National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse

child abuse trauma prevention, intervention & recovery


NAASCA Weekly Highlights

EDITOR'S NOTE: Every day we bring you articles from local newspapers, web sites and other sources that constitute but a small percentage of the information available to those who are interested in the issues of child abuse and recovery from it.

We present articles such as this simply as a convenience to our readership ...
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Here are a few recent stories related to the kinds of issues we cover on the web site. They'll represent a small percentage of the information available to us, the public, as we fight to provide meaningful recovery services and help for those who've suffered child abuse. We'll add to and update this page regularly.

We'll also present stories about the criminals and criminal acts that impact our communities all across the nation. The few we place on this page are the tip of the iceberg, and we ask you to check your local newspapers and law enforcement sites. Stay aware. Every extra set of "eyes and ears" makes a big difference.
Recent News - News from other times

December, 2015 - Week 3
MJ Goyings
Many, many thanks to our very own "MJ" for
providing us the majority of the daily research
that appears on the LACP and NAASCA web sites.
Ms. Goyings is a retired Registered Nurse from Ohio.

New York

Child abuse growing problem in CNY, center saw over 700 cases this year

by Sarahbeth Ackerman

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Several recent high-profile cases have brought attention to the problem of child abuse in Central New York.

We're learning more details about the abuse suffered by Eli MacDowell. The 9-year-old was allegedly slammed to the ground by Corey Pilcher last month, causing him to suffer severe brain trauma that put him into a coma.

Pilcher is also accused of abusing Eli's sister. According to the Auburn Citizen, court documents show Pilcher poured hot sauce into the girl's mouth and taped it shut after he says she was too loud while watching television.

Eli is now recovering after several surgeries, including one to remove a portion of his skull.

The boy's tragedy is not the only case of child abuse to make the headlines this week.

On Thursday, Stephen Howells and Nicole Vaisey were sentenced in what the U.S. Attorney's Office described as one of the most horrific cases of child abuse they have ever seen.

Howells and Vaisey received a total of 880 years in prison after admitting they sexually assaulted six children, including two Amish girls they kidnapped from a roadside farm stand in St. Lawrence County in 2014.

Before the sentencing, U.S. Attorney Lisa Fletcher said more cases are expected to come forward. Adding Howells and Vaisey are not the first in the area to sexually exploit children and they would not be last.

Every year, more than 3 million reports of child abuse are made in the U.S., according to a non-profit group called ChildHelp.

In 2010, more than 79,000 children in New York were abused or neglected, according to the State's Central register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment.

The McMahon Child Advocacy Center saw more than 700 kids this year in their center for child abuse and had 6,500 hotline calls.

At the McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Center in Syracuse believe one child is too many when it comes to child abuse.

Jami Ryan, who represents the center, says it is shocking how many victims from Central New York walk through their door.

She said:

In the year 2014, the McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Center saw over 700 kids. We had 6,500 hotline calls, so, absolutely the numbers are there.

Ryan explained that over 90 percent of the cases they see at the center involve a child who has been sexually abused by someone they know, love and trust.

She said:

A lot of times when we see these kids, it can kind of be a confusing situation. Maybe they know what has happened is not right, it might have made them feel uncomfortable, but at the same time, it can be a little confusing because it is usually happening by someone that they know.

How can we combat this growing issues?

Ryan says it starts with awareness -- Knowing the signs and symptoms of child abuse and reporting it is critical.

For example:

Maybe an adult that they used to pick them up from school that they were happy to see, they're not really wanting to go home with anymore.

Being aware of any changes or behavior can really make all the difference.

The center has an outreach program where members from the center go out to schools across Onondaga County talking to children on how to be safe and how to alert someone they trust if something is not right.



Officers Start Fund For Children Tortured in 'Worst Child Abuse Case' They've Seen

An officer called the case "the worst case of child abuse we've ever seen."

by Bay City News

The Salinas Police Officers Association launched a fund Friday for three children allegedly abused while in the custody of a woman and a teen who are expected to face charges of murder, torture and causing great bodily injury.

Tami Joy Huntsman, 39, and Gonzalo Curiel, 17, are accused of abusing a 9-year-old girl who was found Dec. 11 at an apartment in Quincy, a community in Plumas County, and murdering two children whose bodies were found at a Redding storage unit on Sunday, according to police.

While the two children haven't been positively identified, they are believed to be 6-year-old Shaun Tara and 3-year-old Delylah Tara, according to the Monterey County District Attorney Dean Flippo.

Once investigators found the 9-year-old girl, they began searching for Shaun and Delylah at a Fremont Street apartment in Salinas, where the suspects had lived, police said.

Monterey County prosecutors anticipate charging Curiel as an adult and both suspects will be transferred to Monterey County Jail once investigators have arrest warrants for them.

The 9-year-old girl is receiving treatment and remains in protective custody, but police haven't disclosed her condition.

The suspects were arrested on Dec. 11 and remain in custody on $1 million bail each, according to police.

Huntsman and Curiel, who are companions, recently moved from Salinas to Quincy, police said.

The suspects traveled between Salinas, Redding, Quincy and Shingletown, an unincorporated community in Shasta County, from Nov. 27 to Dec. 11, according to police.

They were also seen at a Motel 6 in Dunnigan, a community in Yolo County roughly 40 miles northwest of Sacramento, police said.

The fund has been set up through the Central Coast Federal Credit Union in Seaside.

"This is the worst case of child abuse we've ever seen," Salinas POA board member Officer Jeff Munoz said in a statement Friday. "We know there are a lot of people who feel like we do, and want to do what they can to reduce at least some of the suffering."

Salinas police and the Monterey County District Attorney's Office are the lead agencies in the case because investigators suspect the alleged abuse and murders occurred in Salinas, police said.

Contributions to the fund can be made to "SPOA Victims Fund" with a check, cash or bank transfer, police said.

Donations can also be made in person to the Salinas Police Department at 222 Lincoln Ave. in Salinas or Central Coast Federal Credit Union's branches in Seaside, Salinas, Soledad and King City. Checks can be mailed to the Central Coast Federal Credit Union at 4242 Gigling Road, Seaside, CA 93955.



Father Of Tulsa Child Who Died Wants To Stop All Child Abuse

by Melissa Hawkes

TULSA, Oklahoma - - The father of a child abuse victim hopes to stop another child from ever being abused.

Anthony Roldan's 1-year-old daughter, Neveah, was killed two weeks ago after detectives said the mother's boyfriend violently shook the baby.

Neveah's father believes if someone had spoken up, his daughter would still be alive.

It's been two weeks since Roldan was forced to say goodbye to his 1-year-old baby girl, Neveah. Her mother, Hallelujah Brookens, and her boyfriend, Nathaniel Watkins, were both arrested for her murder.

“It's time to make a change. It's time to stop this, it's too much. No one should have to feel this," Roldan said.

He lives in Florida, but got to Tulsa as fast as he could when he heard his daughter was on life support. He was able to hold her in his arms when she took her last breath.

Now, he wants to make sure no other parent has to go through what he is experiencing.

"It's sickening. It's sickening to see this happening with kids. It just needs to stop," he said.

Documents say Watkins told police Neveah wouldn't stop crying, so he shook her really hard for a few minutes, then, her body went limp and she stopped crying.

It says he put her in a cold bath and poured water over her face to revive her, but it didn't work, so he dressed her, dropped her into the crib and went to the neighbors for help.

Living states away, Roldan wasn't able to see warning signs himself but feels someone had to have noticed something.

"I feel like, a lot of the time when this happens, it's more or less domestic abuse from not just the child, but the mother as well. A lot of times the mothers don't speak up," he said.

Roldan feels his baby's mother would have tried to prevent Neveah's death if she could.

“I feel like she really did love that little girl and did whatever she could to get her life together for my little girl,” he said.

Roldan plans to start an organization to help parents of child abuse victims. You can learn more here.

Brookens and Watkins both pleaded not guilty. Their next court date is February 3rd.



Child sexual abuse thrives in secrecy

by Bob Henline

Sexual abuse of children is often referred to as a silent crime because it is one of the most under-reported crimes that happens in society.

For a variety of reasons, including fear, shame, guilt and lack of understanding, among others, victims of child sexual abuse and the adults who provide care and support to those children often don't report the crime. Statistically, less than 30 percent of all cases of child sexual abuse are reported to authorities.

“Perpetrators of child sex abuse count on secrecy, and a lot of times it works,” said Dana Toole, a licensed clinical social worker with the Montana Children's Justice Bureau. “It's really commonly misunderstood. I think some people, trained professionals even, sometimes think they should have hard evidence or proof before making a report, but all they have to have is suspicion. Anyone who suspects a child has been abused should report it immediately and let the professionals do their jobs.”

Toole said there are two primary ways for a concerned person to report child sexual abuse: through child and family services or through local law enforcement. In both situations, initial reports are taken and then cross-reported to the other agency.

The child and family services division of the Department of Public Health and Human Services operates a centralized intake system through which calls are initially screened, reports taken and then forwarded to appropriate local investigators for response. Those reports are also sent to local law enforcement for investigation.

In addition to the problem of low reporting rates, the investigation and prosecution of child sex cimes is a difficult process, Toole said.

“Nobody wants to report child sex crimes,” she said. “These are very challenging cases to investigate and prosecute.”

The problem, she said, is magnified in smaller communities where people just don't want to believe such things could be taking place.

“No one, including local law enforcement, likes to believe that the people we know and trust in our communities are hurting children,” she said.

Another common misconception that hinders investigation and prosecution is the belief that child sex abuse reports often stem from bitter divorce or custody fights. Toole said statistically, abuse claims in those situations are generally more often found to be valid.

“On the face, it can look like a revenge situation,” she said. “In reality, abuse is more likely to be occurring in those cases than in cases where there isn't a divorce or custody fight. There are more substantiations of abuse in cases involving custody. There are more valid reports, it's just that the investigation and prosecution is more complicated.”

Toole said there are limited avenues of recourse available to people who feel local law enforcement or child protective services investigators aren't pursuing cases appropriately. The two formal channels are to file reports with either the Montana Attorney General's office or with the state ombudsman in the Children's Justice Bureau.

The ombudsman has no authority to force local law enforcement or child services to investigate or prosecute, but does have the ability to put additional pressure on local agencies. The ombudsman can also intervene with emergency safety plans when children are in imminent danger.

The Attorney General, Toole said, has the statutory authority to take over a county attorney's office and manage prosecutions, but such power is very rarely used.

“It's historically not how the Montana Attorney General's Office has operated,” she said.

What is most important, she said, is for reporting parties to be persistent and continue to push for justice for potentially abused children.

“The official recourse is very limited,” she said. “What is most important is that someone is very persistent in the pursuit of protection for the children involved.”

Because child sex abuse is a crime of silence, and because offenders generally don't stop until they're caught, she said it is of paramount importance for the entire community to be aware, educated and ready to report suspicion of child sexual abuse.

“It's a rare offender who has abused a child or a couple of kids and they're the only ones,” she said. “It's likely there are other victims out there. Child sex abuse is a community problem. We need to own it as a community. Communities want to believe child sexual abuse doesn't happen, but it does. We need families and parents and communities to start these dialogues and develop personal safety curriculums to protect our children.”



Portland will host federal task force on human trafficking

New Anti-Trafficking Coordination Teams also will be established in five other cities.

by David Hench

Portland will be one of six additional cities to host a coordinated team of federal agencies as part of an existing program aimed at stopping human trafficking, which often takes the form of forced prostitution.

“Maine is a relatively small and rural state, but it is not immune from human trafficking issues,” U.S. Attorney for Maine Thomas E. Delahanty II said in a statement Friday. “They are a priority for our office and the District of Maine.”

Human trafficking occurs when someone uses threats or deception to control someone else in order to exploit the person, often as forced manual labor or in prostitution.

Anti-Trafficking Coordination Teams function under the leadership of the U.S. attorney and ranking officials in the regional offices of the FBI, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Department of Labor, according to the statement.

“Human trafficking robs victims of their liberty, exploits them for labor and for sex, and infringes not only on their rights, but on their essential humanity,” Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said in a statement.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia Lipez, coordinator for the Maine district's efforts to fight human trafficking, said agencies already work well together in the state to combat the problem.

“I think what it will do is streamline and formalize the collaboration that is already been ongoing between us and our federal partners that work these cases,” Lipez said in a telephone interview Friday. The designation does not carry with it additional financial resources but establishes a structure and will include support from national experts in the different agencies, she said.

Just this week, a man from Auburn and a woman from Maine were each sentenced to nine years in prison for taking a 13-year-old girl to hotels in Boston and in Bangor to work as a prostitute.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said local efforts to stop human trafficking will benefit from greater coordination at the federal level.

“We're blessed in the state of Maine to have really strong relationships at the local, county, state and federal level,” he said. “With human trafficking investigations, much like drug investigations, it is imperative we're collaborating and sharing information and working together.”

The Portland Police Department is a member of the Greater Portland Coalition Against Sex Trafficking & Exploitation.

Authorities are more aware of human trafficking than had been the case years ago, which has elevated it as a problem that needs to be addressed, according to Sauschuck.

“Human trafficking is certainly an issue that law enforcement is looking at through a different lens in 2015 and because of that, because of our education and outlook on this, we do find it more and more in the state of Maine,” the chief said.

In addition to Portland, new coordination teams are being established in Cleveland; Minneapolis; Sacramento, California; Newark, New Jersey; and Portland, Oregon.

The designation was awarded through a competitive process, but a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office said the materials submitted in support of the district's application are not public records.

The federal program was started in 2011 in the cities of Atlanta; El Paso, Texas; Kansas City, Missouri; Los Angeles; Memphis, Tennessee; and Miami. After the coordination teams were in place in those cities, prosecutions for forced labor, international sex trafficking and adult sex trafficking rose significantly compared to other parts of the country. There was an 86 percent increase in the number of defendants convicted in those federal prosecutorial districts compared to a 14 percent increase elsewhere.

“The Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team (ACTeam) Initiative is an important tool in our collective ability to combat sex trafficking, forced labor and domestic servitude here in the United States,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh C. Johnson said in a statement. “It highlights our commitment to increase capacity to rescue victims and bring perpetrators of these terrible crimes to justice.”



Cleveland selected for federal grant to combat human trafficking


CLEVELAND -- Cleveland has been selected among six cities to participate an initiative aimed at streamlining the investigation and prosecution of federal human trafficking offenses.

The city will be part of an Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team (ACTeam) Initiative, according to U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach. “This designation will allow us to build on our success here in Northern Ohio by devoting more resources to investigating and prosecuting human trafficking,” Dettelbach said. “The cases we have prosecuted remind us time and again that labor trafficking and sex trafficking hide in plain sight.”

ACTeams are aimed at developing high-impact human trafficking investigations and prosecutions involving forced labor, international sex trafficking, and sex trafficking of adults by force, fraud, and coercion, complementing Project Safe Childhood and related efforts aimed at combating child sexual exploitation, including child sex trafficking.

The program will also bring together federal prosecutors and federal agents from multiple federal investigative agencies to develop and implement proactive anti-trafficking case identification, investigation, and prosecution strategies in close coordination with one another and with national anti-trafficking subject matter experts.

Nearly 50 people have been indicted in federal court in the Northern District of Ohio for human trafficking and related offenses since 2010.

During Phase I of the ACTeam Initiative, Phase I Pilot ACTeams were convened in Atlanta, Georgia; El Paso, Texas; Kansas City, Missouri; Los Angeles, California; Memphis, Tennessee; and Miami, Florida. Phase I proved highly successful, with ACTeam Districts collectively increasing prosecutions by 119 percent, compared to 35 percent nationwide during the same two-year period.

Based on the results of Phase I, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Secretary of Homeland Security Johnson, and Secretary of Labor Perez launched Phase II on June 25, 2015 by soliciting joint applications from United States Attorneys' Offices and their federal law enforcement partners nationwide.

“Human trafficking is a modern day form of slavery that destroys lives and exploits the most vulnerable in our society,” said FBI Director James B. Comey. “These Anti-Trafficking Coordination Teams are the most effective way to investigate human trafficking by allowing us to work in a collaborative, victim-oriented manner.”

?Other cities taking place in the initiative include Minneapolis, Minnesota; Newark, New Jersey; Portland, Maine; Portland, Oregon; and Sacramento, California.



Child abuse survivor says without Sophie's Place, he waited 20 years to tell his story

Andy Bhatti was first abused when he was nine and it continued until he was 14

by Jesse Johnston

Andy Bhatti says if there was a child advocacy centre like Sophie's Place in Metro Vancouver when he was younger, he likely wouldn't have waited 20 years to tell someone that he had been sexually abused.

Bhatti was first abused when he was nine and it continued until he was 14. By the time he reached his early teens, Bhatti was committing crimes to support a drug addiction.

"I know if I did speak up, I wouldn't have spent eight years in jail and I probably would have graduated from high school," he says.

"Unfortunately, given the circumstances of my life at the time, I went from Grade 6 to a psychiatric assessment centre to a juvenile facility to an adult facility to a longer facility. Eventually, I was out on Hastings Street stuck on heroin."

Sophie's Place

Sophie's Place, which opened in Surrey in 2012, was created to help young people who suffer from physical, mental, emotional or sexual abuse.

"It's a facility for them so they don't have to go to three or four places to give their testimony," says Centre for Child Development CEO Gerard Bremault, whose organization oversees Sophie's Place.

"They can give [their testimony] once, they can have that interview with professionals that are specially trained in this area and we can reduce the trauma to the children."

About 500 children have come through Sophie's Place since it opened, 180 of which visited this year.

Bhatti, who is now clean and advocates for sex abuse survivors through his organization Survivors Supporting Survivors, says that kind of environment would have helped him when he was a boy.

"If I had social workers, probation officers, family support workers, psychologists and police officers all in the same building to tell me that it was ok, I probably would have spoken up," he says.

