Child abuse files lost at Home Office spark fears of cover-up
Calls for 'overarching, Hillsborough-style' inquiry as it emerges that a total of 114 documents are missing from official records
by Daniel Boffey, policy editor The Observer
A dossier compiled by an MP detailing allegations of a 1980s Westminster paedophile ring is one of more than 100 potentially relevant Home Office files destroyed, lost or missing, it has emerged.
The government faced fresh calls for an overarching inquiry into historical cases of paedophilia as it was revealed that a total of 114 Home Office files relevant to allegations of a child abuse network have disappeared from government records.
David Cameron has already ordered the Home Office permanent secretary to look into what happened to a lost dossier given earlier in the 1980s to Leon Brittan, then home secretary, by the campaigning Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens.
The revelation that further relevant documents have disappeared will raise fresh fears of an establishment cover-up.
Simon Danczuk, the MP for Rochdale, who is calling for an overarching national inquiry into historical child abuse, said: "I had absolutely no idea these other files were also missing. The public view will be that there is something fishy going on. The public will understandably think these documents have gone missing because it helps protect the names of those identified in them. That is the conclusion that many will come to, and who could blame them"
Tom Watson, the Labour MP central to the uncovering of the phone-hacking scandal, said it was increasingly clear than only a Hillsborough-style inquiry would reassure the public. He said: "Only an overarching inquiry will get to the facts, everything else the government says or does on this is a diversion."
Dickens, who died in 1995, had told his family that the information he handed to the home secretary in 1983 and 1984 would "blow the lid off" the lives of powerful and famous child abusers, including eight well-known figures.
In a letter to Dickens at the time, Brittan suggested his information would be passed to the police, but Scotland Yard says it has no record of any investigation into the allegations. On Saturday the Home Office made public a letter to Keith Vaz, chairman of the home affairs select committee, in which the department confirmed that correspondence from Dickens had not been retained and it had found "no record of specific allegations by Mr Dickens of child sex abuse by prominent public figures".
The Home Office's permanent secretary, Mark Sedwill, admitted, however, that a further 114 documents relevant to allegations of child abuse were missing from the department's records. That discovery was made last year by an independent review into information received about organised child sex abuse but was not published in its report. Sedwill told Vaz the missing documents were some of the 36,000 records which officials presumed were lost, destroyed or missing. They were not part of the 278,000 documents the Home Office destroyed as part of its "retention and destruction" policy. However, Sedwill told Vaz in a letter published on Saturday that the department had found "no evidence of the inappropriate removal or destruction of material".
He also wrote to the prime minister to tell him he would engage a senior independent legal figure to assess whether last year's conclusions "remain sound".
Sedwill told Vaz: "Like any other citizen, I am horrified by what we have learnt in the past couple of years about the systematic abuse of children and vulnerable adults by prominent public figures, and the state's failure to protect them. Some have been brought to justice, and I hope that the police investigations now under way across the country are equally successful. The Home Office has and will co-operate fully with any police inquiry."
David Mellor, a Home Office minister under Brittan, spoke out, claiming his former boss was being unfairly "pilloried" over his handling of the dossier. Mellor said the file was spoken of at the time as "not very substantive". Speaking on his LBC radio show, Mellor said he remembered "sort of chat around the department" that it "wasn't a very substantive thing at all". He added: "People are talking about this document as if it's a carefully worked-through exposé of people. There's no reason to think it was. It is so unfair that, on the basis of what is becoming a witchhunt, he's being pilloried for handling a document … that he did pass on."
Tebbit hints at political cover-up over child abuse in 1980s
Ex-Thatcher minister says politicians' instincts were to protect 'the system' as it emerged that 114 more documents were lost
by Daniel Boffey - The Guardian
The former Conservative cabinet minister Lord Tebbit has said he believes there "may well" have been a political cover-up over child abuse in the 1980s.
Norman Tebbit, who served in a series of ministerial posts under Margaret Thatcher, said the instinct of people at the time was to protect "the system" and not to delve too deeply into uncomfortable allegations.
His comment came as the Home Office announced a fresh legal review into what happened to a file alleging paedophile activity at Westminster in the 1980s that was handed to the then home secretary, Leon (now Lord) Brittan, by the Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens.
But as it emerged on Sunday that a further 114 possibly relevant files have also gone missing from government records – the government again ruled out a public inquiry into the allegations.
Michael Gove told the BBC1's Andrew Marr Show that the inquiry, to be led by a senior lawyer, would suffice, highlighting the fact that there were ongoing criminal inquiries. He said that he and the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, were also reviewing current child protection practice to ensure that children were properly protected.
Also appearing on The Andrew Marr Show, Tebbit said: "At that time I think most people would have thought that the establishment, the system, was to be protected and if a few things had gone wrong here and there that it was more important to protect the system than to delve too far into it.
"That view, I think, was wrong then and it is spectacularly shown to be wrong because the abuses have grown."
Asked if he thought there had been a "big political cover-up" at the time, he said: "I think there may well have been. But it was almost unconscious. It was the thing that people did at that time."
The missing dossier compiled by Dickens is thought to have detailed allegations of a 1980s Westminster paedophile ring and is now known to be one of 114 potentially relevant Home Office files destroyed, lost or missing, it has emerged.
David Cameron has already ordered Mark Sedwill, permanent secretary of the Home Office, to look into what happened to the lost dossier but the revelation that further relevant documents have disappeared will raise fresh fears of an establishment cover-up.
Simon Danczuk, the MP for Rochdale, who is calling for an overarching national inquiry into historical child abuse, said: "I had absolutely no idea these other files were also missing. The public view will be that there is something fishy going on. The public will understandably think these documents have gone missing because it helps protect the names of those identified in them. That is the conclusion that many will come to, and who could blame them."
Tom Watson, the Labour MP central to the uncovering of the phone-hacking scandal, said it was increasingly clear that only a Hillsborough-style inquiry would reassure the public. He said: "Only an overarching inquiry will get to the facts, everything else the government says or does on this is a diversion."
Dickens, who died in 1995, had told his family that the information he handed to the home secretary in 1983 and 1984 would "blow the lid off" the lives of powerful and famous child abusers, including eight well-known figures.
In a letter to Dickens at the time, Brittan suggested his information would be passed to the police, but Scotland Yard said it has no record of any investigation into the allegations. On Saturday, the Home Office made public a letter to Keith Vaz, the chairman of the home affairs select committee, in which the department confirmed that correspondence from Dickens had not been retained and it had found "no record of specific allegations by Mr Dickens of child sex abuse by prominent public figures".
Sedwill admitted, however, that a further 114 documents relevant to allegations of child abuse were missing from the department's records. That discovery was made last year by an independent review into information received about organised child sex abuse but was not published in its report. Sedwill told Vaz that the missing documents were some of the 36,000 records that officials presumed were lost, destroyed or missing. They were not part of the 278,000 documents the Home Office destroyed as part of its "retention and destruction" policy.
However, Sedwill told Vaz in a letter published on Saturday that the department had found "no evidence of the inappropriate removal or destruction of material".
He also wrote to the prime minister to tell him he would engage a senior independent legal figure to assess whether last year's conclusions "remain sound".
Sedwill told Vaz: "Like any other citizen, I am horrified by what we have learned in the past couple of years about the systematic abuse of children and vulnerable adults by prominent public figures, and the state's failure to protect them. Some have been brought to justice, and I hope that the police investigations now under way across the country are equally successful. The Home Office has and will cooperate fully with any police inquiry."
Vaz said the number of files lost were on an "industrial scale". He told BBC Breakfast that he welcomed the letter from Sedwill, adding: "We will want to pose further questions, of course, because there's a lot of information that we didn't know was in existence that he's given us in this letter.
"But also I think that the government and Mr Sedwill should work with parliament in fashioning a set of terms of reference that will satisfy all those who are dissatisfied with the way in which matters have been progressed so far - so I think it's an important step which we welcome."
Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP who chairs the public accounts committee, criticised the "veil of secrecy" over the issue.
Appearing on Sky News's Murnaghan programme, she added: "Thank God it is coming out into the open. I think the really interesting thing about it is there has been a veil of secrecy over the establishment for far too long.
"Now the establishment, who thought they were always protected … find actually they are subject to the same rigours of the law, and that's right.
"What we really need to get right as well is how children are cared for today. Let's learn from the historic abuse, let's actually give victims the right to have their voice on that, but let's actually also focus on the present."
A new tactic to halt child abuse in Maryland
Focus now on helping low-risk families instead of punishing
by Yvonne Wenger, The Baltimore Sun
Baltimore is changing the way it handles cases of alleged child abuse and neglect — part of a broad social-services strategy that has been touted by Maryland officials but abandoned in some other states.
The new approach, which is designed to lessen the adversarial relationship between families and caseworkers, puts cases on different tracks depending on whether they are deemed high or low risk. The tiered response, used in 23 states, is regarded as a best practice by many child advocates.
But some critics say questions remain about whether the two-track approach does enough to keep children safe. Other states, including Illinois, have backed away from it, for reasons ranging including financing and political opposition.
Joan Little, chief attorney for the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau child advocacy unit in Baltimore, said the success of the so-called Alternative Response track will depend on whether families can access services, such as mental health care and substance abuse treatment, to overcome their barriers.
"As long as the state makes the commitment to put resources up front, it's a very workable program," Little said. "The challenge is, what is the level of need of these families and how far do we have to go to reach out to them, and can we do it in a voluntary system?"
Maryland began splitting cases into the two tracks a year ago; so far, an average of 44 percent of cases have been assigned to the Alternative Response track.
Baltimore, which averages 442 new cases a month, or about 20 percent of the state's maltreatment reports, is the last locality to adopt the practice.
Under the program, cases deemed to be the most serious, including those with alleged sexual or physical abuse, will remain on the Investigative Response track, which involves formal findings and referrals to prosecutors for criminal action when necessary.
The state Department of Human Resources — which says the new approach will not increase costs — began to shift lower-risk cases in Baltimore to the Alternative Response track last week. Under that approach, caseworkers will work with families to assess their needs and develop plans to overcome challenges, which could include accessing child care, treating addiction or providing sufficient food.
The cases on the low-risk pathway won't be subject to an investigation initially. But if a situation is determined later to be more serious, the case can be switched to the investigative track.
Theodore Dallas, secretary of human resources, said the Alternative Response track allows the state to react better to each family's challenges. That, in turn, will help families get help more quickly and prevent low-risk cases from becoming graver, he said.
"You're more likely to engage with [family members], and they're more likely to be open and more likely to get the services they need," Dallas said. "Sometimes, in Investigative Response, they might be more standoffish and less likely to be cooperative."
Another benefit of the Alternative Response track, Dallas said, is that it avoids attaching the stigma of a formal maltreatment report to a parent who may be well-intentioned but overwhelmed or struggling to live in poverty. Such reports can block people from holding jobs in certain fields.
While many states have adopted the tiered approach, some have since abandoned it amid questions about the impact on child safety, said Richard P. Barth, dean of the University of Maryland School of Social Work.
States have implemented such programs in different ways, and those discrepancies make it difficult to measure outcomes, he said. Some states, such as Wyoming and West Virginia, have three tracks.
Barth said analyses show that parents tend to be satisfied with the approach, and "it's reasonable to assume that it's not leaving children more unprotected, but we don't know."
Illinois dropped its Differential Response approach in 2012 after funding from a five-year federal government grant ended, according to a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Children and Family Services. The decision was made primarily based on money — the agency's budget was slashed by $60 million that year — but also because the approach didn't show that children diverted to the Differential Response tracks were any safer than under traditional case management, according to the spokeswoman.
Elizabeth Bartholet, a professor at Harvard Law School, said an emerging body of research shows that claims about the success of alternative approaches might not be what they seem.
Some research is promoted by groups pushing a premise that children are almost always better off staying in their home, she said. She's worried that will lead to federal policy changes and further drain resources from traditional child protective services in favor of in-home treatment programs, leaving the most vulnerable children in dangerous situations.
Child Abuse Prevention Center in Gulfport will close unless funding found
by LAUREN WALCK
A few months after reporting the state's most child abuse cases for 2013, South Mississippi is about to lose one of its front lines of defense.
Gulfport's Child Abuse Prevention Center serves primarily Harrison and Jackson counties along with 11 others. It has already shed all but two employees and may have to close for good at the end of the month.
A combination of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the recession and decreasing federal grants with increasing matched-funds requirements have left the organization in dire straits. Its closure would mean fewer options for many families that are reeling from abuse.
Joel Smith, Harrison County district attorney, said the center's most crucial program is forensic interviewing of abused children. He said the interviews are "a tremendous asset for us in providing jurors with a deeper insight into the mind of a child victim.
Other agencies with employees trained in forensic interviewing would be able to step in for the short term, but he said the area needs a full-time interviewer.
The center also connects families suddenly cut off from housing and funding with resources and provides prevention services and parenting classes.
"A lot of families here, they just don't know where to start," said former program director Keiana Lock, who has been forced to look for another job.
She said the need for the center's services is great -- greater than even she expected when she started working there two years ago.
"Before I worked here I was like, not that many children on the Coast get abused," she said. "I thought it was like four or five a week but it's way more than that."
Jim Allen, who serves on the board of directors, said the center would need at least $100,000 to make it to the end of the year with two employees and an executive director, and more than $200,000 with a full staff.
He said the center is continuing to accept donations from people and businesses, but also has been looking at joining forces with another area nonprofit.
EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD: Look at Florida's model for dealing with child abuse
by Shirley Caylor
“Susie” could have been anyone's child. When she was lifted into the arms of her mother or father, she was probably looked upon with pride and even a sense of accomplishment as they held their promise in their arms.
