuse is sexual abuse. In many cases a child refuses to talk about the incidents and it is only through discussion of the subject with another child who is a close friend that the situation is discovered. Emily passed out copies of a paper by Dr. Toni Cavanagh Johnson entitled “Behaviors Related to Sex and Sexuality in Preschool Children”. The paper is written for parents and counselors regarding when to raise concern about the sexual behavior of children. Behaviors are classified as “normal range”, “of concern”, and “seek professional help” and cover a wide range of sexual-related topics. It is important to recognize these differences, so that any child who is overly obsessed with sexual behavior can be professionally treated.
Emily noted that in calendar year 2000, there were 3,017 children treated in Greene County by Children’s Services. This included providing counseling, therapy, food, and shelter. However, only 233 children were actually held in custody. Approximately 1,477 families were involved (which thus averages to about two children per family). They received around 2,500 calls of which approximately 1,300 resulted in “intake” calls. Libby compared this to about 3,800 intake calls in Montgomery County.
Libby continued to speak to the group about a more in-depth discussion on the topic of spanking. The laws in Ohio permit an adult to spank their child, but only without serious harm. This in reality sets up somewhat of a double standard about the physical interaction between parent and child. Spanking can give a signal to a child that it’s all right to use physical abuse against each other. Sometimes parent have unrealistic expectations of their children that can give them an excuse to spank them. The children are also relatively unprotected in this type of situation as legally it is only a minor penalty for excessive abuse of spanking. Excess crying by a baby can cause a parent to lose control of themselves and result in a baby who is beaten or shaken to the point that bodily injury occurs.
Next, Libby discussed with the group what are the options if we see another adult abuse one of their own children. She then handed out a document entitled “What can I do to stop child abuse in a public place?” Suggestions offered included: start a conversation with the adult to direct attention away from the child, divert the child’s attention, look for an opportunity to praise the parent or child, offer assistance if the child is truly in danger, and finally, avoid negative remarks or looks. It was noted, that new parents have very few places to go to get information on how to take care of babies. If a parent has a tendency to be angry all of the time, it is important to seek help in therapy sessions designed for anger management. It was also noted that many people see a case of child abuse but don’t want to be accused of “blowing the whistle”. However, in most cases, if this type of behavior is not reported, the cycle is not broken and more serious incidents are bound to happen, as the child grows older. Nurses and doctors are mandated by their professions to report child abuse if they suspect its occurrence with one of their patients. The laws are designed to protect the child. Be a good friend or be a good neighbor. Move forward with sincerity to try and help someone you suspect may be abusing a child. Usually the family is receptive for assistance. If we don’t keep the child’s welfare in mind, then we are as guilty as anyone else in not reporting a known incident.
Emily noted that many remedies are tried before a child is actually removed from a family. Many times people mistakenly think of Children’s Services as “baby snatchers”.
The floor was then opened to questions and comments. It was noted that in “the good old days” when life was less hectic, and more generations were living together under one roof, that there was more adult support for each other. This helped new parents cope with crying babies, etc. Parents who don’t understand it is better to let their child cry than to force them to stop (particularly fathers who tend to shake the baby in false hopes of making them stop crying) can do very serious damage to the child or even kill the child in severe cases. These parents need to be educated!
Libby also distributed out two other handouts: “I’ve called child protective services, but nothing happens. What else can I do?” and “I want to help prevent child abuse and neglect in my community. What can I do?” The first of these recommends contacting the school counselor, calling the family’s faith community, assist a child protective service worker, be a good neighbor, or if imminent danger is truly suspected, call the police. Related to the second handout, recommendations include: raise the issue, reach out to kids and parents in your own community, remember the risk factors, recognize the warning signs, and report suspected neglect or abuse.
Everyone in attendance thanked Emily and Libby for the informative and enlightening discussion. Please feel free to contact either Emily or Libby directly if you have further questions on this very interesting and important topic.