"Instead, I had to go repeat my story to 15 different places. Kids now are very fortunate that they only have to say their story one time."

Proceeds of crime

Part of the funding for Sophie's Place comes from the B.C. government's Civil Forfeiture program, which confiscates assets from convicted criminals.

"Bad guys we have running around our communities shooting things up and selling drugs to vulnerable people... When we get them and throw them in jail, we take any of the assets they have accumulated and we sell it," says B.C. Solicitor General Mike Morris.

"We turn that money into a lot of projects that we have here in the province to support our vision for a violence-free B.C."

The provincial funding helps, but Bremault says more money is needed so the facility can expand.



Salinas police reveal new details in deadly child abuse case

Police Chief Kelly McMillin says it's one of worst cases he's ever seen

by Erika Mahoney

Charges of first degree murder and torture against Tami Huntsman, 39, and Gonzalo Curiel, 17, are expected soon in the deaths of two small children found in a plastic container in a Redding storage facility. Curiel will be tried as an adult. Both could be eligible for the death penalty because of special circumstances surrounding the case. Authorities are working to issue arrest warrants for the suspects.

"I cannot give you any exact date when that will occur," said Monterey County District Attorney Dean Flippo, "but my guess is that we hope to have these charges filed if not by tomorrow, then hopefully by the beginning of the week, Monday, then we would go through that process again, which will take some time."

Huntsman is currently in the Plumas County Jail, while Curiel is being held at a youth facility in Butte County. The trial will take place in Monterey County since this is where authorities believe the crimes originated.

Flippo said he's confident the two children are Delylah, 3, and Shaun Tara, 6, but the coroner has not yet positively identified the bodies. Following an autopsy, it was determined the two died as a result of ongoing physical abuse. Authorities say the abuse started in Salinas, and believe the children were killed here also.

"We feel very comfortable that we would be able to prove that the children were actually killed in Salinas," Flippo said.

Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin called it one of the worst cases he's ever seen.

"It was terrible. I've never seen anything like it. I've never seen such abuse," said McMillin.

Huntsman and Curiel also face additional charges of torture and causing great bodily harm to a 9-year old girl, the older sister of Delylah and Shaun. Police said they found her starving and hurt in a car in Quincy on December 11.

Flippo said the girl is recovering at a hospital, but also revealed she's not the only survivor. He said up to four other children may have been abused by Huntsman and Curiel. Flippo said Huntsman was caring for the Tara children, her nieces and nephew, plus her own two biological children, and a 15-year-old.

During the press conference, officials had some difficulty answering questions about the children and family relationships, and could not confirm if Huntsman had legal custody.

"Right off the bat, I'd say Ms. Huntsman failed these folks. She is the failure and the 17-year-old, if he has any, had any supervision, care or responsibility failed these children. That's your primary point of failure," said McMillin.

During the conference, Salinas Police also revealed more information on how the investigation unfolded.


On Friday, Dec. 11, the Plumas County Sheriff's Office responded to a home in Quincy to check on a nine-year-old girl. Deputies began a child neglect investigation and arrested Huntsman and Curiel for abusing the girl. Huntsman and Curiel were booked into the Plumas County Jail for felony child abuse, torture and mayhem.

Over the weekend, the Plumas County Sheriff's Office contacted the Salinas Police Department for help in the investigation because Huntsman and Curiel were living in East Salinas. They specifically wanted to know the whereabouts of the nine-year-old's two younger siblings, 3-year-old Delylah Tara and 6-year-old Shaun Tara.

Salinas Police did a welfare check at the home on Fremont Street and no one was inside. It wasn't the first time they've responded there. Within the last six months, the Salinas Police Department received two anonymous calls about abuse.

"They discovered one child asleep, a couple of children doing homework. Did not see any overt signs of abuse. Nothing that led them to take any further action in terms of a criminal investigation or CPS, Child Protective Services placement," said McMillin.

Officers reported Delylah and Shaun as missing. Later that day, the Plumas County Sheriff's Office relayed to Salinas Police that Redding Police found two dead children in a plastic container in a storage unit. Redding Police say Curiel was the one who led them to the storage unit.

On Thursday, Monterey County District Attorney Dean Flippo said the two children are Delylah and Shaun. Following an autopsy on the two children, it was determined the two died as a result of ongoing physical abuse that started in Salinas.



$703,332 grant to help stop child abuse in Greene County

The grant will help educate parents.

by Jonathan Wahl

GREENE COUNTY, Mo - - There's a new plan to combat child abuse in Greene County. The county's child neglect rates continue to be much higher than the state average - something community leaders want to change.

The Community Partnership of the Ozarks received a grant for $703,332 from the Missouri Foundation for Health to make parent education available to everyone in Greene County over the next three years.

The Child Abuse and Neglect Collaborative will be spearheading the effort. The group has been fighting abuse for the last three years.

"Gathering all the groups and agencies interested in combating child abuse and neglect, and we've had goals each year,” explained Darrell Moore, the chair of the collaborative. He says its goal this year is a program is to train parents and stop abuse.

The Positive Parenting Program, which is an international recognized program which has been proven to reduce the incidences of child abuse and neglect,” said Moore.

The grant money will be spent over three years -- bringing the program to Missouri for the first time.

"They will be sending trainers here. That's what part of the grant is for. To help pay for their expertise and doing marketing. Them sending people here to work with us, to actually do training,” said Moore.

Every year Greene County puts out a community focus report. Child abuse and neglect has been a red flag in the report for 11 years.

"About seven, out of one thousand kids in Greene County are victims of child abuse and neglect, whereas statewide, it's a little under five,” explained Moore.

Now a possible solution...

"Anywhere they've done this program it has reduced child abuse and neglect by twenty to thirty percent."

The program will help train people in Greene County who already offer help to parents.

"We're taking existing organizations that have parenting classes, like Parents as Teachers, and other groups that are involved in parenting and helping people be better parents for their children. We're taking those groups and working together to have the same curriculum across the board,” said Moore.

To have less abuse across the county.

"I feel that this community received a great Christmas present in terms of another step forward in trying to reduce child abuse and neglect rates,” said Moore.



Do child abuse investigators need more training?

by Jennifer Titus

Manatee County, Florida -- 10News WTSP is digging deeper into the deaths of Bay area children. The latest victim is a 16-month-old whose family had a history with Child Protective Services investigators in Manatee County.

Now some are now questioning the training investigators given.

These are documents from two children who died this year -- in them mistakes that Child Protective investigators made.

The case of Janiya Thomas shows investigators had miscommunication -- closed cases too quickly. The case of a 1-year-old in Pinellas County -- whose name has yet to be released -- shows investigators there didn't take family history into consideration and also closed cases too quickly.

Both cases were with sheriff's office child protective units. 10News is digging deeper into why the state passed a new law that requires Department of Children and Families investigators to have a social work background by 2019 but not sheriff's office investigators.

"In the field, they should be able to understand what's being said, what's being related to them, and ability and knowledge," says Reggie Nettles, who was outraged when learning training requirements differed.

"The handwriting is on the wall. We can't have untrained inexperience people making these decisions," says Rep. Darryl Rouson.

Now sheriff's office investigators have to go through lengthy training in the classroom once they are hired, but some legislators worry that's not enough.

"That's something Legislature can look at. We can look at training what they go through, turn this thing upside down," says Rouson.

Rep. Kathleen Peters also tells 10News she'd like a study done to see how different case outcomes are of DCF investigators and those from the sheriff's offices.




Stiffen child abuse penalty

Child abuse is always ugly, but a case now being investigated by 19th Judicial Circuit District Attorney Randall Houston is particularly horrific.

As the MontgomeryAdvertiser's Marty Roney reported, Hallee Ann McLeod, 28, of Wetumpka, faces aggravated child abuse and chemical endangerment of a child charges in Elmore County.

McLeod's 4-year-old son was found unresponsive and injured in the back of the car of her boyfriend, Scott Hicks, in Panama City, Fla., in September.

The boy was dehydrated and found to have bruises and injuries over his entire body, having been tortured, allegedly, by the adults who should have been protecting him.

Houston, calling what happened to McLeod's son monstrous, is now pushing for legislative action next year to boost the penalty for aggravated child abuse in cases where victims are under the age of 6.

Currently, aggravated child abuse is a Class B felony, bringing two to 20 years in prison. Houston backs a bill that would make the charge a Class A felony with punishment ranging from 10 to 99 years, or life in prison.

A number of other states treat aggravated child abuse as a Class A felony, and it certainly makes sense for the youngest victims, least able to evade violence inflicted upon them.

Alabama lawmakers should approve the stiffer penalty in the February 2016 session.

But there is much more to be done to curb child abuse and protect potential victims. More than 9,000 children are victims of child abuse and neglect around the state each year, according to a University of Alabama report released in April.

And the state invests too little in child maltreatment prevention, the report authors concluded.

The overriding reason Alabama should bolster those efforts is obviously humanitarian – to safeguard vulnerable children. But damage to the state's economy also results when child abuse prevention is short-changed.

The UA researchers pegged that price at $2.3 billion in annual direct costs to the state. And that's taking into consideration only the child victims, not economic harm to families or the greater community.

All the more reason to hold the line on more budget cuts to Alabama's child welfare system, and restore as soon as possible funding lost in recent years to services such as child advocacy centers.

Gov. Robert Bentley's Alabama Human Resources Task Force is now reviewing the Department of Human Resources, the agency that investigates child abuse, looking for ways to improve delivery of services.

It's a complicated process and the task force's deadline has been extended to January 2017, leaving uncertainty about how DHR's funding will be handled in budget proposals for the 2016 fiscal year.

We hope lawmakers don't use the delayed directive as an excuse to downsize child-abuse related programs, services or personnel. Alabama's children deserve better.


'Gross institutional failure' by UN on child sexual abuse case in Central African Republic

by Cara Anna

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations' "gross institutional failure" to act on allegations that French and other peacekeepers sexually abused children in the Central African Republic led to even more assaults, according to a new report released Thursday.

One young boy who initially reported an attack on his friends more than a year ago now says he has been raped, too.

The independent panel found that the accounts by children as young as 9 of trading oral sex and other acts in exchange for food in the middle of a war zone in early 2014 were "passed from desk to desk, inbox to inbox, across multiple U.N. offices, with no one willing to take responsibility."

Among those said to have looked the other way were the U.N. children's agency, UNICEF, as well as human rights staffers.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a statement, expressed "profound regret that these children were betrayed by the very people sent to protect them" and said he accepted the panel's broad findings.

The panel, led by Canadian judge Marie Deschamps, found that U.N. staffers failed or hesitated to pass the children's allegations to more senior officials, sometimes because of political concerns with France involved; showed "unconscionable delays" in protecting and supporting the children; failed to further investigate the allegations; failed to properly vet peacekeepers for past abuses; and, overall, appeared more concerned with whether one U.N. staffer had improperly alerted French authorities.

"The welfare of the victims and the accountability of the perpetrators appeared to be an afterthought, if considered at all," the report says.

As of now, more than a year and a half after U.N. staffers first heard the children's allegations of sexual abuse, no one has been arrested. Four French soldiers were questioned last week and released without charge, according to the Paris prosecutor's office. They have not been publicly identified.

The new report lays bare one of the most persistent and embarrassing problems for the U.N. and its member countries as tens of thousands of peacekeepers serve in some of the world's most volatile areas: Some vulnerable people are raped by their protectors, and often no one is punished. Many victims are children.

The children in Central African Republic's capital, Bangui, reported the abuses in the middle of deadly chaos. The country had been ripped apart by violence between Christians and Muslims, and thousands of frightened people had sought shelter in squalid camps at the airport. French and other peacekeepers were trying to establish security.

The children told U.N. staffers that they had been hungry and did what the peacekeepers asked in return for food.

Almost a year passed before such allegations by a half-dozen children were made public in media reports this past April and May, leading Ban to order the independent investigation. Only then, the new report says, did the U.N. follow up with the children it had interviewed months ago and ensure their care.

At that point, a new round of interviews found that "some children alleged further cases of sexual abuse by peacekeepers," the report says. And additional children reported abuse. It is not clear how many alleged victims now exist.

One child, who a year earlier at age 11 had told U.N. staffers about watching peacekeepers rape his friends, "now reported that he himself had been orally and anally raped."

The panel found it "appalling" that the children didn't receive immediate medical care. While UNICEF had referred the children to a local NGO partner for medical support, the panel found that in reality a social worker "devoted a total of two hours ... to listening to the children and filling out forms required by UNICEF."

The report also calls UNICEF's failure to seek out other potential victims a "serious breach" of the agency's duty to protect children.

Meanwhile, the children's allegations took months to reach top U.N. officials. The report says the head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic, Babacar Gaye, was told several times about the allegations, beginning June 1, 2014, and did not act.

In August of this year, in an unprecedented move, the U.N. secretary-general told Gaye to resign.

The report says France "took strong and immediate action" to investigate after receiving a U.N. document with the allegations in July 2014, but it called that a "stark contrast to the apparent failure of French authorities to react" in May 2014, when the U.N. human rights staffer who had interviewed the children says she spoke with French military officials.

Once the French government was informed, the report says, U.N. officials didn't follow up on the allegations because they assumed the French were handling it.

But French authorities have said they were delayed for several months by U.N. bureaucracy. Information from the U.N. started flowing after the first media reports on the allegations emerged. And one year after French authorities first arrived in Central African Republic to investigate, the report says, the U.N. allowed the human rights staffer who had interviewed the children to participate in the French investigation as a witness.

The long delay, the report says, has hurt the chances for accountability in a case involving "the most vulnerable segment of society: unaccompanied, internally displaced and hungry, young children."

U.N. officials have pointed out that the French peacekeepers were not part of the U.N. peacekeeping force that later arrived in Central African Republic, but the panel said the U.N.'s responsibility to protect human rights requires immediate action on such allegations, no matter what.

"Indeed, for victims of sexual violence, it is immaterial whether the perpetrator was wearing a blue helmet or not," the report says.

U.N. officials also have accused the human rights official who first handed French authorities the report describing the allegations, Anders Kompass, of breaching policy by not redacting the children's names. The report dismissed that argument and found that the former head of the U.N. internal oversight office abused her authority in improperly opening an investigation into Kompass in response to the "single-minded determination" of the U.N. human rights chief, Zeid Raad al-Hussein.

If the concerns about redacting the names and protecting the children from possible reprisals were real, the panel said, the U.N. would have acted to offer protection. "Instead, no one took any steps whatsoever to locate the children."



The painful legacy of Canada's residential school system

Final report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on indigenous people and the schools is released

by Nina Devries

OTTAWA — Doris Young was 3 years old when she was forced to leave her family and attend a church-run school in central Canada. If she spoke her native Cree language, she was beaten, she said. If she disobeyed any authorities at school, she was beaten. She was separated from her siblings, who also were forced into the schools. She also suffered sexual abuse.

“It was pretty bad. I was very angry all the time, and I was always lonely, because you didn't really develop relationships in those schools,” said Young. “Even when we went home to our parents in the summer, there wasn't really time to bond because we were there for so little time. I spent a lot of time crying ... I was just so lonely.”

Indigenous children in Canada suffered similar experiences from the late 1800s to 1996, when the schools operated. Funded by the Canadian government, they were known as Indian residential schools. The idea was to assimilate indigenous children into a Christian society. But the students — about 150,000 children attended residential schools — often endured physical, emotional, spiritual and sexual abuse.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), established in 2009 as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, acknowledged the residential school experience and its consequences. The commission strives to promote awareness and education to the general public.

A final report from the TRC on the legacy that residential schools had on Canada's indigenous people was released Tuesday in Ottawa, the capital. Hundreds of people attended, including residential school survivors like Young. It was an emotional moment for her and other former students. Some could be seen crying quietly, wiping away their tears. Those feelings of loneliness and abandonment can easily resurface, said Young.

The report is massive: seven volumes, including six years of residential school survivors' testimony from across the country and research from the TRC. It states that at least 3,000 children died in the residential school system, and it's estimated the number could be larger. They died from diseases that could have been prevented, such as tuberculosis, according to the report. A TB vaccine was created in 1921.

Many of the deaths were not properly documented. The report states that 32 percent of the deaths did not record the name of the victim. And the schools did not record a cause for just under half the deaths. The TRC has called on the government to provide more information and assistance to identify the missing students and bodies in unmarked graves.

In June in a previous summary of the report, the TRC called the government school system a cultural genocide. It offered 94 calls to action, including officially implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. The commission says it's a crucial step in moving forward and building a stronger relationship between Canada's government and indigenous people.

The new Liberal government has promised to implement all calls to action. Some steps have already been taken, such as a public inquiry into 1,200 missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended the presentation of the final report. He said his government wants to renew the relationship with Canada's indigenous people.

But the effects of the residential school system run deep, having trickled down through the generations, affecting the sons and daughters of the survivors in various ways.

Angela Mashford-Pringle has taught aboriginal studies at the University of Toronto. She said many survivors turned to drugs and alcohol to deal with their pain. The abuse they faced in residential schools was then passed on to their children because that was how they were raised.

“We need other people to be educated so they understand our history in order to help us change the future,” she said. “We can't without acknowledging the past. We cannot just get over it.”

Doris Young said recovering from her experience at a residential school was one of the hardest things for her. She felt she lost parenting skills because of her stay there. She said that reconnecting with her cultural traditions as an adult helped her heal from the past but that it was a long journey. She has since obtained bachelor of arts and master's degrees and currently works with universities to teach about aboriginal culture.

Her daughter Lorena Sekwan Fontaine traveled with her to Ottawa. Their relationship is strong in some ways. But Fontaine said the residential school system had an impact on her because of what her mother went through. She grew up with other relatives in her house and suffered sexual abuse.