But “Susie” or “Johnny” may have lived in a family dealing with multiple frustrations – not enough money to pay for basic needs, family conflicts and troubles. Easy for a crying child or constant external demands to weigh like bricks. Stuck in a life of reduced options, frustrated and angry, lashing out happens in a second. The first time, sorry can't be said enough. But it happens again and again and becomes justifiable. After all, hadn't they heard something about “spare the rod, spoil the child?”
Child abuse is physical, sexual or emotional maltreatment or neglect that results in harm or potential for harm. Most substantiated cases are for neglect, and most are in families experiencing poverty and the frustrations arising from needs versus resources. The emotional and physical scars experienced by kids who are beaten, yelled at, discouraged, injured are carried long into adulthood and diminishes their future and that of countless others as they eventually raise children of their own.
What can we do about this? There is a cost to the individual and to society as we grapple with the long-term effects of abuse. In Florida recently, Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a law discarding a decade-long policy that gave priority to the rights of parents after hundreds of children involved with the Department of Children and Families died preventable deaths.
With this Florida law, state child care administrators can no longer place the rights and wishes of parents above the safety of children. Family preservation had been the priority, but it left kids in danger, particularly when there was parental alcohol or drug use. Protecting a child from abuse is paramount and more important than keeping a family together.
Parents' non-enforceable promises to not do it again no longer have priority over the rights of children to be safe and protected. Florida's new law also invests in children's lives by providing additional funds for caseworkers, law enforcement and youth service programs.
Do you agree? Is protecting a child from abuse a priority? More important than keeping a family together?
Things are bad when the streets seem safer for a child than staying at home. Last year, 220 “Susies” and “Johnnys” entered our emergency shelter, Alternative House, on their own after they fled from home. They came from every city and town. And you don't leave home unless you think you have to.
Let's not wait until the damage to a life has been done. Cruelty has long-term effects. Let's look at Florida's model for dealing with child abuse.
Shirley Caylor is executive director of the Caring Place. The opinions are the writer's.
Former daycare owner charged in 2009 child abuse
ST. CHARLES COUNTY (KSDK) – A former daycare operator has been charged with felony child abuse from a case dating back to 2009, according to St. Charles Prosecuting Attorny Tim Lohmar.
Lisa West, formerly of Wentzville, surrendered to authorities Monday morning.
According to Lohmar, 18-month-old Mason Beach died while in West's care at her in-home daycare in September 2009. Mason's mother dropped him off, but 20 minutes later, West called her, saying Mason was unconscious and not breathing. He died less than 24 hours later from non-accidental head trauma.
The investigation remained opened, and St. Charles County grand jury indicted her recently.
So why did it take five years for charges?
"A lot of that had to do with the complicated medical evidence involved," Lohmar said. "There were numerous medical professionals, medical experts, whose opinions were consulted. Obviously, when you're going to charge a case like this you'd better be sure that you've got the evidence to support that. And we felt like it was just until recently that we were able to do that."
West is being held in the St. Charles County Department of Corrections of $100,000 cash-only bond.
Is veganism child abuse?
A mother is arrested for infant neglect after a hospital crisis that began with her veganism
by MARY ELIZABETH WILLIAMS
In a case likely to kick up — yet again – the debate over parental responsibility regarding how children are fed, a Florida mother was arrested Tuesday for child neglect and her newborn was admitted to the hospital in a crisis that started over vegan beliefs.
Local news station WESH reports that Sarah Anne Markham's pediatrician alerted authorities after the woman's 12-day-old baby appeared dehydrated during a doctor visit. The doctor said that Markham refused the medical advice to admit the child to the hospital or take the medicine offered, on the grounds that “it contained ingredients that came from animals.” After police were summoned to her home, Markham reportedly told them that she'd purchased organic soy formula for the baby, and that “she wanted to pursue a religion-based treatment and she had contacted a ‘natural' or vegan doctor, but police said she did not share any proof of this to them.” Police added that “They asked Markham if the product was confirmed with a doctor that it was safe to give the newborn, and she replied saying that since it was organic, it must be OK.” The baby remains in protective custody.
The case has chilling echoes of the one of the Atlanta couple who three years ago were sentenced to life for murder in the starvation death of their 6-week-old son. The couple's defense argued that “the parents did the best they could while adhering to the lifestyle of vegans,” but prosecutors countered that they'd limited his diet to soy milk and apple juice. At the time of his death, the baby weighed just three and a half pounds. Also in 2011, a French couple were charged with “neglect and food deprivation followed by death” after the demise of their 11-month-old baby, who died underweight and with a vitamin deficiency. The vegan couple admitted the child's entire diet consisted of breast milk.
That police had to forcibly enter the 23-year-old Markham's home because she “told police she didn't think she had to answer or acknowledge police presence,” and that a new mother would even contemplate caring for her child based on “a religion-based treatment” strongly suggests a parent with issues that are far beyond the parameters of simply wishing to pursue a vegan lifestyle. And at the other end of the spectrum, diet-based neglect doesn't have to mean deprivation of animal products. Earlier this year, an 8-month-old Colombian baby was “rescued” for medical intervention by a local charity after tipping the scales at 44 pounds. In the U.S., childhood obesity can be cited as “a form of medical neglect” and grounds for placing a child in foster care.
But strict dietary parenting doesn't have to be extreme to still raise eyebrows. Jennifer Lopez did so earlier this month when she crowed about her vegan-leaning lifestyle and admitted, “Sometimes my son will be like, ‘I want American cheese, I don't like this vegan cheese.'” And when Gwyneth Paltrow wrote last year that “Sometimes when my family is not eating pasta, bread or processed grains like white rice, we're left with that specific hunger that comes with avoiding carbs,” tabloids were quick to report that “Gwyneth Paltrow reveals she starves her children.”
Plenty of parents can and do responsibly raise vegan children, but it takes considerable thought, self-education and care to assure they are getting adequate nutrition. Writing in the New York Times two years ago, author Nina Planck argued that “For babies and children, whose nutritional needs are extraordinary, the risks [of veganism] are definite and scary…. You may choose to be a vegan. Your baby doesn't have that luxury.” How we choose to feed ourselves is a personal choice. What we do to our children has serious health and ethical consequences. And whatever a parent's personal beliefs, they must be continually adjusted and evaluated based on a child's needs. Because no matter what, your kid always has to be at the top of the food chain.
Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream."
"What are you, a bunch of morons!" – Abbie Bartels' mother, upon learning her child was banned from graduation
Video on site
Roughly one year ago, 14-year-old Abbie Bartels took her own life, hanging herself in her bedroom closet.
A student at the Milton Hershey School, Bartel had been barred from attending her graduation, a decision her family maintains lead to the suicide.
"I said 'what are you, a bunch of morons,'" recalled Abbie's mother, Julie Bartels , in relaying the story to CNN's Gary Tuchman .
As the anniversary of Bartels' death nears, Tuchman traveled to Pennsylvania, examining the circumstances which lead to the tragedy, visiting the boarding school, and interviewing family members and legal experts.
Watch the above video for Tuchman's full report as shared with John Berman Tuesday evening.
Crimes Against Children Set Off a Debate About Care
In the town of Darry in northern Germany, a mother reportedly confessed last week to killing her five boys, whose bodies were found at this home.
by NICHOLAS KULISH
BERLIN — In recent weeks Germany has been flooded with tales of the neglect, abuse and even murder of children. What would be shocking anywhere has been a particularly hard blow in a rapidly aging country with an anemic birthrate.
In the most prominent recent case, a mother reportedly confessed last week to killing her five boys in the northern town of Darry. In Plauen, near the Czech Republic border, another woman was arrested after the gruesome discovery of the bodies of three babies in her home. She told investigators they had each died shortly after birth at different times over the past several years.
While some of the attention can probably be chalked up to typical lurid fascination, the cases also have struck a much deeper chord. The deaths have prompted a national conversation about how Germany cares for its children, and how large a role the government can and should play in protecting them.
As a result, the deaths have become enmeshed in the larger discussion about the strength of the country's historically robust social safety net, which has been somewhat diminished by recent reforms. Politicians on the left have seized on the deaths to argue that it should be restored to something closer to its former strength.
In a third closely watched case, a 24-year-old mother and her 6-week-old baby were found dead in a Berlin apartment. The quick succession — all three cases became public in just two days this month — and significant media attention prompted Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel , to speak out.
“It is something that concerns us all,” Mrs. Merkel said. “We need to work together to ensure the children have a secure future.” Her government's minister of family affairs, Ursula von der Leyen, has called for making medical checkups for young children compulsory to aid in the early detection of problems.
On the floor of the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of Parliament, representatives on Wednesday debated ways to improve child protection. Mrs. Merkel has announced that she will convene a meeting on the topic with the leaders of Germany's federal states next week. Not to be outdone, the Social Democrats are pushing to embed children's rights in the Constitution.
While the federal crime office was quick to point out that statistics showed the number of children killed at home was not on the rise over all, reported child-abuse cases climbed to over 3,000 in 2006 from around 1,900 in 1995.
Nowhere is the problem more acute than here in the capital, where the rate of reported abuse cases is four times the national average. “It's just atrocious,” said Margit Eichler, a caregiver for elderly people, out for a walk this week in the city's Moabit district.
Ms. Eichler echoed the popular sentiment that the worsening situation for children in Germany was connected to the unpopular labor-market reforms, known commonly as Hartz IV, that reduced the amount of time people could receive unemployment benefits. “The government has to do more for the children,” she said.
Deaths garner headlines, but poverty is at the root of all the problems, local experts say. In a widely cited report released in November, the nonprofit group Children's Charity of Germany said that the number of children dependent on some form of social assistance had doubled to 2.5 million since the Hartz IV reforms went into effect at the beginning of 2005.
While Berlin is a popular tourist destination known for its nightclubs and museums, it is also a poor city with little industry and very low growth in the private economy. According to Hartmut Häussermann, a professor of sociology at Berlin's Humboldt University, rising income inequality is to blame for the growing number of children living in poverty, which is increasingly concentrated in certain neighborhoods.
“You have in the most problematic areas higher shares of children than in other areas,” Mr. Häussermann said. “In my view, the public administration should give more attention to these areas than they have in the past, especially for the living conditions of children.”
Berlin has revamped its advisory committee on family affairs, the new version of which had its first meeting in early December. “One has to ask in all cases if a proposal will have an effect on families, and when yes, whether they will be good or bad,” said Peter Ruhenstroth-Bauer, the chairman of the committee.
But he said that big cities like Berlin faced particular problems. “The parents have a series of problems in their own lives. In the big city, there's anonymity, and few chances to find help,” said Mr. Ruhenstroth-Bauer.
One such area in Berlin is Marzahn-Hellersdorf, a district in the far northeast of the city filled with Communist-era apartment houses. A center for children and youths there called the Ark provides 600 lunches a day to hungry children. While debates over poverty often drift into discussions of immigrant groups and minorities, the spokesman at the Ark, Wolfgang Büscher, said that only 2 percent of visitors came from immigrant backgrounds.
“There are ever more children in homes where they have no prospects,” said Mr. Büscher, saying that the number of children visiting the center regularly had tripled from 200 when Hartz IV went into effect. Mr. Büscher did not recommend sending more money home to the parents, however, saying what was needed was “less money for the parents and more money through the schools for the children themselves.”
On Monday afternoon, dozens of children came after school to eat noodles with meat sauce in the cafeteria, paint designs on coffee mugs or use the computer lab. Mr. Büscher described home lives for many of the children where unemployed parents drank the day away in front of them. The bad habits, he said, quickly moved to the younger generation.
“It helps on the one hand to keep kids off the street, and on the other hand to keep kids from drinking alcohol or using drugs,” said Dennis Feder, 16, who has been visiting the Ark since 2000 and aspires to a career as a radio electrician. “Also, the food is good.”
Survivor of horrific attack shares story at Dallas Crimes Against Children Conference
Jennifer Schuett spoke at the Crimes Against Children Conference Monday in Dallas. She described the attack she survived at age 8 and her 19-year journey to find justice.
by CHRISTINA ROSALES
For nearly 20 years, Jennifer Schuett woke up from nightmares about the night she was kidnapped, raped and nearly killed when she was a child.
She clung to the image of her attacker's face, grasping for the horrifying details in her mind, even as her family urged her to move on with her life.
“No, I can't,” she'd say, insisting that he wouldn't get away with it.
Her persistence paid off. The suspect was arrested 19 years after the crime and committed suicide in his jail cell. While she never had the chance to tell him how her strength helped investigators crack the case, she still has an audience.
Schuett, now 30, spoke Monday morning at the Crimes Against Children Conference at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Dallas. She shared her story with the 3,000 law enforcement officers, attorneys and children's advocates who will attend presentations and workshops on prosecuting, treating and preventing child abuse.
“It gives me an overwhelming sense of peace to see you all here, working daily to prevent child abuse,” Schuett said after her talk.
Told after the rape that she probably could never have children, she's now pregnant and lives in League City with her husband. She was also told she'd never speak again.
Tuesday's speech earned her a standing ovation.
On Aug. 10, 1990, Schuett tried to coax her mother into letting her sleep in her bedroom in their Dickinson apartment near Galveston. Her mother said no, so the 8-year-old trudged to her bed in the next room.
Schuett said she lit her nightlight and fell asleep. Shortly afterward, she awoke in the arms of a strange man who told her he was an undercover police officer.
He parked at an elementary school and told Schuett that her mother would pick her up later. She waited for the headlights of her mother's car to shine through the darkness.
