It’s Your Turn
The month of April serves as a reminder that the abuse of children continues to be a major problem in today’s society.
April is Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month. The focus of West Virginia’s 2009 Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month activities is strengthening connections between adults and children in community settings.
This year’s theme is called “It’s Your Turn,” which asks adults to remember a special teacher, mentor, family member or coach who made an impact in their lives. Adults are encouraged them to support children and youth in their community.
It is a theme that encourages good citizenship as a means to keep children free from abuse and neglect. The “It’s Your Turn” campaign also incorporates Prevent Child Abuse America’s new symbol for prevention – the pinwheel, and the Pinwheels for Prevention Campaign.
According to the 2008 West Virginia Kids Count Data Book, Tyler County ranks 26 in the state for child abuse/neglect. West Virginia itself ranks 23 in the nation, with Pleasants County being the safest place for children to live and Monroe County being the most dangerous county for children.
According to the 2007 West Virginia Court System Annual Report, nearly a quarter of Tyler County Circuit Court juvenile cases in 2007 involved child abuse/neglect. Juvenile cases make up 21.47 percent of the circuit court’s caseload in Tyler County.
Fortunately there are many resources to help abused and neglected children. The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources is responsible for investigating child abuse. Mary Jo Dombrowski, DHHR Community Services Manager, says her agency is the frontline in child protection.
“Under the state code, our department is given responsibility for the safety and well-being of children,” stated Dombrowski. “Any allegations of abuse or neglect we receive are screened and if they meet the criteria of the state code and there is a reasonable suspicion that there is child abuse, that referral is accepted.”
Anyone may report suspected child abuse or neglect. Under West Virginia Law (WV Code 49-6A-2) certain persons are required to report. These persons include: medical, dental, or mental health professionals; religious healers; social services workers; school teachers and other school personnel; members of the clergy; child care or foster care workers; emergency medical services personnel; peace officers or law enforcement; circuit court judges; family court judges or magistrates; and Christian Science practitioners.
The purpose of required reporting is to identify suspected abused and neglected children as soon as possible so that they may be protected from further harm. Child Protective services cannot act until a report is made.
“It will be assigned to a worker for an investigation; an initial assessment we call it,” explained Dombrowski. “They will investigate the allegations. If it is substantiated based on the criteria we use for investigation, then the case will be opened for services.”
Without detection, reporting, and intervention, abused and neglected children may remain victims for the rest of their lives. They carry physical and emotional scars throughout their lives, often repeating the pattern of abuse and neglect with their own children. Dombrowski says these signs can be caught early on.
“Other than obvious signs, like bruises, a child’s personality starts to change,” said Dombrowski. “You start noticing it around other family members or at school they become withdrawn and quiet. They start to be fearful of contact with other adults.”
“It’s a serious problem and a lot of what we see when we get into investigations is we find there is a lot of drug abuse and domestic violence issues that are contributing factors,” added Dombrowski. “It really is serious.”
While many children do have to be taken from their homes, the goal of DHHR is to keep children in their homes whenever possible.
Sometimes (investigators) determine there are some problems in the home, but there is not eminent risk or safety issues right then they will suggest to the parents some services in the community,” said Dombrowski. “It’s up to the family to accept or decline that offer. Keeping the children in the home is always our first option.”
When safety can’t be maintained in the home, DHHR will often find a relative to care for the child until it is safe.
“We’re always looking at the resources of the family themselves or other family members first,” said Dombrowski.
West Virginia law provides immunity from civil or criminal liability for persons reporting in good faith (WV Code 49-6A-6) When you suspect that a child is being abused you should report your concerns to the Child Protective Services ( CPS ) unit in the county office of the Department of Health and Human Resources by calling 304-843-4120. Reports can also be made to the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-352-6513 seven days a week, 24 hours a day.