“There was a lot of alcoholism. People were drinking to cope. There was sexual abuse and physical violence within our family,” said Fontaine. “We didn't grow up learning about residential schools and our culture, so we grew up in this abusive environment, and that was normal life. But I don't talk to my mom about it. I don't think she knew how to be close to people. My parents never said they loved me.”

She added that she never felt any resentment toward her mother, just a deep sadness for what she went through. Fontaine, too, has managed to reconnect with her Cree heritage, and she now works as an advocate for preserving aboriginal languages in Canada.

While she said that people like her may not have experienced the traumatic violence of their relatives, there was nonetheless a loss of identity having not grown up knowing indigenous culture.

That was another concern for the TRC. Because so many survivors lack parenting skills and sometimes pass that down through generations, the TRC says, aboriginal children are still being placed in child welfare agencies that are underfunded and lack cultural suitability. One of the calls to action on child welfare is to provide adequate resources to enable aboriginal communities and child welfare organizations to keep indigenous families together where it is safe to do so and to keep children in culturally appropriate environments.

The TRC says the report exists to help all Canadians better understand what happened as well as to help indigenous people be proud of their culture.

Frances Whiskeychan from James Bay, in northern Quebec, went to Ottawa with her husband — also a residential school survivor — to hear the presentation of the final report. She was sent to a residential school at the age of 6. She suffered abuse there that is still very hard for her to talk about. She said she turned to drugs and alcohol for a long time.

“You didn't want to think about it, didn't want to go through it and face it, so you end up drowning it out,” she said.

Whiskeychan, too, said she lost parenting skills. She didn't know how to love her daughter at first and ended up neglecting her. She slowly realized she had to let go of her demons because it was destroying their relationship. She sought professional treatment and has been sober for 20 years. She now organizes community walks to raise awareness about residential schools and has a better relationship with her daughter.

Whiskeychan said hearing the final report was a lot to take in. She worried that people may still not fully understand because they haven't gone through it. But she said the TRC report is at least a step in the right direction.

She said a stronger recognition of indigenous culture should be implemented across Canada. “It's very important, for my grandkids,” she said. “I want them to have everything that we lost. That's important to me.”

Willie Littlechild, another residential school survivor, is a TRC commissioner.

“Many times I was hearing my own story unravel in front of me,” he said. “When they talked about the physical, spiritual, sexual abuse, they were telling my story, and it was difficult at times.”

He noted that indigenous people around the world were subjected to similar programs, such as in Australia, where the government removed aboriginal children — known as the stolen generation — from their parents.

“The more children know about the residential legacy, the history, the more a change will come about,” said Littlechild. “Through children, by children and by having indigenous children learn about who they are, they grow up with sense of identity.”

Education, he added, is one the key components of the final report. Among its calls to action is mandating that K–12 schools include in their curricula instruction on residential schools, treaties and aboriginal peoples' contributions to Canada. The report also calls on the government to provide the necessary funding to postsecondary institutions to educate teachers on how to incorporate indigenous knowledge and teaching methods in their classrooms.

Although emotions remain raw in the indigenous community, some survivors said they are hopeful that, after a long wait, positive change may finally become a reality.



Sexual assault awareness continues to increase at UNL

by Jordan Huesers

One in five women will be sexually assaulted. One in 71 men will be sexually assaulted at some point during his life.

For Jhalisa Robinson, this happened at the mere age of 6.

As Robinson became an adult and left home to attend college at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, she was assaulted again her sophomore year.

“In my personal situations of dealing with my sexual assault, mostly right now, deals with healing,” she said. “I try to tell people not talking about it and not dealing with it doesn't help. Talking about it and telling your partners about it helps them understand where you are sexually and mentally and how they can help you get to where you are trying to be.”

Robinson said she talks about her assault with partners she has trusted and tried to develop healthy sexual relationships with.

“Dealing with my personal experiences, I don't put that on other people so they feel sorry for me. But so that they humanize me and understand me,” she said.

Robinson said she doesn't mind sharing her story with others as long as they don't use her past to victimize her. She doesn't see it that way. Her one goal is to help prevent it from happening to other people.

As the president of UNL's Students for Sexual Health organization, Robinson said many students come to her to share their stories of assault.

“A lot of girls come to me and tell me they've been assaulted and raped, and they don't want to really do anything about it because they have no hope” she said. “A lot of the girls feel really distraught and hurt by the situation knowing how they are going to be treated.”

When Robinson talks with these victims she always suggests they go get the help they need.

“But at the same time, I respect their wishes if they do not want to because it's not me, and it's not my situation,” she said. “Sometimes I don't fully understand the circumstances people go through. Sometimes they are worried they won't feel safe or protected or will be beaten or hurt or hit.”

Robinson is an ear and shoulder for both men and women who are willing to come to her.

UNL sees increased reports

According to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Police Department's incident reports, the number of sex-related offenses substantially increased in the past few years. In 2011, a total of four incidents were reported. In 2015, 12 have been reported.

“We know the statistics are very high, and that statistic has not changed since it was initially identified in 1984,” said Janice Deeds, director of the Women's Center at UNL. “No matter what we've done, all the work we've done, it continues to stay at about that rate. So the question is, ‘Why?'”

Nolan Conradt, UNLPD education and training officer, said UNLPD investigates every case of sexual assault that is reported.

“Our objective is to put a criminal case together by conducting interviews and collecting evidence,” he said. “Ultimately, it is up to the person reporting the incident how UNLPD proceeds in the investigation.”

Sexual assault awareness gained national attention recently with many institutions undergoing Title IX investigations.

“At first it made some people kind of afraid because if they find something wrong, you could be sued. That was sort of chilling for some,” Deeds said. “But on the other hand, as soon as the reports of how many schools were being investigated, I think it gave victims the courage to come forward. I think it said to victims, look, all over this is happening. And it can't be you. It can't be your fault. There is something else we need to do as institutions and as a nation to fix this.”

The national “It's On Us” campaign, which raises awareness to help end sexual assault on college campuses, has also drawn a lot of attention to the topic.

“Sexual assault awareness is important because humans have the right to be safe and not have their bodies violated,” Deeds said. “So from that basic fundamental level, it is important. It is a human right to not be endangered.”

Groups raise awareness

The Association of Students of the University of Nebraska recently coordinated an “It's On Us Week of Action.” Josie Jensen, member of the “Its On Us” campaign committee and member of the campus life and safety committee for ASUN, said the campaign asks students to pledge to recognize sexual assault, to intervenes when something doesn't seem right and to create a culture where sexual assault is no longer OK.

“Most students go into college believing that statistics don't apply to them, and everything will be OK,” she said, “However, that's not the case for everyone. We have to take steps in order to change those statistics.”

Students were able to partake in various activities each day of the week, including a panel discussion and an open-mic night.

“We had a decent turnout for each of the events,” Jensen said, “However, most people who attended are already passionate about the topic. We need to reach more of the people who don't know much about it. I would say it was successful, but there is always room for improvement.

Deeds, who has been the coordinator adviser for PREVENT, which is a violence peer education group, said UNL continues to make promising strides toward raising awareness, with the addition of a Title IX coordinator this year. PREVENT consists of peer educators who go to classrooms, residence halls, student organizations and more to present information about relationship violence and sexual assault.

“PREVENT is pretty successful and continues to grow in terms of students being aware about it,” Deeds said. “The main thing about peer education is it is the informal opportunities. I can stand in front of a class and speak, but if I am in a meeting or in a class or in a room with my friends, I have a lot more opportunity to act. So that's what we're trying to do.”

Voices of Hope, Lincoln's crisis center, works with victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking. The agency also works with smaller groups, such as adult survivors of child abuse.

UNL contracts with Voices of Hope to have an advocate on campus to offer all of its core services, such as crisis counseling, advocacy support and referrals, directly on campus.

Morgan, who wishes to keep her last name anonymous because of privacy reasons, acts as UNL's victim advocate and works mostly with students. The services, however, are also available to staff and faculty. Voices of Hope mostly focuses on intervention work, but Morgan said she likes to put a heavy emphasis on prevention work.

“I am interested in having conversations about preventing violence,” she said. “A lot of my work is with students, middle, high school and college, having conversations about preventing relationship and sexual violence. A lot is around consent, healthy relationships and respect, and things like that.”

Administration makes efforts

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Juan Franco sent out an email that introduced an online training video, “Understanding and Preventing Sexual Misconduct,” early in September. The program is not require of students, but strongly suggested.

“I've been very pleased this year to have so many more administrators, faculty and staff talking about it,” Deeds said. “Up until this point, it kind of felt like we were the only ones who were talking about it. But now, hearing the Chancellor speak about it, the President of ASUN, it's just been out there more. That's what makes victims feel like it is alright, and that they are not alone.”

Deeds said the administration has also added new things to the enrollment process. For the last two years, sections about sexual assault have been added to the alcohol campus profile that new students must take when they register.

“While alcohol does not cause sexual assault, alcohol is involved in many sexual assaults. So understanding that was really important,” Deeds said.

Robinson finds fault with the presentations and education regarding sexual assault.

“It's all victim blaming when we talk about rape,” she said. “It's ‘Don't do this' or ‘Don't wear that.' It should be: ‘Don't rape someone' or ‘Make sure someone is sober when you have sex with them.' It shouldn't be telling girls, ‘Well, don't pick up your drink after you set it down.' Well no, tell people not to roofie people.”

Deeds said a misconception about sexual assault can be that people believe it is about sex.

“It is not, ‘I'm so hot you can't control yourself,'” she said. Its someone wanting to have control. It has nothing to do with how sexy I am. If that was the case, if it was about sexual desire, babies and old people would not be sexually assaulted. But they are. It's not about sexual attractiveness. So people should be able to wear what they want.”

A look into the future

Deeds said to take the next steps, UNL must decide where it is OK to require people to take training on sexual assault.

“We can throw information out there. We can say, hey take this online training or come to this presentation, but that doesn't mean people are paying attention or absorbing that information,” she said. “I think we still need to help people see it as their issue, something they should pay attention to.”

Deeds said educating people on sexual assault will help bring the topic to the forefront of discussions.

“At the root of sexual assault is the belief that a person is worth less than you are, so you have the right to do something to someone,” she said. “So we have to do lots of education about recognizing the value of other people and not dehumanizing other individuals.”

Compared to other schools, Deeds said UNL is envied in some aspects. PREVENT traveled to regional gatherings and taught peer education training programs because the group has done it for years and gained respect across the region. PREVENT has also presented information at national conferences. Deeds said other schools often appreciate and look to the university's relationship with the university police.

“Our campus police are very victim-centered,” she said. “They understand the issues the victims deal with. They understand that not everyone wants to report. Their job is to fight crime but also to help students feel OK and to get to the resources they need.”

Conradt said UNLPD works closely with the Title IX department on campus regarding sexual assault investigations. Conradt also conducts presentations on awareness upon request from departments and organizations on campus.

“I feel we do a great job on awareness and working with student organizations in the UNL community,” he said. “We have well trained officers that investigate sexual assaults on campus.”

Morgan said Voices of Hope is very proud of the relationship it has developed with the Lincoln Police Department and with UNLPD, as well. The agency's crisis line is printed on the back of all police cards. So, if someone were to get pulled over for a minor traffic incident, he or she would have that phone number.

“We have a lot of accessibility and visibility through the police department,” she said. “They value us as advocates, and they are quick to bring us into a case, which is very helpful because we want to make sure we have a full comprehensible response to victims.”

Robinson said people do not talk about sexual assault enough. She hopes people start talking about it more and doing something about it.

“It is a very ignored topic,” she said. “It is ignored because a lot of people see it as a ‘female problem,' or something that women have to deal with. It happens way too often. The misogyny and patriarchy is just very irritating to be on a white, male-dominated campus and to not be heard, especially for the females. Stop blaming the victims. I wish people would be more sympathetic. Be there for when it happens for the people it truly happened to.”

How to help the victim

Voices of Hope's victim advocates provide students helpful tips in how to support a person who discloses sexual assault.

- Believe the survivor.

- Let the survivor make the decision. Abusers often prevent victims from making decisions. Telling them what to do could sound controlling. Provide the individual with options & resources but leave the choice up to him/her.

- Listen to the individual. Offer assurances like “you don't deserve this;” “this is not your fault;” and “I believe you.”

- Follow the survivor's lead. Don't ask him/her details about the assault unless they offer up the information.

- Provide phone numbers of local resources:

UNLPD : (402) 472-2222

LPD: (402) 441-7204

University Health Center: (402) 472-5000

Planned Parenthood: (402) 441-3300

Voices of Hope 24-hours crisis line: (402) 475-7273

Susan Foster, J.D., UNL Title IX Coordinator: (402) 472-3417



Agency struggles under the difficulties in determining child abuse

by Mariana Hicks

MONTEREY COUNTY, Calif. -- The Monterey County Child Protective Services said it receives 2,600 referrals of child abuse and neglect each year. That agency and police will investigate but sometimes have a hard time finding signs of abuse or neglect.

"I'm completely shocked that anyone would murder an innocent life. There are two innocent lives that are lost,” said Elliott Robinson, Director of Monterey County Social and Employment Services.

Robinson is referring to the two children formally from Salinas who were found dead in a storage locker in Redding, California, on Friday.

Child Protective Services works with law enforcement when they receive reports of child abuse or neglect.

"There's a person who has concern about supervision of the child or children, concern about health, their clothing, issues like lice might be coming up. Issues of cleanliness that might be coming up,” said Robinson.

If needed, police or CPS remove the child from the unsafe situation. They aim to place the child with relatives, with foster care as an option.

Robinson said there are 300 Monterey County children in foster care right now. Troubled youth are placed in group housing.

Robinson said the agency has to be careful because what may seem like unsafe situation sometimes isn't.

"You wouldn't think living on the street or in a tent or makeshift shelter qualifies as appropriate housing. But in most cases, we find that the children are well cared for, that they're doing their homework, that their clothes are clean,” said Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin.


North Carolina

Cheers to the Cumberland County Coalition for the Prevention of Child Abuse and volunteers

by Roberta Humphries

Cheers to the Cumberland County Coalition for the Prevention of Child Abuse and the 30 volunteers who presented Story Times to more than 1,881 children during the 19 Days of Prevention in November. The volunteers read the books "Some Parts Are Not For Sharing" and "Do You Have a Secret?", which arm children with information they need to help protect themselves against abuse.

We at the Child Advocacy Center are so grateful for these dedicated volunteers and their efforts to stop child abuse.



Child sexual abuse at critical level, minister says

by Callistasia Anggun Wijaya

Women's Empowerment and Child Protection Minister Yohana Susana Yembise said on Thursday that child abuse was at a critical level, particularly in regard to sexual abuse.

“Violence toward children is increasing everywhere. Indonesia is facing an emergency over violence against children,” said Yohana as quoted by

This horrendous leaves the public wondering what makes someone sexually abuse a child, said Anna Surti Ariani, a children's and family psychologist.

“Someone's inability to control his sexual urges may lead to child sexual abuse,” Anna told on Thursday.

She further said that when someone's wife worked in another city or country, he may find ways to meet his sexual needs, such as by sexually abusing children.

Anna said that besides the inability to control himself, a child molester may have been sexually abused as a child and as an adult wanted to take revenge on other kids.

Because sexual abuse was not inflicted solely by adults but also by children, Anna said it could be presumed that a lack of sex education for children was one of the causes.

“A child who sexually abuses another child may not understand the effect of his conduct. Maybe he was only imitating what he saw in a video game or pornographic movie,” Anna asserted.

The children who still sleep with their parents may also imitate their parents having sex, she said.

Although it is common for children to sleep with their parents in Eastern culture, Anna suggested that from the age of three or four, depending on the child's psychological state, parents could urge their children to sleep in their own rooms.

She added that even though a specific character of the child molester could not be seen by the naked eye, parents should be wary of anyone who was uncommonly kind to their children. For example, she said, a person who often gives gifts to a child but then makes the child feel uncomfortable and keep secrets from its parents.

Anna also urged parents to remain close to their children and educate them about sex.

“Sex education should be given to help kids avoid sexual abuse. Basically, parents and even schools can teach children to appreciate their bodies by keeping them clean and not letting anyone touch their genitals. If someone attacks them sexually, they should scream or run away fast to avoid the culprits,” she said.


(Comment to the above article)


"Child abuse" can be defined as causing or permitting any harmful or offensive contact on a child's body; and, any communication or transaction of any kind which humiliates, shames, or frightens the child. It is an act or omission, which fails to nurture in the upbringing of the children at any age, sex, race, religion, and socioeconomic background. Children who are abused suffer greatly, and a society in which abuse takes place is considerably diminished.For young children the three broad categories of child abuse are-

a. Physical abuse

b. Emotional abuse

c. Sexual abuse

Physical abuse is very common in our country both in urban and rural areas. Spanking, hitting, pinching are an accepted method of disciplining young children both in schools and at home.

The second kind of abuse that young children in our society are subjected to is emotional abuse, lack of love; nurturing and the growing trend of stressing children with high and unrealistic expectations of making them excel right from kindergarten years. The additional emotional stress on these young kids is multiplied many fold when they are interviewed for school admissions. The collective stress of preparing for the interview, facing a stranger and unreasonable pressure placed by parents, all tend to stress out the young growing brain. The third worrying form of abuse that children are facing is the heinous crime of sexual abuse. This perversion in our society is growing day by day and the target of this is now little toddlers. Child sexual abuse must be one of the most heinous crimes committed against children. It is sad and disgusting because the kids do not even realize that a crime has been committed as child sexual abusers are usually adults that the child ‘trusts'. An emerging sickness in these offenders that had never been addressed when warning children about sexual abuse is that we are always warning kids about others touching them in their private parts, but we don't warn them about others asking them to touch them (the abusers) in their private parts. this country needs stringent laws to punish such criminals, but this country also needs to sensitise the parents, the teachers, the kids and the youth about taking care of their bodies and keeping them safe. Parents and teachers can work together and educate children of all ages about being safe and understanding about GOOD TOUCH- BAD TOUCH. It is never too early to talk to kids about body safety and in this case prevention is definitely better than cure. Prevention is possible if parents and teachers understand about keeping children safe from harm at all times.