They never came. And Schuett was sure she'd never see them again. The man, who told her his name was Dennis, laid the child in the front seat and began to molest her.
“I asked him if he was a police officer, where was his gun,” Schuett said. “I asked to see his badge.”
He tore her panties off and raped her. He slit her throat from ear to ear, then dragged her into the woods and left her to die. She played dead until she couldn't see him anymore.
She tried to scream for help or run but could not. Instead she lay motionless for about 14 hours until schoolchildren playing tag found her. She said the bites of fire ants allowed her blood to clot along her neck wound.
Doctors who treated her weren't sure her voice would recover. But as she sat up in the hospital bed, she tried screaming to say she wanted chocolate.
“That's when they realized I would be able to talk again,” she said. “I thought it meant something big, that I was supposed to share this story with people.”
During the 19-year investigation, passed from detective to detective, Schuett advocated for herself, offering to tell her story as many times as it took and retaining the bad memories to provide details. Finally, an arrest was made.
His name was Dennis Bradford, and his DNA in a federal database matched the evidence.
“Jennifer took a different approach than most people we work with,” said Lynn Davis, president and CEO of the Dallas Children's Advocacy Center, the nonprofit that sponsors the conference along with the Dallas Police Department. “Many families say, ‘Let's forget about this,' but what she did takes a lot of strength.”
He said professionals like those at the conference need to hear her story to continue to be inspired by the work they do.
After Bradford's arrest, Schuett worked for months on her victim's impact statement and waited to read it at his trial.
“But things never work out like you plan,” she said, referring to his suicide before the trial.
On the 20th anniversary of the attack in 2010, she went to Bradford's grave and read it aloud there. A fire ant bit her on her leg.
“It was then I knew that he heard me loud and clear,” she said.
Today Is the Most Important Day of Your Life
by Jay Tow, M. S
We tend to look at certain events in our lives as important days. Those days that we consider to be life-changing such as graduations or weddings or the birth of a child are important days to us. Some think the day they met a significant person as being one of the most important days of their life. It is for me. For most of us there are numerous days that are significant and/or life changing. All of those things have already happened or have yet to happen at some future time in our lives. Most of the events that await us in the future are totally unknown to us today. How our lives will manifest remains a mystery.
Stories are written one word at a time. The words combine to create sentences that become part of a paragraph. One paragraph follows another and this ultimately results in a story. The author may have ideas about the content of the story but fills in the details as it is written. Life is similar in many respects. Lives are lived in minutes, hours, days, months, and years. We may have things we wish to manifest into reality. But we don't know what our lives will look like until the story is written or our life unfolds in front of us and we experience it. Rarely do people's lives look just as they had pictured them in the past.
This brings me to the point of this post and why today is the most important day of your life. Your past in done and is no longer a reality. It is the past. Past days have created the life you are experiencing today. We have an idea what we would like our life to look like in the future. But the future hasn't arrived yet. All we have is the moment we are living in. All we can control is what we do now in the moment we are experiencing.
The decisions and the actions you take today lay the foundation for what your life will look like in coming days, weeks, months, and years. It is important to focus your attention on what you have in front of you and not dwell on either the past or the future. Have a plan or a goal. Those are valuable. What is most important is to put your time and energy into the steps you need to take to attain those goals. This is why today is so important. Today really is all you have. Tomorrow will once again be the most important day of your life.
Improve your life: Blog by Jay Tow, M.S. Counselor, Life Management and Relationship Coach
Facts at a glance - 2013
by National Center for Injury Prevention and Control
Division of Violence Prevention
• In 2011, U.S. state and local child protective services (CPS) received an estimated 3.7 million referrals of children being abused or neglected. 1
• CPS estimated that 681,000 children (9.1 per 1,000) were victims of maltreatment.
• Of the child victims, 79% were victims of neglect; 18% of physical abuse; 9% of sexual abuse; and 10% were victims of other types of maltreatment including threatened abuse, parent’s drug/alcohol abuse, or lack of supervision.
• CPS reports of child maltreatment may underestimate the true occurrence. Non-CPS studies estimate that 1 in 7 U.S. children experience some form of child maltreatment in their lifetimes. 2-4
• Between 1990 and 2010, CPS-reported rates of sexual violence declined 62%, physical abuse declined 56%, and neglect declined 10%. 5
• The total lifetime economic burden resulting from new cases of fatal and nonfatal child maltreatment in the United States is approximately $124 billion. 6
Deaths from Maltreatment
• In 2011, an estimated 1,750 children died from child maltreatment (rate of 2.1 per 100,000 children). 1
• Of the children who died from maltreatment in 2011, 71% experienced neglect either exclusively or in combination with another form of maltreatment and 48% percent experienced physical abuse either exclusively or in combination with another form of maltreatment. 1
• Of child maltreatment fatalities in 2011, 81.6% occurred among children younger than age 4; 9.5% among 4-7 year-olds; 4.6% among 8-11 year-olds; 2.2% among 12-15 year-olds; and 1.4% among 16-17 year-olds. 1
• The fatality rate for boys was 2.5 per 100,000 and for girls was 1.7 per 100,000. 1
• The 2011 rates of death per 100,000 children was 3.9 for African Americans, 2.6 for American Indian/Alaska Natives, 1.9 for Hispanics, 1.6 for non-Hispanic Whites, 1.2 for Pacific Islanders and 0.4 for Asians. 1
Characteristics of Victims
• In 2011, 35% of victims were younger than 3 years, with children younger than 1 year having the highest rate of victimization (21.2 per 1,000 children). 1
• The rates of victimization in 2011 were 8.7 per 1,000 children for boys and 9.6 per 1,000 children for girls. 1
• The 2011 rates of victimization per 1,000 children were 14.3 for African Americans, 11.4 for American Indian/Alaska Natives, 8.5 for Pacific Islanders, 8.6 for Hispanics, 7.9 for non-Hispanic Whites, and 1.7 for Asians. 1
• Approximately three quarters of victims in 2011 had no prior victimization for each year from 2007-2011. 1
Characteristics of Perpatators
• Most victims in 2011 were maltreated by a parent (80.8%). Other perpetrators included relatives other than parents (5.9%), unmarried partners of parents (4.4%), and other unrelated adults (2.9%). 1
• In 2011, fewer than 6% of perpetrators were aged < 19 years; 36.4% were aged 20–29 years; 32.3% were aged 30–39 years; 15.9% were aged 40–49 years; and 5.0% were aged 50-59 years. 1
• Two-fifths (45.1%) of perpetrators in 2011 were men, and 53.6% were women. 1
1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2012). Child Maltreatment 2011. Available from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/research-data-technology/statistics-research/child-maltreatment
2. Finkelhor D, Turner H, Ormond R, Hamby SL. Violence, abuse, and crime exposure in a national sample of children and youth. Pediatrics 2009; 124:1411-1423.
3. Theodore AD, Chang JJ, Runyan DK, Hunter WM, Bangdewala SI, Agans R. Epidemiologic features of the physical and sexual maltreatment of children in the Carolinas. Pediatrics 2005; 115: e331-e337.
4. Finkelhor D, Ormrod H, Turner H, Hamby S. The victimization of children and youth: a comprehensive national survey. Child Maltreatment 2005; 10: 5-25.
5. Finkelhor D, Jones L, Shattuck A. Updated Trends in Child Maltreatment, 2010. Durham, NH. Crimes against Children Research Center, 2011. Available from www.unh.edu/ccrc/pdf/CV203_Updated%20trends%202010%20FINAL_12-19-11.pdf
6. Fang X, Brown DS, Florence CS, Mercy JA. The economic burden of child maltreatment in the United States and implications for prevention. Child Abuse and Neglect 2012; 36:156-165.
Fox News' “destructive” ignorance: Network gets schooled by male rape survivor
Fox News thinks the idea of men as rape victims is hilarious. A survivor has a message for Tucker Carlson and co.
by KATIE MCDONOUGH
On Fox News last week, contributor Jesse Watters made some wildly ignorant and dismissive comments about men, boys and sexual assault. While discussing a statutory rape case involving a 46-year-old woman and a 16-year-old boy, Watters said, “It is a serious crime. But if you're a 16-year-old kid and you have sex with your best friend's mom, you usually get high fives.” It wasn't the first time a pundit — on Fox or elsewhere — said something to make light of the experiences of male survivors. Two weeks earlier, Tucker Carlson argued that sexually assaulting a teenage boy is a victimless crime, since according to Carlson boys think any sexual contact is “the greatest thing that's ever happened.” When his co-panelists limply pushed back on his comment, Carlson replied, “That's just real. I don't know what to say. I don't want it to be true, it just is true.”
Despite Carlson's assurances that he is speaking for all male survivors, he is not. Most people with even a modicum of compassion and common sense understand that sexual assault is a violent and deeply traumatizing thing for survivors of all genders, but hearing about the pain that sexual assault causes from the mouths of male survivors is something we could all stand to listen to more often. Michael Skinner — a musician, educator, advocate and survivor of sexual abuse — knows all too well the consequences of minimizing the sexual violence that happens to men and boys. We spoke a few weeks ago — after Carlson made his comments about boys and rape — but our conversation is just as relevant right now.
“It's ignorance. It's destructive. It's hurting so many men,” Skinner said of our cultural attitudes about men and sexual violence. “We need to break the cycle. Society reinforces this whole myth, these stereotypes, this stigma that it's not destructive for a man, for a teenage boy. That it's not hurtful. When in fact it is. It hurts like hell.”
Skinner was sexually abused as a child by members of his family, but was also victimized by a trusted adult when he was a teenager. Shame about these things kept him silent about the abuse well into his adulthood. “For the longest time I kept it to myself because I just felt horrible inside about what happened,” he said. “I felt dirty and perverted because of what I experienced — what was done to me. I felt weak because of it, always odd or weird. I blamed myself.”
While Fox News pundits may have a fine time joking about teenage boys being harassed and abused by adult women, Skinner knows there's nothing funny about it. He shared his experience of being assaulted as a teenager, and discussed the many dynamics — power, physical strength and size, gender — that he struggled to understand while it was happening and in the aftermath of the assault:
As a teen — maybe around 15 or so — I was babysitting for this couple with four young children. He was an engineer and she worked part time, and they were living the American dream, if you will. And then they separated. One night, the woman came home, and as she was about to pay me, she pinned me up against a wall. Now, keep in mind, I'm 6 foot 4 and I'm a big guy. Back then, too. I could take care of myself. I wasn't afraid of anyone. And I'm not saying that to try to sound macho, I am saying this because when this woman pinned me up against the wall and put her hand down on my crotch and stuck her tongue in my mouth, I froze. I literally froze. I was scared. I was in deep fear.
It seemed like an eternity but I know it wasn't, it was just that split second or so. It took me a while to compose myself and push her away. And I couldn't run out of that house fast enough. And it left me in fear, it left me feeling like I wanted to throw up.
She was the perpetrator. This was an adult. This was a woman in her mid-thirties to early forties. There was a power dynamic. It was wrong. If a male did this to a female, it would be called rape or sexual assault. It was sexual assault. It was a violation, period. I understand people on these shock radio shows and talking heads on television — they're saying stuff just to get ratings, but saying [teenage boys can't be sexually assaulted] is so wrong.
Watters and Carlson might want to listen to men like Skinner before making sweeping pronouncements about the things they “know” about men and sexual assault. Unfortunately, their attitudes are fairly common. We tend to diminish the trauma of sexual violence against men — it's usually played for laughs in film and television when it's addressed at all. And the parameters of heteronormative masculinity hardly leave room for expressions of emotion or pain from most men, particularly about a topic like sexual violence.
Skinner pointed to male survivor organizations like 1 in 6 and Male Survivor as a sign that there is more support than ever for male victims of sexual assault, but said there is still a long way to go to break the stigma and stereotypes around men coming out about their experiences of abuse. “I feel like there is a double whammy for male survivors,” he said of his own experience seeking help. “I was supposed to suck it up and just get over it. And that was fed to me by a doctor. ‘This will help you pull your bootstraps up' — a doctor telling me to pull up my bootstraps. There wasn't the awareness and there still isn't.”
I can't imagine anything more direct than these Skinner's honest insights into our destructive cultural norms and the harm they cause, and yet we're generally very bad at listening to people like him. We ignore survivors of all genders. And when we do hear them, we're even worse at taking them seriously.
The statistics on sexual violence should be impossible to ignore. The same goes for the voices of survivors like Skinner.
“As men, we're not supposed to express these emotions. We're supposed to be tough and all that garbage. It's wrong. We should be able to express our emotions,” he said of the shifts that need to occur to create room for more survivors — particularly men, but really survivors of all genders — to come forward. Finding the courage to speak changed Skinner's life, and he said he wants to see that happen for others:
I think for survivors, male and female, it really is worth it to come forward and share these things in order to break that silence. It's hard. It is painful in the healing process, but I tell you the rewards are great because, I survived. I definitely survived some horrible things, but I truly feel I'm thriving in life today. Once I was able to break that silence and do this work, I'm in a better place.
I think sharing the secrets, getting rid of the stigma, because it's not our shame to bear. I can't go back, I can't change what happened to me. But if I can share my experience and it can help one other person, that's worth it to me. It really is.
Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at email@example.com
A Parent's Guide to Internet Safety
U.S. Department of Justice
Federal Bureau of Investigation - Publications
Our children are our Nation's most valuable asset. They represent the bright future of our country and hold our hopes for a better Nation. Our children are also the most vulnerable members of society. Protecting our children against the fear of crime and from becoming victims of crime must be a national priority.
Unfortunately the same advances in computer and telecommunication technology that allow our children to reach out to new sources of knowledge and cultural experiences are also leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and harm by computer-sex offenders.
I hope that this pamphlet helps you to begin to understand the complexities of on-line child exploitation. For further information, please contact your local FBI office or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678.
Louis J. Freeh, Former Director
Federal Bureau of Investigation
While on-line computer exploration opens a world of possibilities for children, expanding their horizons and exposing them to different cultures and ways of life, they can be exposed to dangers as they hit the road exploring the information highway. There are individuals who attempt to sexually exploit children through the use of on-line services and the Internet. Some of these individuals gradually seduce their targets through the use of attention, affection, kindness, and even gifts. These individuals are often willing to devote considerable amounts of time, money, and energy in this process. They listen to and empathize with the problems of children. They will be aware of the latest music, hobbies, and interests of children. These individuals attempt to gradually lower children's inhibitions by slowly introducing sexual context and content into their conversations.
There are other individuals, however, who immediately engage in sexually explicit conversation with children. Some offenders primarily collect and trade child-pornographic images, while others seek face-to-face meetings with children via on-line contacts. It is important for parents to understand that children can be indirectly victimized through conversation, i.e. "chat," as well as the transfer of sexually explicit information and material. Computer-sex offenders may also be evaluating children they come in contact with on-line for future face-to-face contact and direct victimization. Parents and children should remember that a computer-sex offender can be any age or sex the person does not have to fit the caricature of a dirty, unkempt, older man wearing a raincoat to be someone who could harm a child.
Children, especially adolescents, are sometimes interested in and curious about sexuality and sexually explicit material. They may be moving away from the total control of parents and seeking to establish new relationships outside their family. Because they may be curious, children/adolescents sometimes use their on-line access to actively seek out such materials and individuals. Sex offenders targeting children will use and exploit these characteristics and needs. Some adolescent children may also be attracted to and lured by on-line offenders closer to their age who, although not technically child molesters, may be dangerous. Nevertheless, they have been seduced and manipulated by a clever offender and do not fully understand or recognize the potential danger of these contacts.
This guide was prepared from actual investigations involving child victims, as well as investigations where law enforcement officers posed as children. Further information on protecting your child on-line may be found in the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's Child Safety on the Information Highway and Teen Safety on the Information Highway pamphlets.
What Are Signs That Your Child Might Be At Risk On-line?
Your child spends large amounts of time on-line, especially at night.
Most children that fall victim to computer-sex offenders spend large amounts of time on-line, particularly in chat rooms. They may go on-line after dinner and on the weekends. They may be latchkey kids whose parents have told them to stay at home after school. They go on-line to chat with friends, make new friends, pass time, and sometimes look for sexually explicit information. While much of the knowledge and experience gained may be valuable, parents should consider monitoring the amount of time spent on-line.
Children on-line are at the greatest risk during the evening hours. While offenders are on-line around the clock, most work during the day and spend their evenings on-line trying to locate and lure children or seeking pornography.
You find pornography on your child's computer.
Pornography is often used in the sexual victimization of children. Sex offenders often supply their potential victims with pornography as a means of opening sexual discussions and for seduction. Child pornography may be used to show the child victim that sex between children and adults is "normal." Parents should be conscious of the fact that a child may hide the pornographic files on diskettes from them. This may be especially true if the computer is used by other family members.
Your child receives phone calls from men you don't know or is making calls, sometimes long distance, to numbers you don't recognize.
While talking to a child victim on-line is a thrill for a computer-sex offender, it can be very cumbersome. Most want to talk to the children on the telephone. They often engage in "phone sex" with the children and often seek to set up an actual meeting for real sex.
While a child may be hesitant to give out his/her home phone number, the computer-sex offenders will give out theirs. With Caller ID, they can readily find out the child's phone number. Some computer-sex offenders have even obtained toll-free 800 numbers, so that their potential victims can call them without their parents finding out. Others will tell the child to call collect. Both of these methods result in the computer-sex offender being able to find out the child's phone number.
Your child receives mail, gifts, or packages from someone you don't know.
As part of the seduction process, it is common for offenders to send letters, photographs, and all manner of gifts to their potential victims. Computer-sex offenders have even sent plane tickets in order for the child to travel across the country to meet them.
Your child turns the computer monitor off or quickly changes the screen on the monitor when you come into the room.
A child looking at pornographic images or having sexually explicit conversations does not want you to see it on the screen.
Your child becomes withdrawn from the family.
Computer-sex offenders will work very hard at driving a wedge between a child and their family or at exploiting their relationship. They will accentuate any minor problems at home that the child might have. Children may also become withdrawn after sexual victimization.
Your child is using an on-line account belonging to someone else.
Even if you don't subscribe to an on-line service or Internet service, your child may meet an offender while on-line at a friend's house or the library. Most computers come preloaded with on-line and/or Internet software. Computer-sex offenders will sometimes provide potential victims with a computer account for communications with them.
What Should You Do If You Suspect Your Child Is Communicating With A Sexual Predator On-line?
• Consider talking openly with your child about your suspicions. Tell them about the dangers of computer-sex offenders.
• Review what is on your child's computer. If you don't know how, ask a friend, coworker, relative, or other knowledgeable person. Pornography or any kind of sexual communication can be a warning sign.
• Use the Caller ID service to determine who is calling your child. Most telephone companies that offer Caller ID also offer a service that allows you to block your number from appearing on someone else's Caller ID. Telephone companies also offer an additional service feature that rejects incoming calls that you block. This rejection feature prevents computer-sex offenders or anyone else from calling your home anonymously.
• Devices can be purchased that show telephone numbers that have been dialed from your home phone. Additionally, the last number called from your home phone can be retrieved provided that the telephone is equipped with a redial feature. You will also need a telephone pager to complete this retrieval.
• This is done using a numeric-display pager and another phone that is on the same line as the first phone with the redial feature. Using the two phones and the pager, a call is placed from the second phone to the pager. When the paging terminal beeps for you to enter a telephone number, you press the redial button on the first (or suspect) phone. The last number called from that phone will then be displayed on the pager.
• Monitor your child's access to all types of live electronic communications (i.e., chat rooms, instant messages, Internet Relay Chat, etc.), and monitor your child's e-mail. Computer-sex offenders almost always meet potential victims via chat rooms. After meeting a child on-line, they will continue to communicate electronically often via e-mail.
Should any of the following situations arise in your household, via the Internet or on-line service, you should immediately contact your local or state law enforcement agency, the FBI, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children:
1. Your child or anyone in the household has received child pornography;
2. Your child has been sexually solicited by someone who knows that your child is under 18 years of age;
3. Your child has received sexually explicit images from someone that knows your child is under the age of 18.
If one of these scenarios occurs, keep the computer turned off in order to preserve any evidence for future law enforcement use. Unless directed to do so by the law enforcement agency, you should not attempt to copy any of the images and/or text found on the computer.
What Can You Do To Minimize The Chances Of An On-line Exploiter Victimizing Your Child?
• Communicate, and talk to your child about sexual victimization and potential on-line danger.
• Spend time with your children on-line. Have them teach you about their favorite on-line destinations.
• Keep the computer in a common room in the house, not in your child's bedroom. It is much more difficult for a computer-sex offender to communicate with a child when the computer screen is visible to a parent or another member of the household.
• Utilize parental controls provided by your service provider and/or blocking software. While electronic chat can be a great place for children to make new friends and discuss various topics of interest, it is also prowled by computer-sex offenders. Use of chat rooms, in particular, should be heavily monitored. While parents should utilize these mechanisms, they should not totally rely on them.
• Always maintain access to your child's on-line account and randomly check his/her e-mail. Be aware that your child could be contacted through the U.S. Mail. Be up front with your child about your access and reasons why.
• Teach your child the responsible use of the resources on-line. There is much more to the on-line experience than chat rooms.
• Find out what computer safeguards are utilized by your child's school, the public library, and at the homes of your child's friends. These are all places, outside your normal supervision, where your child could encounter an on-line predator.
• Understand, even if your child was a willing participant in any form of sexual exploitation, that he/she is not at fault and is the victim. The offender always bears the complete responsibility for his or her actions.
• Instruct your children:
~ to never arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they met on- line;
~ to never upload (post) pictures of themselves onto the Internet or on-line service to people they do not personally know;
~ to never give out identifying information such as their name, home address, school name, or telephone number;
~ to never download pictures from an unknown source, as there is a good chance there could be sexually explicit images;
~ to never respond to messages or bulletin board postings that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, or harassing;
~ that whatever they are told on-line may or may not be true.
Frequently Asked Questions:
My child has received an e-mail advertising for a pornographic website, what should I do?
Generally, advertising for an adult, pornographic website that is sent to an e-mail address does not violate federal law or the current laws of most states. In some states it may be a violation of law if the sender knows the recipient is under the age of 18. Such advertising can be reported to your service provider and, if known, the service provider of the originator. It can also be reported to your state and federal legislators, so they can be made aware of the extent of the problem.
Is any service safer than the others?
Sex offenders have contacted children via most of the major on-line services and the Internet. The most important factors in keeping your child safe on-line are the utilization of appropriate blocking software and/or parental controls, along with open, honest discussions with your child, monitoring his/her on-line activity, and following the tips in this pamphlet.
Should I just forbid my child from going on-line?
There are dangers in every part of our society. By educating your children to these dangers and taking appropriate steps to protect them, they can benefit from the wealth of information now available on-line.
Internet - An immense, global network that connects computers via telephone lines and/or fiber networks to storehouses of electronic information. With only a computer, a modem, a telephone line and a service provider, people from all over the world can communicate and share information with little more than a few keystrokes.
Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs) - Electronic networks of computers that are connected by a central computer setup and operated by a system administrator or operator and are distinguishable from the Internet by their "dial-up" accessibility. BBS users link their individual computers to the central BBS computer by a modem which allows them to post messages, read messages left by others, trade information, or hold direct conversations. Access to a BBS can, and often is, privileged and limited to those users who have access privileges granted by the systems operator.
Commercial On-line Service (COS) - Examples of COSs are America Online, Prodigy, CompuServe and Microsoft Network, which provide access to their service for a fee. COSs generally offer limited access to the Internet as part of their total service package.
Internet Service Provider (ISP) - Examples of ISPs are Erols, Concentric and Netcom. These services offer direct, full access to the Internet at a flat, monthly rate and often provide electronic-mail service for their customers. ISPs often provide space on their servers for their customers to maintain World Wide Web (WWW) sites. Not all ISPs are commercial enterprises. Educational, governmental and nonprofit organizations also provide Internet access to their members.
Public Chat Rooms - Created, maintained, listed and monitored by the COS and other public domain systems such as Internet Relay Chat. A number of customers can be in the public chat rooms at any given time, which are monitored for illegal activity and even appropriate language by systems operators (SYSOP). Some public chat rooms are monitored more frequently than others, depending on the COS and the type of chat room. Violators can be reported to the administrators of the system (at America On-line they are referred to as terms of service [TOS]) which can revoke user privileges. The public chat rooms usually cover a broad range of topics such as entertainment, sports, game rooms, children only, etc.
Electronic Mail (E-Mail) - A function of BBSs, COSs and ISPs which provides for the transmission of messages and files between computers over a communications network similar to mailing a letter via the postal service. E-mail is stored on a server, where it will remain until the addressee retrieves it. Anonymity can be maintained by the sender by predetermining what the receiver will see as the "from" address. Another way to conceal one's identity is to use an "anonymous remailer," which is a service that allows the user to send an e-mail message repackaged under the remailer's own header, stripping off the originator's name completely.
Chat - Real-time text conversation between users in a chat room with no expectation of privacy. All chat conversation is accessible by all individuals in the chat room while the conversation is taking place.
Instant Messages - Private, real-time text conversation between two users in a chat room.
Internet Relay Chat (IRC) - Real-time text conversation similar to public and/or private chat rooms on COS.
Usenet (Newsgroups) - Like a giant, cork bulletin board where users post messages and information. Each posting is like an open letter and is capable of having attachments, such as graphic image files (GIFs). Anyone accessing the newsgroup can read the postings, take copies of posted items, or post responses. Each newsgroup can hold thousands of postings. Currently, there are over 29,000 public newsgroups and that number is growing daily. Newsgroups are both public and/or private. There is no listing of private newsgroups. A user of private newsgroups has to be invited into the newsgroup and be provided with the newsgroup's address.
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Cyber Division, Innocent Images National Initiative
11700 Beltsville Drive Calverton, MD 20705
Download a PDF vedsion of this publication here --> A Parent's Guide to Internet Safety
Contact your local FBI office for further information.
Almost Half of Teen Boys and Young Men Have Been Sexually Coerced
by Hermione Stranger
According to a new study, a large portion of teen boys and young men have been forced or coerced into sexual activity by a peer. The study, published in the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity , 43% of high school boys and young college men reported they had an unwanted sexual experience, and 95% reported that a female acquaintance was the aggressor.
"Sexual victimization continues to be a pervasive problem in the United States, but the victimization of men is rarely explored," said the lead author, Dr. Breanna French. "Our findings can help lead to better prevention by identifying the various types of coercion that men face and by acknowledging women as perpetrators against men." While participants reported relatively low rates of being victimized by other men, French cautions against concluding that rates of male-on-male victimization are actually that low, as participants may have been uncomfortable reporting being victimized by another boy or man due to internalized homophobia and fears of emasculation.
Of the 284 males from ages 14-26, 18 percent reported sexual coercion by physical force; 31 percent said they were verbally coerced; 26 percent described unwanted seduction by sexual behaviors; and 7 percent said they were compelled after being given alcohol or drugs. Half ended up having some form of sexual intercourse, 10% reported an attempt at intercourse, and 40% said the result was fondling or kissing. The high rate of sexual coercion by seduction, especially by older women, led Dr. French to call for greater research into the line between seduction and coercion.