Parents need to understand that children are too innocent to understand such acts. Parents and teachers both need to understand that sometimes in their ‘non stop chatter', children may have important things to tell us, so don't ignore them. And teachers and parents need to understand that children ‘talk' through their drawings so listen and look for the clues.

Community conscience can be a four pronged approach wherein neighbours, teachers, parents, media and policy makers become alert about abuse and ensure that it is reported, prevented and remedied with intervention and stringent laws, laws that would favour the child and not the offender. It's time to bring abuse out of our homes as this is the first place where physical and emotional abuse to children starts. Children do not have the voice or the language development to make a case for themselves and that is why we are unable to hear their sounds of silence. Community based interventions like educating parents and teachers using radio programs, documentaries, articles in local newspapers, messages during television soaps will all ensure that we are able to prevent abuse so that intervention happens before the abuse and not after. Another major area of concern is juvenile homes, remedial homes and processes that these victim go through as sometimes these very places add to the abuse instead of being the solution they aggravate the problem. This happens due to lack of resources, lack of training and insensitive handling of children. With community intervention that is conscience based which means we make training, prevention, advocacy a part of our collective community conscience we will be able to ensure that their voice is heard and touch never becomes trouble in any child's life. It's time to make the village rise so that the sounds we hear are not of silent suffering but that of happy, healthy, nurtured children.



Part One

How A Mount Dora Group Home Evaded Regulators As Abuse Allegations Piled Up

by Heather Vogell


Three years ago it looked like the Florida agency that oversees care for children and adults with disabilities had finally had enough: It filed a legal complaint that outlined horrific abuse at Carlton Palms, a rambling campus of group homes and classrooms near the small town of Mount Dora.

A man called “R.G.” was punched in the stomach, kicked and told “shut your [expletive] mouth,” the complaint said. “R.T.” was left with a face full of bruises after a worker hit him with a belt wrapped around his fist. A child, “D.K.,” who refused to lie face down so he could be restrained, was kicked in the face and choked until, eyes bulging, he nearly passed out.

State officials wanted to bar Carlton Palms from accepting new residents for a year.

“[A] moratorium on admissions,” wrote a lawyer with the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, “is necessary to protect the public interest and to prevent the continuance of conditions that threaten the health, safety and welfare of Carlton Palm's (sic) residents.”

Two months later, the state backed down.

Carlton Palms' owner, the for-profit company AdvoServ, had deployed a Tallahassee lawyer and lobbyist who counted a former governor among his clients. The company admitted no wrongdoing and paid no fines when it settled with the state. It did agree to install more cameras to monitor workers.

The state of Florida — and its public schools — then went right back to sending Carlton Palms new clients.

AdvoServ's homes and tens of thousands of facilities like them were supposed to be an antidote to the ills of institutional care for society's most vulnerable: children and adults with profound disabilities like severe autism. Tucked away in neighborhoods across the country, the homes are often a last resort for overwhelmed families and schools, as well as state officials who shuttered their public asylums over concerns about mistreatment.

But the sprawling system of privately run residential programs is quietly — and with few repercussions — amassing a record as grim as the institutions it replaced, a ProPublica investigation found.

Particularly haunting are the deaths of children in residential facilities, often far from their homes. At least 145 kids have died from avoidable causes in such facilities over the last three decades, a ProPublica review of news accounts found.

In one group home, a worker strangled a teenaged resident during a struggle; at another, a boy died of an infection after employees taunted him and accused him of faking illness. Other children suffocated while workers held them down.

AdvoServ's Carlton Palms is one of a dozen residential programs nationwide where two or more children have died in separate incidents from potentially preventable causes. Most recently, a 14-year-old girl died there after a night during which she was tied to a bed and chair. She'd entered the program just six months after the state dropped its call for a year-long moratorium.

A deep examination of AdvoServ — a veteran industry player now owned by a private equity firm — shows how a powerful, well-financed provider can exploit a fractured system, using its deep pockets to beat back sanctions, bully regulators and shape the very rules it plays by.

The company's ascension reveals, too, the fraught marriage of convenience that binds the growing ranks of private providers to the public agencies that rely on them, sometimes paying upwards of $350,000 a year in taxpayer money for each resident's care.

Officials with Florida's disabilities agency said the state sees itself as partnering with, as well as policing, Carlton Palms.

“Our approach has been very, very aggressive in working with Carlton Palms,” said Tom Rankin, a top official with the agency. “It's also been very, very collaborative.”

State and federal officials often give operators like AdvoServ wide latitude on key decisions such as figuring out how to control unruly patients, meet medical needs and staff homes. When problems occur, the limits of regulators' power can become starkly clear.

One infamous program for instance, the JudgeRotenberg Educational Center outside Boston, has been condemned for its use of electric shocks to halt residents' undesirable behaviors. At least two states tried and couldn't get Rotenberg to stop. The facility continues to receive more than $60 million a year in mostly public money to care for 240 people with developmental, intellectual or emotional disabilities.

Calls for federal action have failed. A bill first introduced in 2008 would have required the federal government track abuse complaints and create a website listing residential providers for kids nationwide. It has gone nowhere.

Even some in the industry say more oversight is needed. “We definitely support regulation because bad things have happened to kids in residential programs, and not just 10 years ago,” said Kari Sisson, executive director of the American Association of Children's Residential Centers, which promotes best practices. “They happen to kids today.”

Florida's aborted effort to sanction AdvoServ surprised few who knew of its nearly five decades of dealings with regulators. The company cares for roughly 700 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and behavioral problems in Delaware, where it is headquartered, as well as New Jersey and Florida.

“I always got the feeling they were pretty untouchable,” said Kevin Huckshorn, a national behavioral health consultant.

AdvoServ executives say there is no pattern of abuse in its facilities and that employees who mistreat residents are disciplined. “In a program like ours in which we serve individuals with significantly challenging behaviors, incidents are going to be inevitable,” said Robert Bacon, the company's chief operating officer and a 29-year AdvoServ veteran.

“We acknowledge we are not perfect,” CEO Kelly McCrann told ProPublica. “But what we do does not allow perfection.”

In a written statement, top officials at AdvoServ also said they are proud of the company's record and that they “responsibly” address problems when they arise. AdvoServ supports strong oversight and clear standards, the statement said, “because they help us deliver the highest quality care.” (Read the full statement.)

The parents of five teenagers and adults living at AdvoServ homes praised the company, which provided ProPublica their contact information.

“We have had nothing but unbelievably good experiences with Carlton Palms,” said Ginny Robinson of Kennesaw, Georgia, whose son Jonathan has an intellectual disability and can have violent tantrums. He first entered the program 19 years ago. “I truly believe had we not found them he would be either in jail or dead.”

But a more troubling picture emerges from thousands of pages of public records reviewed by ProPublica, as well as from the accounts of current or former residents laid out in lawsuits and in interviews with relatives. Many complaints have centered around the company's aggressive use of mechanical restraints, such as leather cuffs, chairs with straps, and a “wrap mat” akin to a full-body straight-jacket. Such tactics, records show, have resulted in broken arms, collarbones and jaws, knocked-out teeth and cuts needing stitches.

In late June 2013, Carlton Palms' staff members assured Paige Lunsford's parents in emails that their daughter, a waifish girl with brown eyes, “was having a nice day in class today” — even though she had begun vomiting and clashing with staff just days after arriving. Lunsford had autism, was bipolar and schizophrenic, and couldn't speak. She struggled with compulsions to bite her skin or bang her head. Workers tied her down when she ran from them, threw things or tried to hurt herself.

A Carlton Palms doctor saw her but, despite her worsening condition, chose not to send her to the hospital. The next morning a 911 call brought medics to Lunsford's bedroom, where they found her dead of dehydration brought on by her stomach illness.

The sole concession Florida regulators wrung out of AdvoServ after dropping the admissions moratorium — that the company improve video monitoring — did little to bring about accountability.

When detectives went to examine video from cameras where Lunsford lived, they discovered all but an hour or so was gone. Company officials said the footage was mistakenly erased.


In recent decades states have largely outsourced the day-to-day care of people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. Group homes are now overwhelmingly run by private organizations, and while nonprofits rule the sector, for-profit investors have increasingly taken interest. AdvoServ founder Kenneth Mazik was at their vanguard.

Mazik opened the Au Clair School for autistic children in 1969 in a stern-looking 28-room mansion in Bear, Delaware. A broad-shouldered University of Delaware graduate who had worked at a state institution, he said a particularly gruesome encounter had inspired him: A boy he was counseling had pulled out his own eye. “So, following my usual pattern, I overcompensated,” he told a reporter at the time. “I threw myself into autism – which was what was wrong with the boy.”

He took in castaways — his first patients were teenage boys who had been kicked out of another program — and Au Clair soon had 30 children. It received national attention in the early 1970s when “Silk Stockings,” a racehorse owned by Mazik and his then-wife, started winning harness-style races, infusing the school with prize money. The media loved the tale of how the horse saved the little school for autistics.

Another source of cash for Au Clair appeared when Congress mandated in 1975 that public schools take responsibility for educating all children with disabilities. Local classrooms still sometimes couldn't handle children with the most serious impairments, so families implored local officials to pay tuition for special private schools. Mazik's Au Clair, and schools like it, took the cases no one else would.

But signs of trouble began soon after the glow from Silk Stockings' wins faded, when former workers said they had witnessed children being beaten at Au Clair as part of their treatment.

Articles in the Wilmington News-Journal in 1979 described children hit with plastic bats and dunked in a dirty swimming pool. Mazik himself, the newspaper said, had repeatedly whipped a 16-year-old boy with an intellectual disability across his backside with a riding crop.

Mazik acknowledged in the story that he had struck the boy, but said it didn't constitute abuse. The employees who complained were disgruntled, he said.

Delaware officials considered shutting down the school, but instead chose to work with it to improve conditions.

The company continued to grow, opening a second Au Clair in 1987 in Florida, northwest of Orlando. That school — later rechristened Carlton Palms — took root on the isolated lakeside campus of a former retirement community, tucked between orange groves.

The company had told local officials the school would house 20 to 30 children, ages seven to 18. But within three years, it had grown to 48 students coming from 28 states.

Keeping large numbers of disabled children under one roof was exactly the model the country was moving away from. The goal was to replace big institutions with a network of community-based homes.

But in Florida, a lobbyist for the company urged legislators to carve out an exception for “transitional” programs with tiered levels of care and more people living together than was typically allowed. The change — which only benefited Au Clair — also later helped justify higher rates of pay from the state than what other programs received.

By 1997, Au Clair had changed its name to AdvoServ and expanded to about 130 children at schools in Delaware and Florida. That year, it faced two crises.

On April 2, Mazik telephoned relatives of a 14-year-old student to tell them the boy had died of an apparent seizure at Carlton Palms.

A caller to the state's abuse hotline a few months later reported that the boy, Jon Henley, hadn't received immediate medical care for the seizure, and that staff had neglected him.

Investigators from the county sheriff's office and state Department of Children and Families discovered a roommate had told staff that Henley was shaking their bunk bed early that morning, but workers had done nothing to help him. One staffer said she just told the boy — who was face down — to be quiet because she thought he was masturbating. Workers were supposed to check on his wellbeing every 15 minutes all night. But he was found dead at wake-up time, 7:30 a.m., still face down.

Henley had autism and took medication to prevent convulsions. But an autopsy found it present in his blood at levels far below the “therapeutic range” typically needed to control seizures.

Ultimately, despite signs of potential lapses in care, the sheriff's office did not file criminal charges and state investigators closed their inquiry with no finding of mistreatment. The facility faced no repercussions.

Henley, a joyful child whose loved ones called him “Prince Jon Jon,” had gone to Carlton Palms because his St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, school district wasn't equipped to teach him. “If they had the accommodations on the island for him we would have never sent him there,” his aunt Laurice Simmonds-Wilson recalled.

When he died, she said, Carlton Palms officials said the company would pay for a casket and arrange to return his body to St. Thomas.

Family members only recently learned through ProPublica's inquiries about the state investigation and allegations that Henley had not received proper care. The family didn't even know an autopsy was conducted. “We feel we were lied to and fooled for all of these years,” Simmonds-Wilson said. “Jon Jon deserved justice. Period.”

A former staffer said Carlton Palms administrators had offered little information about what happened to the well-liked student, even to workers. “I was confused,” said Susan Knoll, who was a behavior analyst there at the time. “They didn't tell us, which seemed strange.”

AdvoServ officials, in a statement, said Carlton Palms cooperated with the investigations, which found no wrongdoing, and that “[w]hen incidents like this occur, we responsibly address them.”

Just a month after Henley's death, the next crisis hit: The New York Times published a scathing storyon Mazik's schools and his influence on federal welfare reform.

The story — which didn't mention Henley's death — revealed New York inspectors had once discovered children at the Delaware Au Clair school living in trailers that smelled of urine and feces. One weeping deaf boy, the story said, had been confined for hours in a wrap mat that had cut off his circulation.

“I cried all the way back on Amtrak,” a New York official told the Times.

The story also detailed how Mazik had maneuvered to dip into a stream of foster care funding by urging federal lawmakers to strike the word “non-profit” from a section of the 1996 welfare reform legislation signed by Bill Clinton.

Mazik quickly sent a letter to Delaware officials blasting the story. “Because of your involvement,” he wrote a top licensing official, “I want to provide you with some facts to help alleviate any discomfort you may feel as a result of the Times piece.”

But any worries Mazik might have had proved unfounded. The company experienced no major fallout and proceeded with plans to enter a new market. AdvoServ would soon become the largest provider of group homes for developmentally disabled adults in New Jersey.

Mazik's circumstances seemed to reflect the company's growing prosperity. He kept homes in Delaware and Florida, shuttling between them in his private plane. He collected fine art, cigars and wine and increased his real estate holdings. He also developed other business ventures, launching a video surveillance company that supplied his group homes and schools.

AdvoServ's expanding portfolio of programs routinely used mechanical restraints, such as the wrap mat or cuffs — which other operators were abandoning — to manage agitated residents. The company battled fiercely to fend off any limits on such measures.

In 2003, New Jersey lawmakers introduced a state bill to curtail restraints in residential programs, particularly those serving people with developmental disabilities or brain injuries. The measure was inspired by Matthew Goodman, a 14 -year -old who had died of pneumonia after being repeatedly restrained while living at another operator's group home.

At an assembly committee hearing on the bill, then-AdvoServ CEO Judith Favell passionately defended the tactics. “I believe that restraints should be used to assist in decreasing a behavior problem,” she said. “In my experience, the abuses involved in restraint are, indeed, rare.”

Favell also met with the committee's chairwoman, Democrat Loretta Weinberg. Two weeks later, one of Mazik's companies donated $2,200 to Weinberg's campaign. Mazik gave another $25,000 to the state Democratic Party's senate political action committee — the first installment of nearly $125,000 he would give the party over the next four years.

Weinberg's assembly committee went on to pass a weakened version of the measure with fewer limits, and a restraint bill did not gain traction in the state senate.

Weinberg, now a state senator, told ProPublica she agreed to the compromise bill not because of AdvoServ, but because she didn't think stronger legislation could pass and had heard from parents who supported restraints. “I have never in my 20-some years in public life sold a vote,” she said.

In the end, the company got its way: The effort at reform fizzled.

A few years later, the restraint issue resurfaced — this time on the national level. In 2009, Congressional lawmakers introduced the first of what would become a series of bills to restrict the use of restraints on public school children.

AdvoServ pushed back, using heavyweights such as former HealthSouth lobbyist Eric Hanson — who was later joined by former Congressman Jerry Weller. The company has paid the lobbyists' firm nearly $1 million over the past decade.

The legislation was reintroduced repeatedly but stalled, never achieving significant Republican support.

Two opponents of the restrictions were the most vocal, a former Senate staffer said: One was the controversial Rotenberg Center. The other was AdvoServ.

AdvoServ has proven as adept at working over the state agencies that deliver it clients — and the millions of dollars that follow them — as it has the political process. The company's relentless advocacy in Delaware kept a stream of residents flowing to its facilities even after two sets of regulators raised alarms about children hurt in its care.

In 2011, Delaware's agency for foster care and children's mental health took a bold step: It decided to stop sending kids to AdvoServ.

Agency officials objected to mechanical restraints and thought kids were staying too long in what should have been short-term placements. AdvoServ had also resisted even telling regulators about all restraints — a move that one official in an email called an effort “toprevent any oversight of their practice.”

AdvoServ leaders responded to the agency's decision with “intense outreach,” emailsshow, urging it to reconsider and promising the company was making improvements. But state workers saw no such improvements.

“I have checked with others here in the Kids Department, who have been on site there in recent months,” wrote Vicky Kelly, director of the agency's family services division, in 2012, “and they don't report evidence of these changes.”

Even the state psychiatric center for adults was cutting back on restraints at federal officials' insistence. But AdvoServ was “unbending” in its commitment to them, another of Kelly's emails from that year said. “So the state is in a precarious position right now,” she wrote, “in agreeing that restraint is prohibited for adults, yet still allowed for youth with serious disabilities.”

As foster care officials continued to avoid placing kids with AdvoServ, Delaware lawmakers took up a bill to prohibit using mechanical restraints on public school students and limit holds with bare hands.

That posed a problem for AdvoServ because Delaware public schools referred more children to the company's homes than the state's child welfare agency did, sending about 20 boarding students and 10 day students a year. Each student brought in substantial revenue: Six-figure bills are typical and, for one AdvoServ student, the state and local agencies paid a combined $383,000 per year.