While participants who had been coerced verbally or with substances had higher rates of psychological distress (including depression, post-traumatic stress, and anxiety) compared to those who had not been sexually coerced, they did not have lower rates of self-esteem. "It may be the case that sexual coercion by women doesn't affect males' self-perceptions in the same way that it does when women are coerced. Instead it may inadvertently be consistent with expectations of masculinity and sexual desire, though more research is needed to better understand this relationship," said Dr. French.
Interestingly, rates of sexual coercion varied largely by ethnicity. Asian-American male participants reported lower rates of sexual coercion overall and especially of verbal coercion, similar to results of sexual coercion for Asian-American females. Latino males were more likely to have been coerced by verbal pressure, while white males were more likely to report an unwanted seduction. French called for youth prevention methods that accounted for racial and ethnic differences in coercion tactics, including the stereotype of Black men as hypermasculine and hypersexual.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin - Latrobe, Pennsylvania
Weakland heading home, leaving complex legacy in Milwaukee
Caption on photo: Former Archbishop Rembert Weakland walks away past the altar after his service where he gave his apology at Mater Christi Chapel at the Cousins Catholic Center on May 31, 2002. Weakland, who retired in 2002 in a spectacular fall from grace after acknowledging that he used $450,000 in church funds in a failed attempt to silence a former male lover, will be moving by Sept. 1 from his Milwaukee condo to the St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pa.
by Annysa Johnson of the Journal Sentinel
Retired Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland, a once-towering figure who diminished his legacy by his handling of the clergy sexual abuse crisis in southeastern Wisconsin and his own sex scandal, is returning in old age to the Benedictine abbey where he began his religious life more than 70 years ago.
Weakland, 87 and increasingly frail, has told friends he will be moving by Sept. 1 from his Milwaukee condo to the St. Vincent Archabbey, a community of monks in Latrobe, Pa., about 40 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
A group of local priests is planning a farewell luncheon in July, an event that is already drawing criticism from abuse survivors.
"It's an opportunity to express our thanks and appreciation, and to say farewell and God bless you as you go to the next phase in your life," said Father David Cooper of St. Matthias Parish, the head of the local priests alliance that is organizing the send-off.
Peter Isely, Midwest director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said abuse victims don't share that esteem for Weakland.
"He's leaving behind here an enormous amount of unresolved and unhealed pain that he is unfortunately directly responsible for," said Isely.
Repeated efforts to reach Weakland at his home and by telephone were unsuccessful.
Twelve years after his retirement — with the archdiocese mired in a nearly 4-year-old bankruptcy, in large part because of Weakland's actions — the emeritus archbishop remains a controversial and divisive figure.
Weakland, who came to Milwaukee in 1977, had been an intellectual luminary and influential leader of the Benedictine Order under Pope Paul VI. He was consulted on liturgical changes at the highest levels in Rome. He championed the role of women in the church and led the drafting of the American bishops' pastoral letter on the economy, tenets of which are being echoed by Pope Francis nearly 30 years later.
But Weakland's influence waned as Pope John Paul II shifted the church to the right.
In Milwaukee, he initiated a wave of church closings and mergers — decisions seen by some as ruthless, by others as overdue and courageous. And near the end of his tenure in Milwaukee, he shepherded a radical remodeling of the interior of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, the episcopal see of the archdiocese.
He retired in 2002 in a spectacular fall from grace after acknowledging that he used $450,000 in church funds in a failed attempt to silence a former male lover who years later accused him of date rape.
Today, he is a central, if largely invisible, figure in the bankruptcy. He has admitted in depositions that he shredded sex abuse documents and moved sexually abusive priests from parish to parish without telling members of their histories. He suggests in his 2009 memoir, "A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church," that he understood in those days that sex with minors was a sin, but not necessarily a crime.
The book also recounts Weakland's coming to terms with his own homosexuality, in a church that sees homosexuality as "disordered."
Today, Weakland is virtually absent from the official life of the church. He does not appear alongside the other bishops on the archdiocese website. He was not among the bishops concelebrating Mass for the recent synod, or even included in the Eucharistic prayer for bishops and popes recited there.
Friends and supporters say the exile is, for the most part, self-imposed. Weakland withdrew from public ministry, they said, shortly after his resignation, when a group of parents threatened to pull their children from their confirmations at a large suburban parish after learning Weakland had been invited to take part.
"He did not want the sacraments to be disruptive," said Cooper. "He did not want to be a source of scandal and division."
In recent years, Weakland has spent his time reading, playing the piano, attending the symphony, traveling. Neighbors in his condo complex take him shopping, according to Cooper.
"Right now, he can take care of himself, but he's worried about getting too weak to do those things," said Cooper, explaining Weakland's decision to leave.
He had arranged to move to another monastery in 2009, St. Mary's Abbey in Morristown, N.J., but those plans fell through shortly after news accounts detailed the contents of his memoir. At the time, Weakland said he understood that his presence "might be a negative element" because the abbey is home to a boys college prep school.
The return to Latrobe will be a homecoming of sorts. St. Vincent's is the abbey where Weakland's mother sent him to begin his seminary studies in 1940 at the age of 13. The oldest Benedictine monastery in the United States, it offered him entrée into a world of power and privilege far removed from his hardscrabble childhood in rural Pennsylvania.
It is expected that he will live out the rest of his life there.
Here in Milwaukee, Weakland's influence on the church, both local and global, will likely be debated for years.
He was, depending on one's perspective, erudite or arrogant. An architect of progressive reform, or the embodiment of the "liberal excesses" wrought by Vatican II. An unwitting accomplice in a system that did not understand the psychosexual development of priests and the long-term effects of sex abuse on children, or a calculating criminal who placed the interests of the church over those of its victims.
"What I admire most is that he spoke with substance. What he had to say really came from a deep place," said Father Steven Avella, a Marquette University professor of history, whose second volume on the history of the local archdiocese, due out this year, will include a forward by Weakland.
"He was a man I was proud to work for," Avella said. "I would never, even with his troubles, turn my back on him."
Many abuse survivors believe Weakland owes them one courtesy before leaving Milwaukee. Critics, including survivors, have lobbied the archdiocese for years to strip Weakland's name and likeness from the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist downtown, including a bronze image in bas-relief that depicts Weakland shepherding small children.
"It is such a smack in the face," said Lynn Pilmaier, whose son, John, was molested by Father David Hanser at St. John Vianney School in Brookfield in 1977. Hanser was later defrocked.
Pilmaier says she tried repeatedly to meet with Weakland after learning of her son's abuse but was told by the prelate that she "could not be trusted." The experience, she says, has robbed her of her faith, and a church that she loved and worked for for much of her life.
"It meant so much to me, and they have made a mockery of it all," said Pilmaier, who believes Weakland should demand the removal of the bronze.
"Why doesn't he ask to have that removed?" she said. "He's not a person who could be trusted to protect those children around him."
Child abuse commission wants two more years to allow victims to testify
Interim report of the commission's work says the huge response means it must take longer if victims are not to be denied access
by Helen Davidson
The royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse has requested an extra two years and $104m to finish its job.
The royal commission, set up by former prime minister Julia Gillard, released its interim report on Monday afternoon. It has interviewed more than 1,700 people in private sessions, identified abuses in more than 1,000 institutions and held 14 public hearings into case study incidents, which include the handling of abuse claims within the Catholic Church, the Salvation Army, NSW state-run children's homes and Marist Brothers schools.
The commission recently announced it would hold a public hearing into Swimming Australia.
The interim report, the most comprehensive document on the royal commission released so far, covering all findings to date, comes in two parts, including 150 de-identified victims' stories of abuse.
The report confirmed statements by chief commissioner Justice Peter McClellan in a speech at Griffith University earlier this month, including that the slated 2015 end date to the commission – which was always open to change – did not allow enough time to adequately hear all cases.
By the end of 2015 the commission will have conducted up to 4,000 private sessions and 40 public hearings, the report predicted. It needed at least another two years for the extra 3000 private sessions and 30 public hearings it said were necessary, and the resulting referrals to police.
“If the Royal Commission is not extended we will not be able to hold a private session for any person who contacts us after September this year,” it said.
“This will deny many survivors the opportunity to share their experiences with us, in particular those from vulnerable or hard-to-reach groups.”
The attorney-general, George Brandis, said in a statement the government was considering the request.
“The interim report makes clear the enormous scale of the task being undertaken by the commission,” Brandis said.
“It is important that those affected by child sexual abuse and the Australian community as a whole can learn from the commission's work so far.”
The report revealed data about incidents of child abuse it had heard about from victims, including that 90% of perpetrators were male, and most likely to be a member of clergy or a religious order, followed by teachers and residential care workers.
The royal commission has heard from more than 3,300 victims of abuse. Of that number, 1,730 people met commissioners to tell their story in private sessions. With 40 requests for private sessions coming into the commission every week, there was still a queue of 1,000 waiting their turn.
On average female victims were nine years old and male victims 10 years old when the abuse started, and non-penetrative contact was the most common type of abuse, followed by penetrative abuse.
The 7% of victims who came forward to the royal commission and identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is significantly higher than the estimated 3% proportion they make up in the general population.
The report said children in immigration detention and juvenile justice facilities could be vulnerable to abuse.
“One issue that has emerged is the risk of harm that children face when placed in detention with adults. The Australian Federal Police has noted a loophole in sex offender registration that allows offenders to live with children."
Based on the data collected, the report estimated that one in three girls and one in seven boys had experienced some form of child sexual abuse, not necessarily in an institutional setting.
Most survivors who came to the commission had previously disclosed their abuse, but it took them an average of 22 years to do so. Men held on to their secret for longer than women, on average.
Participation in school-based prevention programs, being sensitively questioned by a trusted adult or feeling concern for younger siblings or other children were often factors in a child reporting their abuse.
The current public hearing into the Marist Brothers earlier this month heard from Damian De Marco, who reported his abuse by a former teacher, Kostka Chute, after he saw Chute had formed a relationship with a younger student.
"All children in an institution, who have an association with an institution or in out-of-home care may be at risk of sexual abuse. We are learning which children are most vulnerable, and what factors increase that vulnerability," the report said.
“Despite legal obligations to report, it is believed that child sexual abuse is significantly under-reported in Australia.
“Many institutions take their responsibility to appropriately respond to reports of child sexual abuse seriously. Yet many others have failed to respond to reports, or if they have responded, have done so ineffectively.”
Numerous public hearings have detailed incompetence, negligence and, in some cases, alleged cover-ups within institutions when employees were informed of an allegation that a colleague or colleagues were abusing children in their care.
“It is apparent that perpetrators are more likely to offend when an institution lacks the appropriate culture and is not managed with the protection of children as a high priority,” the report found.
“They will manipulate people, processes and situations to create opportunities for abuse. Everyone in a responsible role in an institution must be able to recognise when perpetrators are manipulating or ‘grooming children'. This requires education and training, and the development of an appropriate institutional culture.”
The report said children were still at risk, and pre-employment checks were inconsistent across the country.
Currently, states use a variation of two screening checks. Tasmania and South Australia conduct a police check. The Northern Territory, NSW, Victoria and WA also conduct a Working With Children Check (WWCC), but each state has different standards for levels of access to children.
"The Royal Commission is carefully considering whether a national screening agency would offer any advantages,” the report said.
The report also outlined future research projects, including re-examining mandatory reporting requirements and monetary compensation schemes.
Almost nine in ten abuse survivors who sought compensation from the institution where they were abused were dissatisfied with the outcome, the report revealed.
"The Royal Commission is carefully considering whether a national screening agency would offer any advantages,” it said.
Francis Sullivan, the chief executive of the Truth Justice and Healing Council – which is handling the Catholic church's response during the royal commission – welcomed the call for an extension of time.
“This is a major social issue for our nation and we need the investment of both time and money to give the security to the community that institutions have been brought to account and victims have been given adequate time to tell their stories and to access support,” he said in a statement.
“To not finish the job properly and completely would be an insult to all the victims of abuse and one of the greatest lost opportunities of our generation.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for the community to fully understand the devastation of child sexual abuse, its historic pervasion into so many different institutions and steps needed to ensure past tragedies are never revisited.”
Girls targeted from nine, boys from ten and it takes 22 YEARS for survivors to come forward
Chilling statistics of child sex abuse revealed in Royal Commission report:
Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released its interim report on Monday
Analysis so far shows 90 per cent of Australian sex abusers are men
It takes men longer than women to disclose their abuse
The commission hasn't decided on a national redress scheme for survivors
Has asked government for $104 million and an extra two years to do its job
by Sarah Dean and Australian Associated Press
It takes an average of 22 years for survivors of child abuse to come forward and many Australians who have been abused still haven't spoken out, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse says.
In its interim report, released on Monday, the commission said on average female victims were nine years old and male victims 10 years old when the abuse started and that it takes men longer than women to disclose their abuse.
The commission, which began its inquiry into institutional abuse on 13 January 2013, said its analysis also showed 90 per cent of sex abusers are men.
'We understand that although many people have come forward to the Royal Commission, it is likely that they represent only a minority of those abused,' the commission said.
'Many others are yet to disclose their abuse or, for various reasons, feel unable to come forward at this time.'
On Monday, the commission which has already been running for 18 months, urged the federal government to give it more time and money to finish its job or risk squandering the opportunity and insulting the victims.
The commission said it needs another $104 million and an extra two years to do its job and reach more vulnerable groups.