AdvoServ — whose Delaware lobbying firm was led by prominent former state Rep. Bob Byrd — pushed for a loophole in the restraint measure involving schoolchildren: The company wanted providers to be able to seek waivers if they thought mechanical restraints were needed for a particularly challenging resident.

A state lawmaker told an education official that because of AdvoServ's intervention, the bill would go nowhere without the waiver provision, according to state school officials and the director of the state Developmental Disabilities Council.

In June 2013, the restraint bill passed with the exception AdvoServ had sought. (It has not, to date, sought a waiver.)

Soon after it won that battle, the company faced a new one with state education officials. They, too, had objected strongly to mechanical restraints on students, which the company was phasing out. While officials hadn't barred schools from sending kids to AdvoServ, company executives perceived a downtick in the number of schoolchildren referred to the company's program in 2013.

AdvoServ responded by ramping up pressure on state bureaucrats.

“One of my clients represents AdvoServ,” former Delaware Controller General Russell Larson wrote in an email to top education leaders in August 2013. “I would love to meet with you to find out if there's anything I can tell my client to help them improve their service.”

Education officials told him they were already talking with AdvoServ directly. Unsatisfied, AdvoServ brought its concerns to Gov. Jack Markell's office two months later — threatening to leave the state if school referrals didn't pick up, emails show.

As AdvoServ tried to muscle state leaders into line, rank-and-file staffers at Delaware's education department expressed frustration.

“They HAVE gotten new referrals,” one education official wrote to another after learning of the company's complaints to Markell. “I wish they would own the problems they caused for themselves and acknowledge the inordinate amount of time we have devoted to them to help them remain open!”

Amid the wrangling between the company and school officials, a rash of complaints about mistreatment in AdvoServ homes rolled in, with seven landing between November 2013 and July 2014. “It is out of control,” a state licensing official lamented to another.

In one case, an AdvoServ worker threw scalding water on a resident, causing first-degree burns. Employees, including a supervisor who had left the home to play video games with a friend, sought to cover up what happened by claiming a cup of hot water had fallen off a dresser when the resident was trying to injure herself, records show. Workers didn't take her to a doctor right away. Instead, they popped her burn blisters and falsified an injury report.

They later told authorities what they had done was “typical” behavior at AdvoServ. The workers resigned or were fired. The company said they lacked credibility.

In another case, a Delaware worker covered a boy's face with a folded-up pillowcase to prevent him from spitting, leaving him gasping for breath. That led to one of three citations from the state last year for improper restraints.

In August 2014, the state education department approved keeping AdvoServ on the list of places public schools could send schoolchildren for the next three years.

Education officials said last week the decision was based on improvements the company had made, as well as parents' and school districts' positive comments.

After the scalding incident and other problems, Delaware's foster agency gave one AdvoServ school a “warning of probation,” an action two steps before license suspension. The agency required AdvoServ officials to hire a consultant to help it improve safety at all its Delaware facilities.

Though the agency still wasn't referring kids there, AdvoServ met all the requirements. This past May, state licensing authorities lifted their warning.

AdvoServ was, once again, a residential school in good standing.

While AdvoServ largely succeeded in smoothing over conflicts in Delaware, it faced what looked like a greater threat in Florida: 14-year-old Paige Lunsford had died from a treatable medical condition and state investigators wanted to know why.

A tip to the state's abuse hotline five days after Lunsford's death on July 6, 2013, implicated Lunsford's care at Carlton Palms, as well as workers' use of restraints on her.

The caller said Lunsford had been in “too much restraint for longer than necessary” and that the restraints may have made her underlying medical problems worse. Records of her care, the caller said, went missing the morning after she died.

Carlton Palms hadn't notified the agency of Lunsford's death, though it was supposed to immediately report any incident where abuse or neglect was suspected.

Child welfare investigators and detectives descended on the remote campus to interview employees. They discovered a tangle of conflicting accounts.

Lunsford's parents said Carlton Palms' doctor, Dr. Robert Lynch, had initially told them she was rushed to the hospital, where she collapsed and died, state records show. Yet medics said that when they arrived at Carlton Palms, she was already dead.

Tom Shea — the center's director — told investigators that overnight, Lunsford had rocked herself to sleep in the restraint chair and staffers carried her to her bed.

But workers said Lunsford had endured multiple mechanical restraints on her last night while vomiting as many as 25 to 30 times — “like water out of a sink,” one staffer told investigators. Workers tied her arms and legs to a bed while she lay on her back.

Then, in one of the night's most harrowing moments, they decided to move her to a restraint chair in the hallway. They said Lunsford, down to 69 pounds, fought back so hard it took six of them to wrestle her into the chair — where she was bound in six places. They said she never slept.

Her caregivers said they sought help from the program's top nursing and behavioral staff, but no one directed them to call an ambulance.

After a nearly eight-month investigation, state child protection officials cited Carlton Palms for medical neglect and for inadequately supervising Lunsford, singling out Lynch and head nurse Bonnie Clugston.

“[W]rongful death due to medical neglect is probable,” one state report concluded.

The state health department found Clugston, the facility's head nurse, had violated state law by failing to get Lunsford emergency medical help. (The department has not made a similar finding for Lynch.)

In its statement, company leaders said they “fundamentally disagree” with the child protection agency's conclusions and are awaiting the health department's determination in Lynch's case. AdvoServ also said it stands by Shea's account of Lunsford's last night and that the video deletion was accidental.

“Paige's death was very tragic and heart-wrenching for us all, and it still hurts quite a bit,” said Bacon, AdvoServ's chief operating officer. He declined to answer specific questions about Lunsford.

Clugston and Lynch resigned, the company said. Shea retired in the spring. Lynch did not return messages left at his office. Clugston could not be reached.Lunsford's parents filed a lawsuit in May 2015 against Carlton Palms and certain staff members, alleging negligent medical care.

The job of figuring out what sanctions, if any, should be levied against Carlton Palms fell to the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, the same department that had sought, then dropped, a year-long moratorium.

As before, officials there chose not to halt admissions or levy fines.

“[A]s my staff previously discussed with you, the Agency is willing to forego the imposition of administrative fines at this juncture and allow your facility to apply those resources instead to complying with the expectations outlined herein,” the agency's director, Barbara Palmer, wrote in a letter to AdvoServ almost 10 months after Lunsford's death.

The state required more upgrades to the facility's video monitoring, including letting regulators call in for access to remote feeds, and an overhaul of how the program managed medical cases. Officials also mandated that the company retrain workers on restraints and that company officials meet regularly with regulators.

Three months after Palmer's letter, as the Miami Herald prepared to publish a story about Lunsford, another alarming incident took place at Carlton Palms.

A boy broke his arm while staffers were restraining him in a wrap mat, according to state records. They didn't take him to the hospital for five hours. He had surgery to insert pins in his upper arm, then landed back in the hospital days later with an infection after Carlton Palms workers didn't properly care for the wound.

The Agency for Persons with Disabilities finally imposed an informal moratorium, pledging not to refer any residents to Carlton Palms.

The ban lasted five months, during which the state agency still allowed the facility to admit an out-of-state resident, according to the company.

“It is important to understand that the moratorium was not a punitive measure, it was done out of an abundance of caution to allow the agency and AdvoServ to work through any potential issues,” the company's statement said. “We fully support the process.”

AdvoServ also paid a $10,000 penalty, the maximum allowed by law.

Today, AdvoServ appears poised for more growth. The company is expanding into Virginia.

In 2009, Mazik sold a majority share in the company to California-based GI Partners — which recently sold the company again to another private equity firm, Wellspring Capital Management in New York. AdvoServ says Mazik no longer has any ownership stake in the company.

Mazik did not respond to questions sent to him. In a letter, his lawyer said that since the 2009 sale, Mazik “has had no operational or managerial role regarding day to day operations” of the company.

Critics of Carlton Palms worry it has grown so big that regulators can't effectively oversee it. The facility cares for nearly 30 percent of all Floridians who need such services. Finding so many beds elsewhere would be difficult.

When the Agency for Persons with Disabilities filed its complaint asking for a moratorium in 2012, it acknowledged a concern that suspending or revoking Carlton Palms' license “could unnecessarily disrupt the lives of the existing residents.” The agency shut down two residential providers for people with similar disabilities to those at AdvoServ in the past year. But Carlton Palms dwarfs them in size and influence.

In a statement, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities objected to the idea that it is unable to properly oversee Carlton Palms. It said, however, “closure of a facility is always the Agency's last resort … and is only done in cases where a provider is either unwilling or unable to correct identified problems.”

When AdvoServ executives gave me a tour of Carlton Palms last summer, the placid campus gave no indication of the previous year's turmoil.

We traveled in a golf cart over wide grassy lawns past skinny palms and live oaks draped in Spanish moss, visiting tidy classrooms and silent halls in dorm-style buildings. Only about 20 of the facility's roughly 200 residents were in view.

Company officials said the rest of their clients were at vocational assignments or off-campus trips such as to a bowling alley. About 80 residents do landscaping and janitorial work for minimum wage at sites, it turns out, that include buildings owned by Mazik's leasing company in downtown Mount Dora.

The golf cart rolled past a chapel by a fountain, a field where residents play flag football, and a squat modular unit that serves as the administrative building. We saw teenage boys listening to a lesson about managing money, and, in another building, girls with more severe physical impairments doing crafts.

We didn't stop at the site where Lunsford's parents had been told Carlton Palms would plant a tree in her memory, just as it had planted one for Henley.



Part Two

What Happened to Adam

It took one mother seven years to learn that the for-profit school she trusted with her son had strapped him down again and again, one time after not picking up his Legos.

by Heather Vogell

O ne winter day nearly eight years ago, Lori Kennedy-Shields dashed off an email to her son's private boarding school before starting the 90-minute drive through Florida's rural midsection, to a lake-dimpled stretch of small towns northwest of Orlando. Carlton Palms Educational Center was an unusual school, but so was her son. Though Adam was 23 and nearly six-and-a-half feet tall, his brain resembled that of a toddler. Impulsive and playful, he did inappropriate things — like belting out songs at the top of his lungs in public or swatting people on the head to get their attention. He could dress himself and brush his teeth, but he needed constant supervision. Diagnosed with severe autism at age two, Adam could parrot phrases, yet he often struggled to speak, unable to string together words.

Carlton Palms' specialty was teenagers and adults with serious intellectual and developmental disabilities like his. Its modular classrooms and living quarters were wedged between orange groves outside the quaint town of Mount Dora. Adam had lived there for seven years, ever since his Tampa-area public school system had acknowledged that it was failing to teach him. Over that time, the school district and state agencies had paid more than $1 million for Adam's tuition and care. Kennedy-Shields hoped the school would show her son how to express himself better and master basic life skills, like how to cross the street safely. Her dreams for his future were modest; she wanted him to be able to hold down a simple job one day, perhaps washing dishes or folding laundry.

With Kennedy-Shields that day were her husband, Tom, and Adam's younger brother and sister, Noah and Cara. They had packed their Chevy Suburban with new toys, clothes and treats for Adam, and they were looking forward to watching him gleefully descend upon the bounty. But as they neared Carlton Palms, Kennedy-Shields' cellphone rang. A supervisor had only just read Kennedy-Shields' email, and the school was not expecting them. Kennedy-Shields, who had recently clashed with administrators over Adam's medications, made it clear that she was not turning around.

Less than a half-hour later, she and her family sat in a conference room on the Carlton Palms campus, waiting for Adam. He usually greeted his mother with bright eyes and a snippet of a pop song when his own words wouldn't come. But when Adam appeared in the doorway, he was silent. Kennedy-Shields was stunned by his appearance. His hair looked greasy and unwashed, and his clothes hung off his thin frame. Typically exuberant, Adam was expressionless. Oblivious to his visitors and the gifts they had brought for him, he shuffled in, staring ahead.

As Kennedy-Shields studied him, her eyes settled on a bright red, raw sore the size of a quarter on his wrist. “What's that?” she asked a member of the staff, pointing. The employee casually explained that someone must have put Adam's restraints on wrong.

Restraints? Kennedy-Shields knew Carlton Palms workers could hold down residents in a dangerous situation — such as, she'd thought, if they tried to run into traffic. But no one said anything like that had happened with Adam. What would leave such a mark? She demanded to see Carlton Palms' executive director, Tom Shea.

When the longtime ambassador for the school strode into the conference room, she immediately challenged him. “What's going on?” she asked. She pressed him to explain the wound on Adam's arm, his ill-fitting clothes and his deadened expression. Shea grew angry and refused to discuss it, getting up from the chair he'd barely settled into. Kennedy-Shields, a petite woman with round brown eyes and waves of jet-black hair, put herself between him and the door.

What Kennedy-Shields did not know during that visit was that Adam had been restrained before — not once, but hundreds of times. He had been bound after scratching and hitting and kicking, and after what started as simple defiance. After chucking a toy or dinnerware in frustration. After ignoring an order to clean up.

She had no inkling, either, that a paper trail locked away in Carlton Palms' files showed Adam's behavior worsening as workers used increasingly harsh methods to control him. She knew nothing of the searing accounts of abuse and neglect that had for decades trailed the school's parent company, a for-profit chain of group homes and schools called AdvoServ. (Read our story about abuse at AdvoServ, and how the company has bullied regulators and evaded accountability.)

Each year, nearly 20,000 youngsters with severe disabilities like Adam's are sent to live at special education schools at public expense. Federal law gives parents that option when local public school districts can't or won't accommodate their children. But there's little to guarantee that such vulnerable students — some are unable to speak for themselves — receive safe or humane treatment. As Kennedy-Shields would learn, standards for such programs are so loose, monitoring so inconsistent and penalties so rare that some have escaped serious repercussions even for repeated or egregious lapses.

AdvoServ cares for 700 disabled children and adults at 77 facilities in three states, with Carlton Palms by far its largest campus. State officials and advocates for the disabled have long known of its aggressive use of restraints — holds or devices that limit residents' ability to move their heads, torsos, arms or legs. In particular, the company became known for embracing so-called mechanical restraints, such as straps on chairs or beds, wrist cuffs or “wrap mats” that resemble full-body straitjackets. Most providers stopped using such measures long ago, after concluding they were risky and often ineffective over the long-term.

Other than Carlton Palms, just two group homes in Florida reported using such devices at all in the first quarter of 2015. Those two homes, which together have about half as many residents as Carlton Palms, used them 88 times over a five-month period. Carlton Palms used them 4,107 times.

In less than five years, Carlton Palms has put its residents in mechanical restraints 28,000 times — a number that made California-based behavior analyst Jeffery Hayden gasp.

“What I'm envisioning,” said Hayden, a consultant for residential care programs, “is just a place full of terror.”

AdvoServ defended its methods, telling ProPublica it takes on residents with disabilities and behavior challenges that other providers can't handle and that it uses restraints only as a last resort, “when there is imminent danger.” Terry Page, the company's clinical director, cited two studies that found mechanical restraints are safer than manual restraints. (Both studies were published nearly 30 years ago.)

In 2011, Kennedy-Shields sued Carlton Palms, alleging that the restraints Adam endured — involving equipment that harked back to asylums of eras past — violated Florida law, scarring him physically and emotionally.

To this claim, AdvoServ officials responded that any restraints used were necessary and performed with Kennedy-Shields' consent, in accordance with the law. Reached this summer at his home, Shea, now retired, declined to answer questions for this story.

“We disagree with the claims made by Adam's mother, especially considering Adam remained in our care with the permission of his family for [seven] years,” company officials said in a statement. “But because the case is in active litigation it is inappropriate and irresponsible for anyone, including ProPublica, to attempt to litigate the case prematurely, and with only half the story.”

It would be years after Kennedy-Shields' tense final visit to Carlton Palms before she learned the truth about Adam's time there.

Back in 2008, in the cramped conference room that unseasonably warm winter day, she only knew something was deeply wrong.

“What,” she pleaded to Shea, “did you do to my son?”

Adam had seemed to fall from the sky into Kennedy-Shields' arms in 1985.

She and her husband had been devastated when their plans to adopt another boy were derailed at the last minute. Not long afterward, a friend happened to step into a hospital near her office to buy a candy bar and began chatting with the nurses, who were calling adoption agencies because a new mother had just decided to give up her baby. The friend told them about Kennedy-Shields and her husband. Three days later, Adam went home with them.

Kennedy-Shields was 25, and life was full of possibility. She had landed a job as a medical lab technician and married her college sweetheart. They had bought their first home. A doctor had told her that she would never be able to bear children, but now she and her husband were starting a family.

Before he turned two, Adam developed some unusual habits — like rolling shoelaces between his fingers over and over again. He often didn't respond when adults spoke to him. Concerned, his pediatrician sent the family to a psychiatrist when Adam was 27 months old. Less than a minute into the appointment, the psychiatrist began using the word “autism.”

Kennedy-Shields felt little emotion that day as she listened to the doctor. She didn't know much about autism, a mysterious disorder that was diagnosed far more rarely then. She checked out a mountain of books from the University of South Florida library near her home. The books she read were full of depressing and now-discredited theories.

Later that week, as Kennedy-Shields was working the night shift, she began to weep. Hopes for Adam's future that had barely begun to take shape were already dashed. He would never go to college or get married; he would never have a career or children of his own. “It's a death of a sort,” she says now. “It's a death of a dream.”

She grieved that night and over the weeks that followed. And then, suddenly, her perspective shifted. She saw Adam was happy. He loved to play with his blocks and listen to music. He found satisfaction in simple things. “That was really my salvation,” she says. “It didn't matter that I had had these dreams for him. He was content.”

Determined to give Adam the best life she could, she tried a host of special services and therapy. She enrolled him in a pioneering early childhood autism program at a nearby university. When her first marriage ended and she remarried, she traveled to North Carolina with her new husband — a physician — so Adam could try an experimental therapy that involved sound. Kennedy-Shields and her husband later took Adam to have the electrical activity in his brain mapped. He underwent metabolic testing. In the end, Kennedy-Shields wasn't sure any of it made a difference, but she never stopped seeking help.