Truth Justice and Healing Council chief executive Francis Sullivan says the inquiry into institutional responses to child sex abuse must be given the time and resources it wants.
'To not finish the job properly and completely would be an insult to all the victims of abuse and one of the greatest lost opportunities of our generation,' he said in a statement.
'This is a once in a lifetime chance for the community to fully understand the devastation of child sexual abuse, its historic pervasion into so many different institutions and steps needed to ensure past tragedies are never revisited.'
Attorney-General George Brandis said the interim report made clear the enormous scale of the task being undertaken by the commission.
'It is important that those affected by child sexual abuse and the Australian community as a whole can learn from the commission's work so far,' he said in a brief statement.
The federal government was considering the request for a two year extension of the royal commission's December 31, 2015 closing date to deliver its final report, it said.
The commission's investigation into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has many different parts to it.
Firstly, it is running a series of research projects into child sex abuse, including a history of abuse offences in Australia and analysis to identify possible sentencing reform for child abusers.
It is also planning a review of the strengths and challenges of mandatory reporting requirements in Australia.
Another project currently in the scoping phase is a review of evidence to explain the relevance of child pornography and child exploitation material to child sexual abuse in institutions.
In its two volume interim report, 14 case studies investigated by the commission over the past 18 months are covered.
The report includes the personal stories of 150 people who shared their experience of abuse by coming to a private session or providing a written account.
The commission has held hearings across Australia into how religious, educational and youth institutions responded to allegations of abuse, in some cases dating back decades.
The report says by the end of 2015 the Royal Commission will have conducted up to 4,000 private sessions but unless it is extended for two additional years it will not be able to hold a private session for anyone who contacts them after September this year.
'This will deny many survivors of the opportunity to share their experiences with us, in particular those from vulnerable or hard-to-reach groups.'
'We need another two years to complete the additional 30 hearings we have identified as essential to fulfill the terms of reference.'
In one of the scoping phase projects, school-based child sexual abuse prevention policies and curricula will be audited and compared with overseas models.
In another, there will be a review of pre-employment screening practices for child-related work.
A large project relates to the history of child sex abuse in Australia, with a review of factors and events linked to understanding of this form of abuse since the arrival from the first fleet.
Data from the royal commission's private sessions with abuse victims will be analysed to assess characteristics of both victims and offenders and the impact on victims.
Those convicted of institutional child sex abuse will be sentenced, possibly to jail terms. The commission wants to see whether that process can be reformed.
Also under examination will be trial processes and how evidence can be given by child sexual abuse complainants for use in court.
The commission has said children can help design institutions that are safe for them as they have the knowledge and experience different to adults.
Research into the views of children about their safety from sexual abuse in institutions has thus been ordered.
The commission is yet to reach a view on a national redress scheme for survivors.
'We have not yet reached a view on a national scheme,' the commission said.
Four Australian states have offered redress schemes for former residents of child institutions in Qld, WA, Tas and SA.
The schemes have different coverage, eligibility rules, validation procedures and payment options.
Incomplete data from the Catholic Church's National Committee for Professional Standards shows Church authorities have paid more than $43 million to claimants since 1997.
The commission is considering whether it is appropriate in principal to recommend a national scheme, if its possible to devise a scheme that's fair to both claimants and institutions and how that scheme might fit with existing redress schemes.
'The Royal Commission understands the importance of this issue to victims and institutions and will consult widely as our thinking develops,' the report said.
Meanwhile, the Salvation Army is facing a slump in donations to its flagship fundraising drive after the inquiry's revelations of terrible sexual abuse of children in its care.
Donations to the Red Shield Appeal Doorknock in May are down an estimated 20 per cent this year.
Spokesman Major Bruce Harmer said the evidence heard at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was a key factor.
The church expects to fall 20 per cent or $2 million short of its $10 million target for the doorknock held on May 24 and 25.
It also expects to miss the $80 million target of the broader Red Shield Appeal, which includes corporate and other donations.
HOW INSTITUTIONS HAVE REACTED TO THE ROYAL COMMISSION
Has promised to obtain software to centralise its recruitment, pre-employment screening and testing of policy knowledge and employee performance management
Engage an independent party to review its organisational culture
Review its policies to simplify and clarify them for staff
Review its parent handbook so that its child protection policies are explained better.
The Department of Education and Communities is reassessing whether YMCA NSW is a fit and proper person to be involved in the provision of an education and care service
Salvation Army Commissioner Raymond James Condon confirmed that the Army accepts that, in certain circumstances, it is vicariously liable for abuse in its boys and girls homes
Christian Brothers deputy provincial leader Julian McDonald recognised the order has a responsibility to survivors of abuse.
Christian Brothers announced all survivors of its Western Australian institutions would be offered ongoing professional psychological counselling, for life, if needed.
New child abuse laws threaten Northampton County's finances
by Tom Shortell
Northampton County officials already struggling to keep up with child placements say they could be facing another funding shortage next year when dramatic changes to Pennsylvania's child abuse laws go into affect.
In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State and Catholic church child abuse cases in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia , state lawmakers passed 20 new laws redefining child abuse, changing policies on reporting suspected abuse and how gathered information is shared around Pennsylvania, county officials said.
Kevin Dolan, director of the county's Children, Youth and Families Division, called the changes the most far reaching in his field in the past 25 years. As a result, reports alleging child abuse are expected to rise across the county, increasing the division's workload, he said. While the county has begun training its employees and members of the community on the new laws, it's still too early to tell if the laws will help or hurt the cause, he said.
"It well could be one of the best things that could happen to the child abuse protection unit. By March, I could be saying, 'Oh my gosh, this was a mistake,'" Dolan said.
Dramatic changes in law
Many of the laws change how already reported instances of abuse are investigated and recorded by social workers. For example, children presently found in a home with an active meth lab would be removed, but the case would not be considered child abuse, officials said. Once all the laws go into effect, that case would be recorded as a child abuse situation and would be entered into a newly created state database of alleged child abuse.
"It could just be an internal shift for us, but I don't think that'll be the case," said Patricia Himmelwright, the division's assistant administrator.
That database will be accessible to social workers around Pennsylvania, which will allow them check if people have been reported for allegations of child abuse elsewhere. Those wrongfully accused must have their records expunged within a year and a half, according to county documents.
Valerie Cammarene, the division's solicitor, said other changes make child abuse laws more closely mirror criminal law. Under the new law, an adult puts a child at serious risk through bizarre behavior, the social worker can take action even if it's a one-time occurrence, she said.
The new laws also expand who must report instances of suspected child abuse to authorities. Come Dec. 31, people ranging from Girl Scout Troop leaders to rabbis to nurses to summer camp organizers to public librarians will be obligated to report suspected abuse to the state, officials said. Professionals in these fields who require state licenses will need to receive two hours of training on how to recognize child abuse in order to have get their license or have it renewed.
Director of Human Services Allison Frantz said the county expects to see the number of child abuse reports to increase due to the new laws. As a result, the county will have to reallocate its resources to compensate, but she does not know what steps will be taken at this point.
"We can't just hire 74 new workers. We don't have that kind of data to understand how that is going to play out," she said.
Restoring broken homes
One thing Frantz said the county plans to do is strike a more cooperative stance with families to restore broken homes. Studies show families are more invested in the process when they are part of the decision making, and they know which extended family members can help support them, she said. Rather than have a social worker order a standard protocol be followed, they can guide the family to a unique solution that works for them, she said.
The changes come at a time when the county has seen its child placements jump in the past year. A rash of drug raids and meth lab discoveries has seen child placements jump from 180 children last summer to 258 as of May 12, according to county records. The unexpected jump forced the county to reallocate more than $200,000 for furniture at the new Human Services Building in Bethlehem Township, Pennsylvania, to meet its 2013 budget.
Lehigh County Human Services Director Kay Achenbach said her staff has not seen a similar jump. A grant from the National Governor's Association has helped them drop their placement totals the past few years, she said.
"We're anticipating an increase, but we're not concerned it's anything our agency can't handle," Achenbach said.
Despite the host of changes, the state Legislature has not yet committed any additional funding for Children, Youth and Families divisions across the state. Most people understand that children must be protected, Dolan said, and he hoped the leaders in Harrisburg will break a decade-long trend of providing no additional funds.
"The average Joe gets it. I hope the Legislature gets that also," he said.
Minnesota's first shelter for child victims of sex trafficking prepares to open
by Briana Bierschbach
Watching the steel and cement hauled in next door to his offices in the East Side of St. Paul is cathartic for Richard Gardell. One building has already been razed to make way for a first-of-its-kind shelter in Minnesota exclusively to house children who are forced to sell their body. In time, an old lumber shed behind the shelter could be demolished as well to make way for a job-training center.
Gardell has been dealing with child sex trafficking in the state in some form or another for more than a decade, first as assistant chief in the St. Paul Police Department and now as the CEO of 180 Degrees, a youth and adult services nonprofit. He's watched trafficking victims, who average age 13 when they are first abused, fall back into the hands of their perpetrators when there's nowhere for them to go.
“It really is a dream,” said Gardell of the Safe and Sound Shelter, slated to open in August. He's been raising private cash to get the shelter up and running. “We've taken a leap of faith here.”
It's one of several developments timed for late this summer and early fall to prepare for the implementation of Minnesota's Safe Harbor laws on Aug. 1. The nation-leading changes will increase penalties for child sex traffickers and require all law enforcement and prosecutors to treat those trafficked under the age of 18 as victims instead of criminals. The idea is children will get the rehabilitation services they need to get out of the trafficking network instead of being locked up temporarily in a detention facility.
But in the metro area, where prosecutors have been enforcing that rule for several years already, there's a shortage of places for the children to go. Many wind up as runaways or in juvenile detention facilities anyway.
“The whole premise of Safe Harbor is we are not going to treat you as a delinquent or criminal,” said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, who was one of the first prosecutors to stop treating children in the sex trade as criminals. “But that rings hollow if you don't have that infrastructure in place to help them.”
A safe place
St. Paul Sgt. Ray Gainey, who works on the Gerald Vick Human Trafficking Task Force, said law enforcement currently works with Catholic Charities and Breaking Free, a St. Paul-based nonprofit, to find a place for underage victims.
"The dilemma is where is the best place to keep or house these victims. Is that in a shelter for their safety, or to release them back into a situation where they might run?” Gainey said. Some still end up in juvenile detention, he added, which law enforcement is trying to stop. "That's not the best place for these kids.”
That's where housing comes in. Typical shelters don't serve the special needs of sex-trafficking victims, who need treatment for their mental and physical abuse. They also need protection from their traffickers, who often come trying to find them. The Safe and Sound Shelter will have full-time staff to do physical and mental-health assessments as well as therapy. Part of the curriculum will focus on breaking the victims' bond with their trafficker.
“They have emotional bonds with the trafficker. They can be in love with them or think they're their boyfriends. They're often afraid they will hurt them or their family,” Gardell said. “We first have to let them know that they are safe.”
Minnesota currently only has four beds specifically set aside for victims of sex trafficking through Breaking Free. The Safe and Sound Shelter will more than triple that number with 14 more beds.
The state Department of Human Services, using $2.8 million in funding passed by the Legislature last year, is also developing another two dozen beds for trafficking victims in the Twin Cities and in places like Duluth and southern Minnesota, said Lauren Ryan, the newly appointed director of the state's Safe Harbor program.
The funding will also pay for Ryan's position and eight regional navigators working on trafficking issues across the state, she said. One navigator has been appointed specifically to work specifically with Native Americans in the state, a population with a high rate of child-sex trafficking.
Five of those beds will serve as transitional housing for 16- and 17-year-olds at Breaking Free, where the focus will be getting victims back into school. “They each get their own bedroom,” said Katie Tuione, housing director for Breaking Free. “That's really crucial for someone of that age.”
How big is the problem?
Advocates have struggled to grapple with a problem that no one can pin down in its size and scope.
In 2011, the State Court Administrator's Office reported 614 trafficking related charges in Minnesota and 390 trafficking related convictions. But for years state law enforcement and health officials didn't track victims as being trafficked, and many victims don't self-identify as being part of that system.
“That's the biggest problem right now,” Ryan said. “We can't tell how big this is. We don't' have a good data system and we don't have people collecting that data.”
A look at commonly used trafficking sites like Backpage.com shows 200 to 300 adds of trafficked children on given day in Minnesota, mostly in the Twin Cities but also in places Duluth, St. Cloud and Mankato, law enforcement officials say. Those children are forced to have sex anywhere between 10 to 15 times a day, said Artika Roller, who runs a service program for sexually-exploited youth with The Family Partnership, based in Minneapolis.
The Family Partnership serves about 80 to 100 trafficked children a year, Roller said, but it's hard to track how large the problem is when some perpetrators are using social media or word of mouth.
She was part of the push to get the Safe Harbor law passed in the Legislature. The legislation is being watched nationally as a possible model for how to deal with the hidden problem of sex trafficking. Minnesota is also the only state to put funding to back up their anti-sex trafficking laws, but advocates say $2.8 million isn't enough.
They initially asked lawmakers to allocate $13.5 million, which would fund about 40 beds for trafficking victims around the state. “The $13.5 million was a very conservative estimate of what was actually needed,” Roller said. “Housing is very expensive.”
The Safe and Sound Shelter, for instance, isn't funded with any money from the Legislature. The city of St. Paul gave 180 Degrees about $500,000 in a mix of loans and grants to get started, but the goal is to have somewhere around $3.3 million to get the shelter up and running. Gardell has led a capital campaign for funding from private donors and foundations.
“Over the short term we need to raise money and we are working really hard. We have a capital campaign going on to build the building and support the programing while we establish our customer base,” Gardell said. “We are not to the finish line yet by any stretch of the imagination.”