When Adam was eight, Kennedy-Shields and her husband adopted another boy. Four years later, she found herself unexpectedly pregnant with a girl. Her days were simultaneously draining and fulfilling. She had stopped working when Adam was five. For years she served as president of the Hillsborough County, Florida, chapter of the National Autism Society, but she eventually gave that up, too, to concentrate on her children.

The family moved several times and tried not to let Adam's disability limit them. They ate in restaurants, took long car rides and vacationed far from home, even taking Adam hiking in the Smoky Mountains. Every weekend, he'd ride a roller coaster twice at Busch Gardens. It always calmed him.

Adam smiled often, but sometimes he shrank from others' touch. He would rock back and forth, chewing absently on the soft pad at the base of his thumb. He put things in his mouth that weren't food — like crayons, blocks and Play-Doh — though he didn't typically swallow them. But in many ways, Adam was the easiest of Kennedy-Shields' three children to raise. “He doesn't talk back,” she says. “He doesn't do anything that could be construed as mean.”

Kennedy-Shields did worry that strangers would misunderstand Adam. She avoided taking him to quiet places, like movie theaters, because of his singing. And as he grew bigger, his habits of slapping people to get their attention and playing chase-me games made her wary of public spaces.

When he hit puberty and experienced the rush of hormones that comes with it, Adam began acting out during his short visits with his adoptive father, Kent Fields. (Adam took his last name.) Fields says Adam slapped and bit himself and banged his head. He put his hand through the wall. One time, Fields intervened when he saw Adam running toward his toddler stepsister with a raised baseball bat. To keep Adam from hurting himself, Fields would wrap his arms and legs around the boy as he flailed. Adam didn't have the same problems at his mother's house, and his teachers never reported incidents like that.

Adam's schooling remained vexing, too. One afternoon when he was in middle school, as Kennedy-Shields waited on the bottom step of the school bus, Adam hit the bus driver on the head to say goodbye. Startled, the driver slapped Adam — hard — with the back of her hand.

Kennedy-Shields complained. The driver took early retirement, but the school district never apologized.

Kennedy-Shields also feared Adam wasn't learning much in the classrooms where he sat all day with other disabled students. In middle school, his teacher spent long stretches outside, smoking cigarettes. When Adam got to high school, Kennedy-Shields says she found out his purported instructor worked with other students outside his classroom for most of the day. One classmate walked out the door and managed to cross a four-lane highway by himself — three times.

After Kennedy-Shields' complaints, the school district transferred Adam to a public school for special education kids. Not long after, Adam took off, too — passing through an unlocked front gate and walking a few blocks to Boy Scout Road, the busy thoroughfare that leads to Tampa International Airport. The school's principal jumped in her car and went after him. “So that was the end of that for me,” Kennedy-Shields says. “I thought, OK, this is it, I'm done with Hillsborough County.”

She knew she was running out of time to find Adam a good school. He was 16, and while his peers were looking ahead to graduation, he had six years before he aged out of public education. Kennedy-Shields had hoped that by this point, he'd have acquired basic vocational skills, but that wasn't happening. Nothing seemed to be happening, except the ticking of the clock.

Someone at an autism society meeting told her about Carlton Palms' reputation for working with kids like Adam. She toured its lakefront campus, taking along a therapist from a university-affiliated autism center. The school had opened 13 years earlier, in 1987. When she visited, it had roughly 75 residents, adults and children — most in their teens — with similar disabilities. The campus had a playground and a basketball court, and its small classrooms sat off a quiet, dead-end road. There were no four-lane highways in sight. Though she had done everything she could for him, Kennedy-Shields knew Adam had a great deal to learn before he could live in the world as an adult. She did a cursory check online. Nothing she found raised any alarms.

She wanted the school district to acknowledge it was failing to educate Adam and to cover his tuition at Carlton Palms. When district officials resisted, she hired an attorney. That was on a Thursday. By the following Monday, the school district had backed down.

Kennedy-Shields went with Shea, Carlton Palms' director, to observe Adam in his class in Tampa. Shea was personable, charismatic and confident in what he was pitching, she says. He agreed the boy would be a good fit for the school.

Before Adam left for Carlton Palms, Kennedy-Shields filled out a mountain of paperwork. One form said that in case of “severe behavior problems,” staff members might use emergency measures that involved “manually holding an individual” or “physically restraining an individual with restraints approved for such purpose, applied until the person is calm.” Wanting to keep Adam safe, she signed it without hesitation.

Kennedy-Shields says the school informed her that, to help Adam make the transition to life at Carlton Palms, he shouldn't have any contact with his family for at least two months. The idea left her unsettled, but she told herself that she needed to set aside her misgivings. Her friends had told her to think about what was best for Adam in the long-term. Ultimately, her husband drove Adam to Carlton Palms, because Kennedy-Shields feared she couldn't do it. “I thought I would turn around and come home,” she says.

Adam's admissions forms noted that he was in good physical health, on no medication, slept well and had a good appetite. Under “patient chief complaint,” it listed acne.

Weeks passed. Kennedy-Shields' house in northern Tampa was strangely quiet without Adam, whose voice she longed to hear. She'd rarely left him; they'd only once spent a few days apart. When she called each day to check on him, Carlton Palms staff assured her that her son was fine. She felt relieved that perhaps she had finally found a way to help him take a few more steps toward independence.

Unbeknownst to Kennedy-Shields, the pastoral setting at Carlton Palms belied a more turbulent history.

AdvoServ traced its roots to the Au Clair School in Delaware. According to a 1979 series in the Wilmington News-Journal, staffers said children with autism were being beaten as part of their treatment. Three years before Adam set foot in Carlton Palms, a New York Times story detailed more problems at the company's Delaware facilities, including state inspectors' discovery of children in trailers smelling of urine and feces and workers' description of suspicious injuries.

Throughout the 2000s, complaints about AdvoServ facilities streamed in to child and adult protective service agencies. The homes' reliance on mechanical restraints resulted in a trail of injuries. AdvoServ's leaders defended the measures as necessary to protect residents from harming themselves or others, but some residents and their families recall needlessly violent takedowns, followed by extended periods of confinement. Donna Salvato said this happened repeatedly to her brother, Jimmy Mullins, when he lived at an AdvoServ home in New Jersey in the late 2000s.

“They'd tie my whole body in the mat,” said Mullins, now 42, who is developmentally disabled and prone to explosive rage. “The thing they'd tie my wrists on would hurt me really bad.”

Many homes for the disabled had reduced or phased out mechanical restraints by then. Federal law and professional standards had restricted their use in health care settings. Providers increasingly turned to alternatives. They trained workers to pay closer attention to medical problems that could provoke outbursts, and used positive encouragement to get residents to avoid risky behaviors.

At Carlton Palms, workers were sometimes overwhelmed. Staffing shortages could mean they worked two, or even three, eight-hour shifts in a row and monitored as many as eight residents at a time, said Jill Bass, who was a therapist at the facility for nine months in 2010. When residents acted out, workers were quick to use restraints. “Take them down, take them down,” said Bass, who left after injuring her ankle while using a manual hold to stop one patient from attacking another. “That was their way.”

Restraints were ingrained in the company's culture, but there was more than that at work, added Glen Gandy, who worked with residents at Carlton Palms for several years. High turnover meant workers often didn't know residents well enough to calm them, and they would turn to restraints instead, Gandy said. He was fired in 2012 after an incident in which he and other workers attempted to wrestle a thrashing resident into a wrap mat. As Gandy held the resident's head, the man bit down on Gandy's finger. Gandy broke the man's jaw — accidentally, he says — getting his finger out of the man's mouth.

AdvoServ said in a statement that the company's turnover is “higher than we'd like” but lower than the industry average. Officials also said they have only used triple shifts “in the case of a natural disaster,” and that the company has always met staffing and training requirements.

Kennedy-Shields had little way of knowing about the abuse complaints involving Carlton Palms. Such allegations usually aren't publicized or available to parents, especially if their child is not involved. Right after the no-contact period ended, she went to see Adam, who appeared to be doing well. “When I saw him,” she says, “he was so happy to see me.” She says she visited at least once a month and called at least once a week. She'd pack her car up with new clothes, candy and toys and leave the bustle of Tampa, passing rolling hills and grazing cattle on the way to Mount Dora. She always called or emailed ahead, alerting staff when she planned to arrive on campus.

Employees would bring Adam to her at the main administration building, and they would visit in a conference room. If it was a weekend, when administrators weren't there, they would go into a classroom or hang out at the swings. They'd sing to each other and have simple conversations, with Adam signaling his preferences with a word or gesture. Each fall in the first few years Adam was there, she and her family attended Carlton Palms' family day — a festival featuring pony rides and barbecue dinners. She never saw anything that gave her pause. She later realized she didn't see all that much — staff members usually asked her to stay in designated areas and only let her see her son's bedroom once in seven years.

Kennedy-Shields participated in phone meetings with Carlton Palms and school district officials about Adam's special education plan. He seemed to be making progress — at least toward the narrowly constructed targets set for him. The school told her he was completing more tasks successfully. But Kennedy-Shields had no way to check. His lack of speech and the fact that he was so far from home made it impossible for her to verify what Carlton Palms told her. And though it was paying the bill, the school district didn't independently evaluate Adam's academic growth.

Adam aged out of the school system in 2007 when he turned 22. But Medicaid — the government insurance program for the poor and disabled — paid for him to continue his stay at Carlton Palms as an adult.

Staffers said they would keep working to help Adam meet his goals. Yet Kennedy-Shields found herself enmeshed in a series of conflicts with Shea. The tensest interactions were over her son's health.

Adam started taking an antipsychotic drug a few years into his stay, after Carlton Palms staff told Kennedy-Shields that her son was agitated. She balked at first, but relented, hoping it would help Adam relax. The program's doctor would change drugs and adjust doses regularly, depending on how well the medicine seemed to be working.

Then, in 2006, she got a letter from a Medicaid psychiatrist suggesting the antipsychotic Adam was on should be monitored closely because of potentially dangerous side effects. A psychiatrist working for Carlton Palms responded that all the necessary lab work had been done, writing, “Thank you, so much, for this incredibly intrusive waste of my time.” But Kennedy-Shields began to ask more questions. Her son hadn't been diagnosed as psychotic or bipolar. “They were always pushing it with me, and I was like, ‘I don't think he needs this,' ” Kennedy-Shields says. “There is no drug for autism.”

In 2007, she said, Shea threatened to discharge Adam if Carlton Palms couldn't put him on Abilify — a potent antipsychotic that is sometimes prescribed for autistic patients who are irritable or lash out. As with all antipsychotics, the potential side effects were frightening — they could include diabetes, significant weight gain and involuntary facial tics. Kennedy-Shields had grown worried that Adam's caretakers weren't paying close enough attention to his reactions to drugs. Once, she'd found him gasping for breath after a medication change, but staff hadn't seemed to notice. So this time, Kennedy-Shields refused to give her consent.

A bigger blowup came soon after, when she learned that a blood test had shown that Adam was anemic, a diagnosis he had never received before. She asked the doctor who worked at Carlton Palms to find out why. Shea told her never to call the doctor again and denied the anemia, Kennedy-Shields says — though a nurse had read the full test results to her. (She says she never got an explanation, though she later surmised he simply wasn't getting enough food.)

Noah, Adam's brother, remembers visiting Adam and seeing his face torn up from itching and scratching after an apparent allergic reaction that had gone untreated. “It looked like a raccoon had attacked him,” Noah says. Another time, Adam took off running during a visit — and fought workers when they grabbed him — something Noah says he wishes the family had viewed as a warning sign.

By early 2008, Kennedy-Shields was fed up. She asked Adam's support coordinator — who assisted families with Medicaid in arranging for services — what she needed to do to move Adam. A few weeks later, Kennedy-Shields discovered the raw wound on Adam's wrist. Shea responded to her questions with rage, she says.

“I don't have to take this shit from you,” Shea told her during their February 2008 confrontation, Kennedy-Shields says. They sat around a table in a small conference room with faux-wood paneling. Shea grabbed her son's chair in his hands and pushed it roughly, she says, as he squeezed past and headed for the door. She jumped to her son's defense. “Get the fuck out of my way,” he told her, she says. He is going to hit me, she thought. She stepped aside.

In court proceedings related to Kennedy-Shields' lawsuit, Shea has denied making those comments.

Kennedy-Shields wanted to put Adam in the Suburban and take him home right away. The support coordinator urged her not to act rashly — paperwork had to be filled out, and she'd first need to set up a bedroom in her house for Adam and line up a new behavior analyst. After what had happened, they wouldn't lay a hand on Adam, he said. He told Noah to lead Kennedy-Shields out. “I'm sure they were very scared driving home with me,” she says. “I was hysterically crying the whole way.” No one spoke during the ride.

Shea wrote a letter of dismissal for Adam, calling Kennedy-Shields uncooperative and saying she was unwilling to work with staff.

Kennedy-Shields told legal advocates for the disabled about the confrontation. Someone complained to the state about Adam's treatment. Carlton Palms reported that it was discharging Adam “due to verbal attacks against staff, doctors etc by” an unnamed person who made “all kinds of accusations against the staff,” state records show. (The names are blacked out, but it is clearly referring to Kennedy-Shields.) Nothing came of the complaint.

After her confrontation with Shea, Kennedy-Shields spent weeks in a frenzy, rearranging her home and life to prepare for Adam's return.

He no longer had a bedroom in her house, so the family had to redecorate his old room. They made sure big pieces of furniture, like bookcases and dressers, were bolted to the wall so he couldn't accidentally pull them over. They fixed the locks so he couldn't work them. They moved electronics and remote controls up high, because Adam liked to turn up the sound so loud he'd blow the speakers. They put plexiglass on the window so he wouldn't break one with a slap, as he had before.

Kennedy-Shields called the state Agency for Persons with Disabilities, too. The agency wanted to put Adam in a group home for people with “intensive behaviors.” She refused and fought to arrange for aides and a behavior analyst to work with her son at home. Distracted one day outside the agency's building after a heated encounter, she got into a minor car wreck after failing to look before changing lanes.

As the weeks ticked by, Kennedy-Shields worried about Adam “every minute of the day,” her husband, Tom Shields, says. “I don't think she slept for two weeks. You could see the distress on her face worrying about it.” She'd wonder what was happening that day. She'd say over and over, “He needs to be out of there.”

Finally, one day in April, Adam arrived home in a Carlton Palms van that carried all his possessions. A bit hesitant when he first walked in the door, he soon happily roamed a house he knew well, visiting his bedroom and rummaging through kitchen cabinets like he'd never left. His brother and sister — who had been nine and five when he had left — were now 16 and 12. Kennedy-Shields hovered over Adam like she hadn't in years, making him his favorite sandwich — a “fluffer-nutter” — and attending to his every need.

But any comfort Kennedy-Shields felt in Adam's seemingly easy transition quickly dissipated. She began to discover clues that revealed what his years at Carlton Palms had been like.

He still needed constant supervision, and when he took off his clothes, she saw round circular spots where the hair was missing on his upper body and arms, and a white scar across his upper chest, below the shoulder. “What's going on here?” she wondered, grabbing a camera to photograph them. She was shocked, too, at his protruding rib cage and hollow cheek bones. He was down to 153 pounds on his 6-foot, 5-inch frame.

She soon found he had acquired strange new habits, too. He'd grab food as soon as it was put in front of him and stuff it in his cheeks, like a chipmunk. “He'd say, ‘Go to your room, no Pizza Hut,'” Kennedy-Shields recalls. Her family never ordered from Pizza Hut, and she had certainly never punished Adam by withholding food. Besides, he had a milk allergy and was not supposed to eat dairy. He also said things like, “you motherfucking little bitch” that he hadn't heard at home. Sometimes, he changed the pitch of his voice — as if mimicking someone who wasn't there — when doing it.

“Every day it was something else,” Kennedy-Shields says. “I would pick up that something was wrong, something was wrong, something was wrong.”

Then one day, shortly after he came home, he walked out of the bathroom and began screaming and shaking his head back and forth. He started hitting himself with a ferocity Kennedy-Shields had never witnessed. He was slapping his head and trying to bang it into his knee. “He was making himself bleed,” she says. “He was beating himself.” She had no idea what had set him off or how to stop him. She and Noah grabbed Adam's arms and tried to talk to him, but it was as if he didn't see them. His hands shook uncontrollably.

“It was very scary,” says Noah. He realized his brother — so long a benign presence — had come home a different person.

Adam grew agitated when someone stood in front of him or moved too quickly toward him. He'd stare blankly and tremble. He seemed to be in a trance when upset — he didn't even appear to recognize his own mother. He refused to swim in the family pool and frequently grew upset while in the bathroom. He would punch holes in walls, shred clothes. A few times, he woke up at night and smeared feces on himself. Kennedy-Shields was wary of taking him out in public. At home, the family used a helmet, mitts, pillows and padding to protect Adam from himself. She began to build a list of things that seemed to spark his episodes — triggers she says he developed while at Carlton Palms.

“I started to put everything together,” Kennedy-Shields says. “And that's when I hired the attorney.”

After two years at home, Adam moved to a group home, then to an apartment, and finally to a rental house to live on his own with the help of round-the-clock aides. He gained 90 pounds in the six months after leaving Carlton Palms and grew more stable — without restraints — though he still had episodes when what seemed like a “fight or flight” instinct kicked into high gear. Kennedy-Shields now had a plan for how to handle Adam's meltdowns. Still, every time one occurred, she found herself struggling to function.

Her outrage over the dramatic changes in her son continued to simmer. She believed Carlton Palms was responsible. But she still didn't know exactly how.

The school had maintained detailed records of Adam's care. But, she says, it had never allowed her to see them. Shortly after Adam left, she received an odd letter from Carlton Palms' lawyer, saying that portions of Adam's file had been stolen out of an employee's car.

Kennedy-Shields' lawyer put in requests — in 2008, 2009 and 2010 — for records on the use of restraints on Adam and about other incidents involving him, to no avail.

She wanted to send a message and hold the program accountable. In late 2011, she filed a lawsuit in federal court, alleging Adam had suffered permanent injuries and seeking unspecified damages. A judge kicked the suit to state court.

As the case dragged on, Kennedy-Shields watched closely for news about Carlton Palms. The media carried accounts of complaints filed by the state against the facility. The accusations were staggering: When a boy at Carlton Palms refused to lie face down for a restraint, a staffer had kicked him in the head and choked him. Residents had been beaten, dragged across the floor and struck with a plastic container that caused an open head wound, the state alleged. In 2013, a 14-year-old girl with autism died there after a night in which she projectile vomited while being tied to a bed and a chair.

Then one day in the summer of 2014, an envelope from Kennedy-Shields' Tampa personal injury attorney arrived in her mailbox. It contained a flash drive holding documents that Carlton Palms finally released about Adam's time there.

Hunched over her son Noah's laptop computer, Kennedy-Shields clicked on files containing the narrative of her son's days that she'd both yearned for and feared. She learned that staffers had given Adam meals like macaroni and cheese, despite his dairy allergy. He'd once climbed over a fence and splashed in a lagoon where she remembered seeing alligators sunning themselves during her visits. He had hurt himself falling off a swing. A staff member was fired after hitting him.

But it was the restraints that took her breath away.

She had steeled herself before she looked at the files, expecting to read that in his final months at Carlton Palms, Adam had been shackled in restraints, as the wound she had spotted suggested. Then she saw the date.

Carlton Palms reported that a restraint had occurred at 10:20 a.m. on June 17, 2001 — roughly seven months after Adam arrived at the school, when Kennedy-Shields had thought everything was fine. She felt her heart quicken as she realized that Adam had been tied up and pinned down for years without her knowledge.

After a few minutes, she shut the files and called her attorney, furious. She couldn't bear to see more.

Weeks passed. Depositions were scheduled for her and Tom Shea. Bracing herself, she knew she had to read on.

There were more than 750 pages of records. In dispassionate terms, the records revealed repeated incidents of Adam refusing to follow directions, escalating his behavior as workers intervened and ending up forced into a wrap mat, or with his ankles shackled or with his wrists cuffed against a waist belt. Shea was notified directly of some incidents, records said. Interspersed were reports of injuries Adam suffered in and out of restraints.

Some restraints occurred in response to what sounded like dangerous behavior, such as his hitting himself or banging his head. But others hardly screamed emergency at all. One time, Adam refused to clean up Legos and ended up in mechanical restraints. He was put in them, too, for an incident that began with his smiling and throwing a toy across the room. His ankles were bound after he tossed a dinner bowl and broke it, and after he launched couch cushions across the room.

Some episodes seemed more punitive than safety-related — he was placed in a wrap mat “because he hit Matt in the head,” a staffer wrote, for instance — or even for convenience: “it was in the best interest of the great room to put mechanical restraints and use the protective wrap mat.”

Kennedy-Shields stopped reading so she could run and vomit, then she sat down on her kitchen floor and sobbed, knowing she finally had the answer to the question she had asked Shea nearly seven years earlier. Noah came over and kept reading, stopping at one point to throw something across the living room in anger. They pressed on through the night. Together, they finally learned the secrets Adam had never been able to tell.

In the spring of 2015, more documents arrived from Carlton Palms. Adam's “behavior plans” laid out the habits that were causing him problems and described what the facility was doing to address them. Parents were supposed to consent to treatment options and sign forms when new plans were written. But despite yearly updates that showed Adam's behavior getting worse — not better — as Carlton Palms used progressively more forceful means to control him, Kennedy-Shields only recognized the first plans as ones she had seen and approved.

The plans told a heartbreaking tale. A “handsome young man” who enjoyed music and being outdoors arrived at Carlton Palms in November 2000, seeking help with his speech and a decrease in socially disruptive, but typically not life-threatening, behaviors like hand-biting and slapping. His aggression, an admissions document said, was “not very frequent” and “not very sophisticated.” He slept well and had a good appetite. He was not on any medication.

The years ticked by, and his behavior worsened. He started hitting himself and scratching until he bled. His behavior got more intense when he was ill — and he was often ill — as he endured chronic sinus congestion, headaches and ear infections. The plans recognized that medical problems triggered his outbursts, but also attributed them to his desire to “escape from demands” — or, essentially, to ignore instructions.

Clinicians responded by upping the ante: At first, he was given a sort of ”time out” away from others. By 2003, the plan called for the use of the wrap mat for five minutes plus one minute of calm — though records show Adam had been subjected to it before. Later, a “range of motion” device was added to the plan — a waist belt with wrist cuffs that can be clipped to it to force users' hands to their sides.

By 2005, the description of Adam had changed dramatically from the original admissions forms Carlton Palms staffers had filled out. The new plan said he was admitted to the program because he had “attacked his younger siblings and has eloped from the house into dangerous situations” and that “within the home they could not offer the kind of 24-hour supervision that he required ensuring safety.” It said that “While living at home his family would have to take turns staying up at night to ensure that Adam did not run away or self-injure.” None of that was mentioned in the intake forms. And it hadn't happened while Adam was with Kennedy-Shields, who says she took care of Adam for all but a few hours a month.

The 2005 plan raised the possibility of finding a placement closer to Tampa for Adam. But Carlton Palms behavioral specialists asserted that any place would need the same strong measures — mechanical restraints like a wrap mat, 24-hour supervision, locked premises and a well-staffed facility — to control him. Those parameters suggested few, if any, other homes would work.

By 2008, Adam's plan said that if he wouldn't stop his aggression or self-injury, workers should bind him in the wrap mat until he was quiet for one minute, then secure him in the “range-of-motion” device until he was calm for an hour.

The last year Kennedy-Shields' signature appeared on a plan was 2002, documents from Carlton Palms showed . Forms attached to a few other plans were signed by Fields, Adam's now-estranged adoptive father, who did not have custody but visited him a few times. Kennedy-Shields, in contrast, says she talked with Carlton Palms staff several times a week, visited regularly and had a fax machine at home. She was Adam's legal guardian. Neither Adam's father, nor the facility, told her what was in those plans, she says.

In 2004, clinicians had Adam sign the parent consent line himself, though he can't write. In 2006, the signature — presumably his — is wavy scribbles that don't resemble letters. On another plan, a clinician who drew up the plan signed her own name on the parent consent line, adding, “conv. with mom.” (Kennedy-Shields says no such conversation took place.)

The plans aimed to justify Carlton Palms' hands-on approach with Adam. Top administrators at the center — including Shea — signed off on them. A peer review committee that considered them sometimes included state officials alongside Carlton Palms representatives.

There were other revelations in the records Kennedy-Shields received. At one point in 2007, a physician authorized workers to pin down Adam with a bed net — a blanket of woven mesh that is fastened to the bed frame and stretched across patients so they can't sit up or fully move their arms or legs. The records don't say how often it was used, if ever. Another document revealed that Adam wasn't the only resident who was underweight — a 2005 letter from a nurse listed a dozen residents whose weight was dwindling to the point of concern.

It turned out the support coordinator was wrong when he insisted Adam would not be touched at Carlton Palms after Kennedy-Shields' confrontation with Shea. Workers tied Adam down at least 44 times in the roughly two months before he arrived home. Some occurred in the middle of the night.

It is hard to visualize what happened in some of the incidents, or to know why staff felt the danger was significant enough to warrant restraints. In one instance, a staffer wrote, “Begin scratching his legs and back, while sitting in a Fetal position.” There was no mention of why he might be itching, or whether something less drastic — treating dry skin or allergies, clipping his nails or putting mitts on him — would have quelled his urge to scratch.

Adam was also getting hurt a lot. Roughly six weeks before leaving Carlton Palms, he was sitting listening to headphones, then took them off and began scratching and slapping himself. He was put in a wrap mat. While he was in it, another resident walked over and kicked him in the face. Then, barely two weeks later, workers noted that he had a black eye — offering no explanation in the documents for the swollen and discolored eyelid. A day after that, “staff found client Adam bleeding from the head” because of an unexplained half-inch cut.

The plans and restraint forms revealed that Adam was getting unmistakably worse during his time at Carlton Palms. By his final year there, he no longer slept through the night, had been on and off antipsychotic medication and sometimes tried to seriously hurt himself.

After spending hours poring through the paper trail on her son's care, Kennedy-Shields reached her own conclusion about what Carlton Palms had done to Adam: “They,” she says, pausing, “tortured him.”

One bright, cool morning this spring, I visited Adam. Six months earlier, Kennedy-Shields had moved him into his own small rental house, with a brick front walkway and a screened-in back porch. It is utilitarian, not fancy, with a huge flat-screen television that is turned up too loud. Warm sunlight streams through ceiling-level windows, and Adam is snuggled under a blanket on a soft leather couch.

He says good morning in muffled tones, his gaze shifting around the room. He is excited to go to lunch with his mom. “Van ride!” he says, working on sewing shoe laces through holes in a bunny-shaped card.

Adam, now 31, spends his day playing with toys, such as Mega Bloks, and doing simple chores, guided by round-the-clock aides who are paid for by Medicaid. His brother Noah, who is studying to become a behavior analyst, works with him daily. Adam can easily visit his family's house a quarter-mile away, but if he gets overwhelmed, he has his own space to return to.

Kennedy-Shields gives Adam a candy cane for doing something she asked. He crunches through it, holding it in his enormous hands and taking giant bites as if it's a carrot stick. He moves on to a turtle lacing card.

He starts to whine and squeal, which can be a precursor to agitation. “Hey, excuse me,” Kennedy-Shields says, trying to quiet him. “Who loves you, baby?”

Adam settles down to play again. “This is my kid,” she says, “He should have stayed this way.”

He can fold laundry and do easy tasks like shredding paper. “He could have had supported employment,” she says. “What they did is they ruined his life. In every way, every way. They ruined mine,” she says, tears collecting in her eyes. “Because he should be like this all the time. This is what he's like.”

Kennedy-Shields is girding herself for a trial in her case against Carlton Palms, which she expects will take place in 2016. She still doesn't think she has seen all of Adam's records, and her lawyers are trying to get Carlton Palms to turn over the rest.

She monitors Adam's care closely now. Video cameras are mounted in full sight throughout his house. Rigged to her cellphone, she checks the feed several times an hour. “Any time, any day. In the middle of the night, I'll just get up and look,” she says.

I ask Kennedy-Shields if Adam has ever hurt her.

When he first came back and went wild, she tried to hold his hands like she used to, to calm him. “His hands are so much bigger,” she says, remembering. He squeezed her finger too tightly, digging his nails in until it stung. He has hit her, too, while flailing his arms. But at those times he had that vacant stare, like the one she first saw at Carlton Palms. “When he hits me,” she says, “he has no idea who I am.”

He is not on antipsychotics. When he gets upset, his caregivers put a pillow in his lap — to keep him from banging his head on his knee — and back off.

He is not restrained, with one exception: His brother Noah sometimes grabs hold of Adam's hands to stop him from harming himself. Noah is the only one who's allowed to do that. Scars on Noah's forearms serve as reminders of the desperate place where his older brother's mind still goes.

“No one's hurting him again,” Kennedy-Shields says. “Ever.”


Kids Get Hurt at Residential Peograms for Children with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders

While states look on

by Annie Waldman

(NATIONAL) -- After slamming his fists into the wall until his knuckles dripped with blood, the raging teenage boy turned to a staff member and shoved him. The teen had recently been admitted to Youth Development Institute, a residential program for children with emotional and behavioral disorders in Phoenix, Arizona. Even the smallest incidents triggered his anger.

Years ago, the response would have been swift and physical: The boy would have been forced to the ground and restrained until he grew calm, which sometimes could take up to 45 minutes.

But this time, Sean Hennessey, a direct care staff coordinator, stepped in front of another staff member, sending him out of the room before the conflict could escalate. Hennessey stood at the door with his head down, avoiding eye contact, and calmly spoke to the boy. When tears rolled down the boy's face minutes later, Hennessey moved in and offered a reassuring side hug.

“It's exhilarating when you've avoided a restraint,” Hennessey told ProPublica, recalling the incident. “Pinning a kid to the ground until they stop fighting and start crying, it's barbaric if you think about it.”

Eight years ago, restraints occurred multiple times a day at Youth Development Institute. When children violently acted out, staff would hold them or even strap them down, and sometimes inject them with sedatives. Trish and David Cocoros, the directors of the program, said they hated relying on restraints, but assumed that if they stopped using them, more staff members and kids would get hurt.

Then, in 2012, the program changed course after an industry expert visited and discussed alternatives to restraints such as the approach Hennessey used. Now, the program averages less than one restraint a month.

Youth Development Institute is part of a growing group of residential programs nationwide attempting to improve their work with children in key ways. Eliminating restraints is just one example. Many programs are shortening children's stays, involving families more, and offering more rigorous classes.

But best practices like these are almost entirely self-imposed.

There are few federal requirements for residential programs involving children, and a patchwork of state regulation has left significant gaps: There is little to no monitoring of how well schools are teaching kids overall, no required national tracking of abuse and neglect allegations, and not even a comprehensive database of all programs.

Efforts to bolster federal standards have drawn fire from some providers and industry groups, which have lobbied lawmakers. Legislation to modestly increase federal oversight has languished for years.

As a result, for years, some programs have continued to thrive despite having long records of mistreating residents that has even, at times, led to injuries and deaths. (Read ProPublica's recent story about one for-profit company, AdvoServ, that has used its deep pockets and influence to bully weak regulators and evade accountability.)

Because of the wide latitude they're given, some programs still use extreme methods on children – including forced labor or exercise, electric shock and restraint devices that include shackles and a wrap that resembles a full-body straight jacket. Our recent story also detailed how AdvoServ workers at one campus used mechanical restraints 28,000 times in less than five years. (AdvoServ told us workers only use restraints as a last resort, “when there is imminent danger.”)

At programs across the country, at least 145 children have died from avoidable causes at residential facilities over the past 35 years, a ProPublica analysis of news reports found. At least 62 children died after being restrained, most often because of asphyxiation.

The job of monitoring the wellbeing of children at the programs is spread across so many state and local agencies that kids can fall through the cracks.

State education agencies, for instance, rarely take strong action. A ProPublica survey found that about half of the education departments didn't have the power to sanction such schools even if they discovered public school students were being mistreated. School officials in just seven of the 44 states that responded to the survey said they had levied penalties on or closed such a program in the last decade.

“State agencies can certainly step up measures to hold all residential treatment programs accountable to high health and safety standards, but the reality is that most have not despite a rash of abuse allegations occurring in programs on their turf,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., told ProPublica in an email. Schiff reintroduced a bill earlier this year that would require the tracking of abuse allegations lodged against such programs.

Youth residential centers originated in the 1940s to fill a gap in the therapeutic spectrum: They are less restrictive than psychiatric hospitals and are often a last resort for overwhelmed families. They provide housing, treatment and, often, schooling to kids with a range of issues, from emotional disorders to substance abuse problems to profound disabilities like severe autism. They use a diverse array of approaches and include so-called “wilderness” programs, boot camps and other behavior modification centers.

Public schools funnel roughly 18,000 kids per year into residential programs. Federal law entitles all children with disabilities to free public schooling but school districts sometimes pay private providers to educate students with severe impairments that local classrooms can't handle. Some of the programs provide 24-hour care and take children from across the country.

Many of the programs are pricey, with total costs for some children soaring past $350,000 per year. A host of other agencies, from child welfare to Medicaid, typically pay the rest of the bill for children's stays, each with their own standards for the programs.

Despite the public funding, there is little data on residential schools. One federal database collects state data on abuse incidents, but submission is voluntary. There is no required federal tracking of abuse allegations–and there is not even a nationwide list of all residential programs. One often-cited government survey, which is more than a decade old, estimates that there are at least 3,600 facilities across the country, housing more than 50,000 children annually.

Ira Burnim, legal director for the Bazelon Center for Mental Health, believes that the current data gives an incomplete picture. “Our lack of information and data is very troubling,” said Burnim. “To a certain extent, the residential treatment centers are out of sight, out of mind.”

Lawmakers have repeatedly called for changes amid reports of chronic abuse and neglect. A government report in 2008 found gaps in state regulation increased the risk of abuse and neglect at some youth residential programs.

Some state agencies didn't visit programs often enough to make sure kids were safe and well-cared for, the report found. In other states, some programs, such as private boarding schools and religious treatment centers, are exempt from licensing and do not have direct regulation. The report also found state agencies did not routinely share negative findings on programs, or even inform other agencies when a program had its license revoked.

A few industry groups support greater oversight and transparency.

“Even if it means more regulation and paperwork, we have an obligation to support what would be best for the children,” said Kari Sisson, executive director of the American Association of Children's Residential Centers.

To help reinforce standards, some states and federal agencies require programs to obtain accreditation from professional standards groups, which generally have more requirements than state agencies.

But the accrediting agencies have few tools to enforce compliance.

“They do a lot of things well and they have a lot of good measures,” said Robert Friedman, a clinical psychologist at the University of South Florida. “But they are not there that often.”

With few enforcement powers, some federal officials have focused on encouraging best practices. Dr. Gary Blau, the chief of the child, adolescent and family branch of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, has led a campaign to promote changes at children's residential centers, such as eliminating the use of restraints.

In 2006, Blau organized the first “Building Bridges” summit to bring residential program directors and community care providers together to discuss how to improve the standards of therapeutic care for youth.

Although many facilities, like Youth Development Institute, were ready and willing to incorporate best practices, others were resistant to any kind of culture change.

“There were residential facilities that had built fortresses around themselves,” Blau said. “They kept kids in and kept families out.”