Van Nuys, California
Child & Sex Trafficking Summit in Van Nuys All Set For July 30th
High Profile Representatives From the United Nations, FBI & LAPD To Headline The Summit In The Valley
VAN NUYS, CA — The Van Nuys Neighborhood Council is hosting a Special Council Meeting on Wednesday, July 30th, 2014 at 6:30 pm to address Child & Sex Trafficking in the San Fernando Valley. According to the United Nations, “Children are trafficked for forced labor, domestic work, as child soldiers, as camel jockeys, for begging, work on construction sites and plantations but most children are trafficked for sexual exploitation. And girls trafficked for forced labor and domestic work often end up sexually exploited by their employers. The vulnerability of these children is even greater when they arrive in another country. Often they do not have contact with their families and are at the mercy of their employers.”
Additionally, “The US State Department reported that one million children are exploited in the global sex trade. Sex tourists, seeking anonymity and impunity in foreign lands, exploit many of these children in child sex tourism. Child trafficking can occur when children are abducted from the streets, sold into sexual slavery and forced marriage by relatives, or in any place where traffickers, pimps and recruiters prey upon a child's vulnerabilities. Poverty is the pre-condition that makes it easier for traffickers to operate.
The greatest factor in promoting child sex trafficking and child sexual exploitation is the demand for younger and younger victims worldwide. This demand comes from the mostly male buyers who become the customers in the growing global sex industry. Children are often trafficked, employed and exploited because, compared to adults, they are more vulnerable, cheaper to hire and are less likely to demand higher wages or better working conditions. Some employers falsely argue that children are particularly suited to certain types of work because of their small size and “nimble fingers.”
“We plan on reaching out to every level of law enforcement, as well as other local governments and municipalities in the area, and would like to bring the experts, the community leaders, and the general public together to address this local and global issue,” said George Christopher Thomas, President of the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council.
“At the Summit and Special Van Nuys Neighborhood Council Meeting, I would like to focus solely on Child & Sex Trafficking. We have an obligation and a duty to our community to come up with a strategic plan, and I believe doing so should be our top concern,” said Thomas.
The Van Nuys Neighborhood Council meets at 6262 Van Nuys Boulevard and the Summit will take place in the Council Chambers starting at 6:30 pm. If your Neighborhood Council or organization would like to co-host this summit with the VNNC, please email Council President Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information please visit www.vnnc.org. The Van Nuys Neighborhood Council is the largest Neighborhood Council in the San Fernando Valley, and the second largest of all 95 Neighborhood Council's in Los Angeles.
All media and the general public are invited to attend. Please email any questions or comments to email@example.com
Human Trafficking Is Still Thriving
by Obeydah Chavez
Human trafficking has seen an increase over the past few years, even with covert operations shutting down prostitution and child pornography rings in and out of the United States. One would like to think that living in the 21st century would provide extra security and surveillance to prevent these crimes from happening, though it does not seem to be stopping these criminals, only slowing them down. This heinous crime can be divided into three categories: sex slavery, labor trafficking and organ trade.
In the United States alone, sex trafficking generates $9 billion in revenue yearly, making it a thriving business in the black market. The most popular methods include pimp rings, strip clubs, escort services and massage parlors. Pimp rings usually deal with street prostitution, where a young girl or boy is forced to keep a nightly quota, many working on street corners or truck stops. Most of these teens come from poor broken homes, promised a better life and coerced into the business through psychological manipulation, physical abuse and drugs. The internet's anonymity has become a useful platform for sex traffickers, using Craigslist and chat rooms to advertise these individuals, who are often under-age.
Labor trafficking is another key issue, where individuals are forced to work through the use of coercion, violence and fraud. Illegal immigrants are common victims of human trafficking, promised a steady job only to be confined to bad working conditions, low pay, and sometimes debt in sweatshop factories, domestic household workers, restaurants and farms. Victims may come from other countries either undocumented or with a temporary work visa. Incidents are commonly found in industries that demand cheap labor and overwork. Many traffickers trap their victims in debt or use threats of deportation to prevent them from leaving their job.
War and poverty-stricken countries like China, India, Syria and Vietnam have become known for their black-market tactics, and a worldwide increased demand for human organs. With organ trade bringing in $75 million in profit, many people are selling their kidneys and livers to make ends meet. Though a side of this is consensual, children and other victims are kidnapped and tricked into selling their organs. Accounts of orphans being trafficked from Central America and Mexico, only to be killed and sold for their organs. Although some of these donors willingly sell their kidneys, there is a great risk involved with lack of sanitary instruments, possible infections and further medical assistance after the surgery.
Human trafficking is an issue that does not always receive the attention of mass media, yet it is a thriving problem that still needs to be addressed. Persecution of child pornography and illegal sex slavery through the deep web and major cities has been an ongoing process in the FBI for years, and is still being dealt with. Human rights organizations and activists are pushing forward and reaching out to victims of human trafficking, educating others on the reality of this issue, raising awareness and saving lives everyday.
U.S Department of Health and Human Services
The beast in me
by Angelo Fick
Monsters have long featured vividly in the human imagination. We invented imaginary beasts to symbolise our unease with the inexplicable, to externalise aspects of ourselves which were disturbing, and we used our creations as markers of the borderlines between the human and the non-human. In recent times, we have increasingly used the idea of the monster - by qualifying actions and behaviours as ‘monstrous' - to describe people who perpetrate acts which we think lie beyond the human category.
Most recently, South Africans were told the woeful and tragic story of a suburban man who allegedly subjected members of his family to an existence of such inconceivable deprivation and abuse that it defies the imaginations of most people. The bits of evidence we do have – images of dried blood on skirting boards in eerily empty bedrooms; reports of the cruel acts; rumours of what neighbours heard and saw, and did not hear and did not see – sketch a scenario more familiar with 1970s B-grade horror films.
But the bland, eerily dull setting for these crimes is precisely what reveals the problem with externalising the horror. The allegations against the Springs man may be cause for outrage, but that this abuse had gone on for as long as it had despite the neighbours either knowing or suspecting unspeakable things were going on, speaks volumes about the levels of cruelty and inhumanity we tolerate.
Stanley Milgram did a series of well-known and controversial experiments in the 1960s to try and explain how ordinary Germans had not only tolerated the horrors enacted in their names between 1933 and 1945, but had actively participated in the unspeakable inhumanity of the Nazi regime against Jewish, Roma, mentally challenged and homosexual people, among others.
He wanted to know how teachers, doctors, lawyers, plumbers, bus drivers, nurses and other such ordinary people could have stood by as their neighbours were removed from their midst to be transported at gunpoint to places unknown, and then, how in those places, ordinary people could have assisted in the mass extermination of human beings and disposal of their remains. What madness, what monstrous and debased human condition had they descended to? And was it something specific to Germans of the mid-twentieth century, or was it part of the human condition, such that all of us could potentially be like those Germans.
Without experimenting, one can see how the revelation of the horrors in our midst was viewed by the news media. Much of the reportage was sensationalised - including tasteless re-enactments to whet the appetites of the prurient – while being unable or refusing to provide greater insight into the psychopathic or sociopathic worldviews which give rise to such behaviours. The list of local monsters recently sketched for South African audiences includes Johan Kotze, the “Modimolle monster”, with international equivalents in the likes of Isidro Garcia in the United States and Josef Fritzl in Austria.
Explaining the horror of such abusers proves so difficult for ordinary people that they prefer to avoid excessive scrutiny and analysis, resorting instead to labelling. By calling someone a monster, the need to account for their behaviour inside the terms of ordinary life becomes unnecessary. In that way, notions of monstrosity safely contain the terror which a full examination of the social and psychological conditions which allow for this kind of behaviour may reveal.
Beyond the horrific acts of the perpetrators themselves, we find the witnesses. We find that neighbours have often long suspected that things were awry beyond the ‘normal' dysfunction of nuclear family life. They will even - as in the Springs case - admit to having heard and seen things which are already so far beyond what they deem acceptable. Their inaction is of greater cause for concern. The silence of such adults, conscious of the horror going on in their midst, begins to feel like collusion.
The most famous case of such inaction is around the murder of Kitty Genovese in New York. Many neighbours heard her cries for help as she was brutally killed, but none intervened. In the Springs case, the pattern repeats, though not for a singular event like a murder, but over years of abuse. Systematised brutality was not just suspected by the Springs neighbours - they had witnessed the results themselves but had not acted.
The monstrous is therefore not just resident in the abusers and the killers; it is a fundamental component of the society we live in. Terrible things happen all around us, all the time, and we witness these, sometimes obliquely and sometimes directly. The perpetrators are our brothers, fathers, uncles, co-workers, and neighbours. We exchange chit-chat with them in queues at the supermarket, stand next to them at sports events, and sing the national anthem with them. And throughout it all we are like ‘good Germans' of the 1930s: we see, but most of us do nothing.
The Springs events are extreme examples of a more widespread human phenomenon, both for the perpetrators of such heinous acts and for the rest of us – witnesses who look away, or worse, return the victims of the outrages to their abusers. Think only of the example of the nurse's aide at a private clinic who was raped on her way to work - her colleagues would not help her because she was not on a medical aid and so she was turned away to a public hospital elsewhere. Think of the intellectually-challenged child chained and made to sleep in a dog kennel.
Mary Shelley famously allegorised this odd relationship between the creator of the freakish creature and the monster himself. As she shows in Frankenstein (1818), the true monster is not the nameless creature sewn together from discarded body parts, but Dr Frankenstein himself. Many of us have forgotten that Frankenstein refers to the monstrous doctor, not his creation. Thus, we may scapegoat these extreme abusers by calling them monsters, but they reveal an aspect of our own psychological and social monstrosity we would rather not deal with. How else to explain the everyday monstrous acts that we not only tolerate, but applaud?
The events at that Springs house are horrible. The man who allegedly perpetrated them is indeed disturbed and disturbing. But, instead of merely dismissing him from our consciousness as yet another monster who lurked in our inner circle, we may benefit from recognising our collective silence on much else that is monstrous along the spectrum where his extreme acts reside. We cannot afford to be like law-abiding Germans of the 1930s, remorseful in hindsight.
The Role of Child Protective Services in Medical Child Abuse
by Gina Putt
Is medical child abuse essentially different than physical abuse, sexual abuse or neglect?
The case of Justina Pelletier, a teenager with a mysterious medical history who was hospitalized and subsequently placed in protective custody by the state of Massachusetts, raises questions about what constitutes necessary intervention.
What Happened to Justina Pelletier?
According to FoxCT, the family's local Fox news channel, doctors at Tufts University diagnosed Justina with mitochondrial disease in 2010. She continued to be treated at Tufts until February 2013 when she came down with flu-like symptoms. FoxCT says, “ Her parents admitted her to Boston Children's Hospital to see a specialist who recently transferred there from Tufts Medical Center. “
The doctors at Boston Children's Hospital rejected her existing diagnosis, and diagnosed her as having a psychosomatic illness instead – that's an illness in which symptoms come from your mind, rather than an underlying disease process. The Department of Children and Family became involved when the parents disagreed with the new diagnosis. Justina spent nearly a year in a state psychiatric hospital, then went to a group home before being returned to her family.
The state of Massachusetts alleged that the parents were over-medicating the child, agreeing with the doctors who diagnosed her illness as psychological in nature. The parents contend that Tuft Medical Center in Connecticut had diagnosed her with mitochondrial disease and, as Townhall.com reports, they were only following doctor's orders.
After sixteen months in protective custody, the teenager, now sixteen years old, is at home with her parents. Justina now uses a wheelchair.
Although the teen is quoted as saying, “ No one was on my side ,” the opposite may be true.
The issue is that the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families and physicians disagreed with parents regarding what was best for her. The state of Massachusetts alleged medical child abuse, siding with doctors in their own state who believed Justina's illness was psychosomatic, and parents were over-medicating her.
The true crime is the time it took to unravel the problem and return Justina to her home.
The History of Child Protection in the United States
Prior to 1875 occasional court cases were brought against parents, but as law professor John E.B. Meyers stated in A Short History of Child Protection in America , protection was sporadic.
In 1875 the first agency was founded to protect children in the United States, the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children or NYSPCC. The NYSPCC formed following efforts to protect a child, Mary Ellen Wilson, in New York's Hell's Kitchen who was “ routinely beaten and neglected .”
Meyers writes by 1922, “ 300 non-governmental organizations ” existed to protect children, but not all areas of the country were covered. In 1935 the Social Security Act funded Aid to Dependent Children. Aiding and “establishing, extending and strengthening ” child-welfare protection was included in the act.
1962 ushered in increasing public interest in protecting children with the publication of The Battered-Child Syndrome published in the Journal of the American Medical Association by Dr. Henry Kempe and colleagues. Kempe wrote the syndrome was “ a frequent cause of permanent injury or death ” and admitted that the “ psychiatric factors ” behind the phenomena were not well understood.
According to Meyers, this article spurred subsequent legislation requiring states to address child welfare services available statewide by 1975. Initial public focus was on physical abuse, but an emphasis on intervening to stop sexual abuse of children soon followed.
By 1967 all states had mandatory reporting laws requiring physicians to report suspected abuse.
What is Munchhausen Syndrome by Proxy?
In the Pelletier case, the Boston physicians stated that Justina's illness was psychosomatic. The physicians, appear to have suspected medical child abuse, also termed Munchhausen Syndrome by proxy (MSP) – and are required to report such cases.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, “ [T]he adult perpetrator has MSP and directly produces or lies about illness in another person under his or her care, usually a child under 6 years of age. It is considered a form of abuse by the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children. ”
The article estimates “1,000 of the 2.5 million cases of child abuse reported annually are related to MSP .” The family member, often a mother, desires to the emotional sympathy that comes with having an ill child and seeks unnecessary, and potentially dangerous, medical care – sometimes harming the child or giving the child medication to increase the chance they will appear ill.
The Cleveland Clinic states, “ [T]he first concern in cases of MSP is to ensure the safety and protection of any real or potential victims. This might require that the child be placed in the care of another. In fact, managing a case involving MSP often requires a team that includes social workers, foster care organizations, and law enforcement, as well as the health care providers .”
In the Pelletier case, it appears that parents, following the recommendations of Tuft's physicians for treatment, were unable to convince the state of their good intentions. The New York Daily News quotes Justina regarding the actions of the Department of Children and Families, “T hey were just trying to make excuses … twisting words around my family who weren't doing anything wrong.”
Justina Pelletier Reunites with Family
39 years following the 1975 federal mandate, Jusina Pelletier returned to her family. According to the New York Daily News, the family was united after “ Pelletiers complied with the state's Health and Human Services reunification plan ”
The state was charged with ensuring the health and safety of Justina, and an investigation was required once Boston Medical Center doctors made the report of suspected abuse. Taking sixteen months to investigate the case and ensure the child was not being medicated for false or nefarious reasons, however, is hard to justify.
If, as Townhall.com alleges, Justina did not receive any education while in a state-run psychiatric ward, the state failed to uphold the child's fundamental right to a free education.
Rolling back mandates to report and investigate suspected child abuse is unwarranted, and dangerous. Nevertheless sixteen months is long time in the life of a young person. Hopefully the state of Massachusetts will close the next case of medical child abuse in far less time, and with fewer miscarriages of justice.
The not-so-surprising secret to happy children: parents who smile
by Olga Khazan
The other day, a mother of a 15-month-old walked into Andrew Garner's office, oozing frustration.
“Is it normal for them to never sit still?” she asked.
Garner, a pediatrician in Westlake, Ohio, leapt on the remark as a teachable moment.
“He doesn't sit still?!” he said, “That's a compliment to you! You want him to do that.”
At 15 months, he explained, children are itching to explore, and then toddle back, and then wander off again. It's a sign the baby is developing apace.
The goal is to make the woman feel confident in her mothering abilities. If he builds up her self-esteem, Garner hopes, she'll be more invested and engaged as a mom, and the child will grow up smarter and healthier as a result. Garner bases this chain of events on a spate of recent studies that have shown that supportive parents breed better-off children.
So, now, on top of taking measurements, asking about sleep and food habits, and giving vaccinations, Garner devotes part of the visit to checking up on mom. Particularly if the family comes from a harsh environment or if the mother shows signs of depression, he tells her to make sure “you're smiling at your baby, you're being aware of your emotions, and using positive discipline techniques.”
“I tell them things like that tantrums are emotional overload and not how they feel about you,” said Garner, who is also an associate professor of pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University. “Or at 12 months, I spend a lot of time talking about the fact that they're soon going to want to prove they can do stuff.”
Garner knows that if the mom gets angry about the child's normal behavior, she might develop a negative attitude toward parenting. And that could be poisonous in a very real way. Pediatricians are growing increasingly alarmed about the dangers of so-called “toxic stress”—certain kinds of childhood experiences, like turmoil, violence, and neglect, that, when chronic, can alter brain structure and chemistry and hurt a child's chances of long-term success. Harsh parenting by itself won't necessarily doom a child, but when combined with other stressors, it might.
“When bad things happen early in life, whether you remember them or not, the brain doesn't forget,” Jack Shonkoff, a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, said at a recent conference in Washington, DC.
When we experience everyday stress, our bodies kick into high gear by releasing adrenaline and cortisol. When the stress goes away—or if, as children, we're comforted by trusted adults—our bodies return to normal. But if there is no adult around, or the stressors are ongoing, the response system stays activated. This chronic, “toxic stress” throws the brain into a permanent state of high alert, weakening the neural connections that are essential for learning and cognition.
“It's not black and white. It's not like the baby gets hosed for life if you're not smiling at it,” Garner said. “But our brains and our genome are very plastic early in life. They're taking in cues to prepare us for what's coming.”
Experience influences which genes get switched on and the way our brains anticipate the future. A child tumbling through the toxic stress cycle might have a brain that's ready for “a dog-eat-dog world. That child will be more hypervigilant, anxious, on edge and less likely to learn as easily as another child will,” he added.
Studies show that children who are exposed to toxic stress fare worse over the course of their lives. Family poverty is strongly correlated with lower cognitive test scores, even when controlling for the mother's education and other family factors. Children who are neglected have worse executive functioning, attention, processing speed, language, memory, and social skills. People who are mistreated as children are more likely to suffer from heart disease as adults. Our brains and genomes are particularly sensitive during so-called “critical periods ”—the times during early childhood when the brain is rapidly changing.
Poverty is the most common reason why Garner's patients' moms have a harder time mothering. Maslow's Hierarchy dictates that if food, shelter, safety, and other essentials aren't in place, there will be a dearth of brain space for bedtime stories and positive affirmations.
Still, other moms might flag in supportiveness because their jobs are too demanding or because they have postpartum depression. Garner says he's even seen the reverse of poverty turn harmful: Two uber-successful parents spending their free time twiddling on their phones rather than attending to their newborn.
About 10 years ago, Joan Luby, a psychiatry professor at the Washington University School of Medicine, invited 92 children between the ages of four and seven to a lab in St. Louis. The kids took a test that measured whether they were depressed—some were, and some weren't. One by one, the children and their primary caregivers (in most cases, the mom) were invited into a room that contained a brightly wrapped gift with a bow on top. A research assistant told the children they could have the gift if they waited patiently for eight minutes. In the meantime, the mother was told to fill out a daunting stack of complicated forms. Annnd … go!
As expected, the kids went bonkers. They begged. They whined. They stretched their tiny hands toward the box. They, being kids, yearned for nothing more than to rip it open.
But the researchers' eyes were on the parents. Some of the moms were supportive, telling their little eager beavers “that they knew it was hard to wait. Or they touched them or said something reassuring, might have even given them positive feedback for being patient,” Luby told me.
The other moms were too overwhelmed by the forms to be comforting. They were unresponsive to their child's pleas and they didn't reassure them. Some snapped at or hit their child for being annoying.
When Luby and her colleagues conducted an MRI four years later, they found that the non-depressed children whose mothers had not been nurturing had smaller hippocampuses than the kids who were depressed but had levels of high maternal support. In other words, it was better for the kids to be depressed, with supportive moms, than not depressed, with unsupportive moms. Since the hippocampus governs things like memory, cognitive function, and emotion, the smaller hippocampal volume suggested to Luby that the children with the non-supportive moms were doing worse both cognitively and emotionally.
“What was exciting about this finding is that it showed that early nurturance was having a material effect on tangible brain outcomes,” Luby said.
It's this type of evidence that led the American Academy of Pediatrics to announce this week that all parents should read aloud to their children from birth—the first time the group has ever weighed in on early literacy. The recommendation was based in part on findings that wealthier people hear millions more words than low-income people do as children, and that this verbal difference translates to a big gap in school test scores.
Of course, all the good advice in the world won't help a parent who is scraping by financially, doesn't have a safe home, or is otherwise strained. Denise Dowd, who works at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, mentors mothers who are victims of poverty and domestic violence. “You can't imagine what they're going through,” she told me “We're talking about not just sexual abuse, but your mother selling you into prostitution, your mother shooting you up for the first time when you're 12 so you can get through your first tricks okay.”
In the words of these mothers, “you can never give what you never got.” Many of them think it's sufficient just to keep their children safe, dry, and fed. One told Dowd didn't know she was supposed to talk to her baby.
And as a result, the kids are also “dysregulated,” as Dowd puts it. “You have 3- and 4-year-olds who have no ability to sit still, who will curse you out, who give you finger.”
“The very resources the moms need to handle those stressors—the ability to predict, the ability to remain calm and think through a set of problems—that's the prefrontal cortex and that really takes a hit when you've been exposed to abuse and neglect,” she added.
Most babies start to smile at their moms at six weeks. Garner said he tries to tell moms to smile back. But it's hard—they might be clinically depressed or just too tired to be happy.
“Those first six weeks are pretty brutal for the mom—the babies are peeing, pooping, sleeping blobs,” he said. “You're exhausted, you're sleep deprived, there are hormonal changes, and you have expectations for motherhood that are not being met.”
So he tries to explain to parents how reinforcing their kids' happy behaviors can lead to an easier time of parenting down the road. “Every time the baby tries to get your attention with a happy sound, give them your eyes,” he said. “At 18 months, they're like little scientists. If every time they make a happy sound, moms gives me her eyes, I'm going to make happy sounds. But if the only time mom gives me attention is when I scream bloody murder …” scream is just what the baby's going to do.
Dowd tries to show moms how resilient they are—“what's strong about themselves.” The hope is they'll want to defy their own bitter upbringings by raising kids who are functional and happy.
Garner said the US should also increase spending on social services and better integrate social programs into the healthcare system. As political science professor Kimberly Morgan wrote in Foreign Affairs last year, “In Australia, more than a third of direct public spending goes to means-tested programs, and in Canada and the United Kingdom, almost a quarter does.” In the US, however, the figure is 7%.
The final hurdle is that there are very few ways ensure the mothers practice the good parenting practices they learn after they return home. Services like Text4Baby can send mothers safety tips and appointment reminders, but there's not an app for “I'm so stressed out because I just got laid off and my toddler won't stop crying.”
Garner says what vexes him and other pediatricians is trying to find the delicate balance between getting to “good enough” parenting without coming off as condescending, all while environmental factors work against doctor, mom, and baby alike.
“I'm not saying there's only one way to parent,” he said. “This isn't about values or character. This is about skill formation. What are the essential skills we need to model and teach and nurture in our children so that they have a shot?
Couple accused of child neglect over daughter's teeth
by Walter Perez
PHILADELPHIA, PA -- The parents of a 6-year-old Pennsylvania girl are facing charges and police say it's because they didn't take care of their daughter's teeth.
A dentist says her life could potentially be at risk without the proper treatment, describing her condition to authorities as, "The worst case of dental disease he has ever seen."
The dentist findings are laid out in an affidavit that describes a case of neglect so severe, the youngster is suffering from 14 abscessed teeth.
The report goes on to say that if her condition is ignored any further the result could be a potentially fatal infection.
Authorities say the most disturbing part is that the girl was scheduled to undergo surgery back in March. But her parents, Kevin Wanamaker and Jessica Hoffman, never scheduled a pre-operation exam and so the procedure has yet to be performed.
We spoke with an investigative team from the Northampton County Children, Youth, and Services Division. While they are not permitted to discuss the details of a pending case, department administrator Kevin Dolan says the situation was handled by the book from the moment they receive the first complaint.
Dolan explains, "We have to begin the investigation within 24 hours and then take action based on what we're discovering, either through our safety assessment or the immediate investigation."
Action News also spoke by phone with the girl's father.
Kenneth Wanamaker says that while his daughter's teeth need some help, he and the youngster's mother are raising a happy, well-adjusted child who is vibrant and involved in a number of activities, including youth car racing.
Wanamaker goes on to say that he doesn't even think that the authorities really believe his daughter's life is in any kind of danger.
He tells us, "What law enforcement agency would wait six months and file these charges? It's all an act for me to comply, and do these requirements, and jump through hoops of the system."
However, arrangements are now being made for that surgery to be performed this summer. But the girl's parents, who have been released on $40,000 bail, are still facing child endangerment charges.
Maddie McCann was a victim of child neglect
by Chelsea Hoffman
Madeleine McCann will probably never be found -- at least not until someone speaks up about what happened to her the night she vanished. Judging by the behavior of the parents these past seven years, they're not going to be the ones talking, and neither are their friends. So it seems that this case is going to end up declared cold by the time Scotland Yard officials are done bumbling around. Goncalo Amaral believes that this is the case as well, and he expressed that sentiment according to this news report.
Amaral also believes that MI5 spies know what happened to Madeleine -- Or at least, may have surveillance footage and/or intelligence pertaining to the night she vanished. Whether or not any of this is likely is hard to speculate, especially since officials in the UK have done a bang-up job on this case( in addition to the heavily biased mainstream media -- who continually refers to Goncalo as a "disgraced former cop," in attempts at discrediting the very real facts in this case).
All attempts at discrediting Amaral aside, the facts still remain to show that Kate and Gerry McCann were negligent in how they looked after their three children the night Maddie vanished. This can be declared even after ignoring every other piece of evidence that implicates them directly in the child's demise, yet they remain unjailed. They remain uncharged when they should damn well be facing charges of neglect.
What parents leave their very young toddler and infant children alone -- over 130 yards away -- in an unlocked apartment? What parent does this in a resort while abroad in a country that is not their home? What parents do this so they can drink, eat and be merry with friends while on holiday? Negligent parents do these things, and it was negligence that led to Maddie's disappearance those seven years ago.
Kate and Gerry McCann appear to be untouchable, yet their daughter remains missing and most likely the victim of a terrible crime. Whether these two covered up an accidental death as Goncalo Amaral believes or someone accessed their apartment to kidnap the child (no evidence points to this, by the way), the fact of the matter is that these parents left three small children alone at night while they went out drinking. They left their children's lives up to chance and lost one -- yet they're treated in the biased UK media like innocent victims who did nothing to facilitate their child's death or disappearance.
Clearly the UK cares nothing about giving this child justice.