Since that first meeting, nearly 130 organizations have committed to the standards set by the Building Bridges initiative.

Blau recognizes that there's only so much that persuasion can accomplish. “There's still a lot more work to be done,” Blau said. For facilities that are resistant to change, “that's where I would look to state licensing and say that we need to include these principles in our licensing requirements.”

Aside from facilities, several states have also begun to formally adopt the standards as their own. Massachusetts, for example, has embedded the Building Bridges' guidelines into their licensing regulations, including limiting restraints.

“The data made it impossible to walk away from,” said Janice LeBel, the director of system transformation at Massachusetts' Department of Mental Health. When LeBel compared the psychiatric care of children and adults, the rate at which restraints were used was at least 4 times higher in youth facilities. “There was a moral imperative to do something about it.”

Under LeBel's watch, the state has reduced the use of restraints in children's psychiatric facilities by 89 percent. They are now implementing the reduction strategies across children's residential facilities and schools. But for reductions to happen across the country, LeBel said, national standards should be stronger.

“There is great value to having local oversight, but it's important for there to be federal standards that drive service advancement,” she told ProPublica.

Industry groups and providers have at times aggressively sought to fend off federal regulation of their programs and worked to undermine stricter rules.

“Lobbying against regulations is traditionally the posture of the providers,” said Burnim of Bazelon Law Center. “They are not fans of regulation, and where they are supportive of regulation, it's in the service of getting resources.”

The National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs, also known as NATSAP, represents over 150 residential treatment programs and was one of the more prominent groups lobbying Congress on earlier versions of Schiff's bill. Between 2008 and 2009, NATSAP spent $220,000 lobbying Congress, according to disclosure reports.

“We are all for regulation, it just has to be the right kind,” said Clifford Brownstein, the executive director of NATSAP, which requires that its members be licensed and accredited. “We have found that, for a variety of reasons, issues can be dealt with best more locally.”

While NATSAP has not actively lobbied since 2010, another member-based organization, the National Association for Children's Behavioral Health, or NACBH, has spent at least $100,000 since 2013 lobbying Congress on mental health bills, including legislation on residential program oversight, according to congressional disclosure reports.

Joy Midman, executive director of NACBH, believes that “the field has been swiped with one broad brush.”

Midman, who emphasized that the disclosed dollars spent by NACBH only show what bills her organization has paid firms to monitor and does not necessarily indicate lobbying, described the recent legislation as a “work-in-progress.”


Want to Prevent Sexual Assault on College Campuses? Let's Start With Our Kindergarteners

by Krista Millay

There is a major problem with looking to colleges and universities to solve the problem of campus sexual assault. If there's any truth in the statistic that one in four undergraduate women are sexually assaulted during their university experience, then waiting until students arrive on campus is too late to start the prevention work. The conversation about healthy sexuality, consent, and bodies must start earlier - as early as kindergarten.

This early education could equip our children to have healthy relationships as young adults, changing the culture of college campuses across the country. But, equally important, it would also give children the language and skills to get assistance when an interaction is inappropriate right now, whether that interaction is with a friend or a perpetrator.

My university work around prevention has caused me to slow down and become aware of the unspoken assumptions we make about children's bodies, to start connecting the daily conversations I have with my children about body parts and hugs and kisses to the outcomes I wish for the college students whom I educate. As a parent, it occurs to me that there is something better we parents and educators can all do right now. We can begin to think differently about how sexuality, bodies, power, and consent are communicated, starting as early as kindergarten.

There are lots of blurred lines for children around their bodies, when it comes to touching and affection. Think of little Susie, who's asked to give a hug or even a kiss to Aunt Jo, whom Susie hardly knows. Susie's parents mean well, and want to protect Aunt Jo's feelings when she asks for a hug or kiss goodbye. But what is the message to Susie?

It seems that when it comes to their bodies, children are taught that obedience and conformity, not autonomy or even empathy, are the highest values.

I often ask myself: at what point do we "switch over" and teach our children that authority or dominance does not equal a right to another's body? When do we challenge this early lesson in power and consent?

Here are five small tips to begin the conversation about healthy sexuality with your little one.

1. Confidence and respect. I speak the proper names of my children's private body parts often to inspire confidence in their bodies. When they are curiously exploring their bodies or needing to wipe after using the potty are both great times to name things. This also ensures that if they come home calling their private part "cupcake" one day, I'll know that someone else has been having this conversation with them. (For more on sexual abuse and kids, this article is very helpful.)

2. Privacy. Although I always have an audience in the bathroom, I still talk about the need for privacy. "Could mom get some privacy?" It's even easier to name with other adults, like when their Dad or Grammy goes to the bathroom and the crew of littles think they can follow. And, I try to connect this lesson to the first one. Having named their vulva or penis, I often mention that it is for her or him alone to see and touch. (The exception to this rule is mom or dad, and a doctor if mom or dad is present.) And, I also talk to them about not touching others' private parts. They are hard words to get out the first time, but each time gets easier. And then it becomes part of the things our family regularly talks about.

3. Affection and consent. This one is hard, I admit. But I try to intercept any affection to which my child does not genuinely and enthusiastically respond. If another adult requests a hug or kiss, I try to put myself in the way and reframe the moment to encourage my child's ability to choose. "Would you like to give a wave goodbye or a high five? You could also give her a hug or kiss, if you want. What feels comfortable to you?"

4. Empathy. We try to name emotions as often as we can, for ourselves and our kids. "You look frustrated that your lego tower won't stay up." "I see that you are sad that you can't have the toy." In the moment of dealing with ten different things, it may not feel like it matters, but the ability to think emotionally starts small. We also discuss how others seem to be feeling, to help develop empathy. "It looked like Alex was sad at school today. Was there a time today when you felt sad?"

5. Autonomy. We've all been guilty of valuing obedient, even silent, children. Especially on airplanes! But I try to recognize when I'm silencing my kid's voice and curiosity, especially when it's just for the sake of convenience. Time, manner, and place do matter. That is part of the lesson, and when it is time to be still or quiet, I try to take the time to explain those additional factors. But, children--all people--shouldn't have to keep quiet solely for others' comfort or ease; that is one piece of what makes it difficult for survivors to speak out.

These are the smallest of steps, and only the beginning of a much deeper conversation about healthy sexuality and violence. But, from someone who is on the other end of education - doing prevention work with college students - I can say that these basic skills are the foundation for what is needed to shift culture on our campuses. If we can start with our kindergarteners, we can begin to make things better for our college students.

Krista Millay earned her ThD in Philosophy, Theology, and Ethics from Boston University, and is an Assistant Dean of Students for Advocacy, Prevention Education, and Gender Justice at the University of Arizona, where she oversees sexual assault prevention education. She is a Tucson public voices fellow with The OpEd Project.



Many indigenous problems born of residential schools, survivor says

by Betty Ann Adam

The addictions and social problems that plague many indigenous Canadians today can be traced to emotional trauma suffered by generations of children who were raised in hostile residential schools, says one Saskatoon survivor.

Grace Aisaican was eight years old when she and other children from the James Smith First Nation made the three-hour trip in the back of an open grain truck to Gordon's residential school in Punnichy. The children huddled under a tarp for warmth on their way to the imposing four-storey building, where Aisaican experienced emotional, mental, physical and sexual abuse.

She lost hearing in one ear after a teacher threw her against a desk. The injury became infected and she was taken to a hospital in another community for surgery without anyone notifying her parents.

“My parents didn't know anything about it until I went home in the spring. I never did tell them about the sexual abuse, even as an adult,” she said.

“We were victims, but we were made to feel it was our fault because we were bad.”

The staff didn't help the children, who came from three different language groups, to overcome their differences and there was sometimes violence among the children, she said. She saw a girl stab another girl.

“It was not a good mix. We were on our own. There was nothing emotional, nothing nurturing. We were just there.”

Children who attended day schools on some reserves got to go home at night, but they still dreaded the daily ordeal of the schools, she said. Those children were ignored in the agreement that settled the lawsuit that created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, whose seven-volume final report was released Tuesday in Ottawa.

“It's like they didn't count, but they were as mistreated as anyone else,” Aisaican said.

Her parents both attended residential schools. Her mother was strict and didn't show affection for her children, she recalled.

The alcoholism that beset many survivors, who didn't know how to cope with their painful memories, became normal in many families and children inherited self-destructive ways of thinking and living, she said.

Aisaican has been on a long path to recovery and healing through counselling, group therapy, spirituality and tradition, but she is sad to see that her children now live with some of the old, negative ways of being, she said.

“It was a natural way of life. I still see the impact of my own early parenting on my kids.”

She is pleased with the positive actions of the Liberal government but knows it won't be easy for indigenous or non-indigenous Canadians to change their ingrained attitudes, she said.

All Canadians need to know about the abuses committed by successive governments if reconciliation is to be achieved, said Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations.

“The true history of our indigenous people must be heard and more importantly, understood, in order for our inherent treaty, human and indigenous peoples' rights to be honoured and no longer infringed on,” he said.

“A lot of our First Nations people endured a lot of pain and anguish in a residential school system. So now it's about the healing process, about the learning process, but also the process of our children and grandchildren, the yet unborn, that we ensure this never happens to them.”



East Prairie woman charged with child abuse after son found with significant bruising

by Nichole Cartmell

EAST PRAIRIE, MO (KFVS) -- A woman is behind bars for child abuse after East Prairie Police said she allegedly whipped her son with a belt multiple times.

According to the East Prairie Police Department, Ashley Nichole Brown-Wyvell, 31, was arrested after a police responded with the Children's Division to a hotline call for suspected abuse.

The report came in on Monday, Dec. 14.

When police arrived to the home, the Brown-Wyvell told officers her son was assaulted on school property and that he suffered injuries she was not responsible for, including a black eye. She went on to say she wasn't planning on sending the child to school until the injuries healed.

Further investigation showed, the mother took the child to a grandmother's home to look after him for a few days until the bruises healed.

According to the police department, an interview with the child showed other injuries. The child told police his mother was mad at him and whipped him with a belt.

Police report the child suffered contusions and bruising to his face, ear, arms, legs, back and bottom.

Later, police say the mother admitted to "freaking out" and whipping her child. Brown-Wyvell said to police she “blacked out” and the next thing she remembered was her boyfriend grabbing her and pulling her off of the child.

The mother had significant bruising to her knuckles and top of her hand, however, police say she told investigators she did not know how she obtained the bruises.

Police report the child is in stable condition and is recovering along with a younger sibling, who was unharmed, in state care.

In a news release from Captain Joleda Douglas said:

“Parents have every right to discipline their child; however, parents do not have the right to cause physical injury to their child in doing so. The child's bruises will heal, but this case is so extreme, the child will spend a lifetime dealing with the traumatic emotional aftermath. Child abuse cases are not easy cases for law enforcement officers to investigate but the only way that you get through the case, is knowing that the aggressor/abuser will be punished. Someone has to step up and be that child's voice and defense; because a 7-year-old is defenseless against an adult in a fit of rage.”

Brown-Wyvell was charged with abuse of a child and endangering the welfare of a child in the first degree. She could face up to seven years in prison.

She is currently being held at the Mississippi County Detention Center on a $250,000 bond.



Local hospital, university team up to battle child abuse

by Lynn Casey

TULSA, Okla. — Quick facts:

•  St. Francis Hospital is teaming up with the OU-TU School of Community Medicine to fight child abuse.

•  Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said this partnership could help relieve others who have been hit with an influx of reported child abuse cases.

•  He said he expects to see 50 referrals a month, but now he sees 50 each week.

A local hospital has agreed to team up with an area university to investigate child abuse cases in Green Country.

Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said recent child abuse cases have been hard on police, first responders, doctors and prosecutors alike.

Kunzweiler said the Child Abuse Center is referring more and more cases to his office.

He said they expect to see around 50 referrals a month, but now they see 50 referrals each week.

Kunzweiler said a new partnership between St. Francis Hospital and the OU-TU School of Community Medicine could help them on two fronts. First, St. Francis will now pay for the university to train fellows on forensic child abuse pediatrics.

Kunzweiler said those doctors could gather evidence from different sources and present it to a jury in a way that makes sense.

In addition to that, Kunzweiler said the partnership will help doctors get ahead of the problem as they identify risk factors earlier.

Kunzweiler said the uptick in referrals is most likely the result of better reporting.



Abuse of Alaska children even worse than grim stats suggest, study says

by Zaz Hollander

Federal statistics show Alaska has the nation's highest rate of repeat child abuse or neglect -- a grim barometer that often precedes the death or serious injury of a child.

But a new study released Tuesday by the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage contends the state's rate of child maltreatment doesn't even reflect the true extent of the problem here. And the state's youngest children are the most vulnerable, according to the 24-page study by ISER researcher Jessica Passini and assistant public policy professor Diwakar Vadapalli.

Maltreatment is defined as abuse or neglect; the latter makes up about three-quarters of the maltreatment reports received by the state Office of Children's Services. Many reports of maltreatment aren't investigated at all in Alaska -- as in many states -- and only a small share of those investigated are substantiated, the study found.

Alaska's repeat maltreatment statistics reported by the Children's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services measure the percentage of children involved in at least two confirmed reports of abuse or neglect within a span of six months. The study authors point out repeated maltreatment can take place over years, and that short window may serve as a good indicator of child protective performance, but ignores chronic maltreatment.

The researchers call recurring abuse and neglect “a reminder of our collective failure” as a society.

“Most fatalities and serious injuries to children due to maltreatment are preceded by multiple reported instances of maltreatment,” they wrote. “Repeated maltreatment is extremely damaging to the child, is an established indicator of worse conditions, and is very demoralizing to everyone who tried to help prevent it from happening.”

The study resulted from a series of discussions last year with OCS officials concerned about the state's high rate of repeat child mistreatment, Vadapalli said Tuesday.

An OCS spokeswoman said no one from that agency was available for comment Tuesday afternoon.

Vadapalli said looking at a longer time period provides a clearer picture of children's suffering. Over a nine-year period, 30 percent of the children with substantiated abuse or neglect returned to the system with another substantiated report of maltreatment, he said by phone Tuesday afternoon.

The researchers contend the actual maltreatment numbers are higher: 4 of 10 children born in or after 2005 and investigated as potential victims of maltreatment in Alaska were repeatedly maltreated in the period between 2005 and 2013.

That's far worse than the numbers that already rank Alaska as the worst state in the country for repeat abuse or neglect of children.

As of 2013, nearly 13 percent of children investigated by the OCS were reported as suffering repeat abuse or neglect, according to the study. The national rate was less than 5.5 percent.

“As bleak as the numbers above are, we contend that these numbers are limited by the Children's Bureau definition of the indicator, and neither reflect the true extent of repeat maltreatment in Alaska nor provide adequate help in understanding the nature or severity of the challenge,” the researchers wrote.

That same year, in Alaska, 42 percent of the reports in an average month were not investigated, the study found. Only 12 percent were substantiated.

Even investigations that didn't confirm neglect or abuse may help measure the prevalence of repeat maltreatment, since OCS does not investigate reports of suspected abuse unless it determines there is adequate basis for investigation, the authors found. They also pointed out that other research shows child protection agencies often get many reports of abuse or neglect before they substantiate it.

The ISER study, funded by the University of Alaska Foundation, Alaska Children's Trust and First National Bank Alaska, looked at repeat maltreatment among Alaska children between 2005 and 2013 using case-level data from the federally sponsored National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System. The researchers examined how the maltreatment rate differs for substantiated abuse versus all investigated reports. They also looked at the “workload burden” on OCS staff performing intake and investigation.

They found that reducing repeat maltreatment would protect children and also reduce the OCS caseload. Out of about 36,000 investigations into maltreatment involving more than 19,300 children in that eight-year period, 68 percent were multiple investigations of the same children.

They also found the majority of substantiated abuse or neglect is first reported when the child is very young: 42 percent of the roughly 2,500 children with substantiated maltreatment between 2005 and 2013 were under 1 year old.

More than 92 percent of the children were identified as potential victims in an investigation for the first time before they were 5 years of age, according to the ISER data.

The study did not explore whether the maltreatment occurred among children in state custody or the role that substance abuse or mental illness played.

It recommends exploring high turnover of case workers at OCS and high rates of repeat maltreatment, saying “it will be instructive to know if frequent changes in social workers serving a child or family leads to repeated investigations among children in care.”

Researcher Vadapalli contends more than one agency is needed to prevent maltreatment.

“We need a community-wide effort … so once you know that one kid was maltreated, it should attract more attention to make sure they don't go through that again.”


United Kingdom

Child sexual abuse: failing another generation of children?

by Beatrix Campbell

The Office of the Children's Commissioner reveals that in England 1.3 million will suffer sexual abuse in their childhood. What's it going to do about this most secret of crimes?

It is almost three decades since the sexual abuse, rape and buggery of children became a torrid theme in Britain's political culture.

It was in the mid-1980s that the government insisted that concern about sexual abuse must ignite intervention by police and children's services. Not may , intervene, but must. That was a historic moment, when the state took the side of children. Almost instantly child protection combusted.. The government recoiled.

It initiated public inquiries into what to do - and not to do - about sexual abuse. But not into how prevalent it is, or how to prevent it.

Into that vortex of not knowing, the Office of the Children's Commissioner has at last used its considerable authority and resources to find out. Last month it published a report that puts together what we know: Protecting Children From Harm: A Critical Assessment of Child Sexual Abuse in the Family Environment in England and Priorities for Action.

Incidence: Over the two years between 2014 and 2014, about 50,000 children were known by the statutory services to have been assaulted or raped in the family environment. The Commissioner collated data from police, local authority and voluntary services that indicate that many, many more - between 400,000 and 450,000 children - were abused by known adults in and around their family home, but didn't come to anyone's attention.

So, only one in eight were reported to police or children's services. The cruel gap between known and not known grows if we factor in criminal convictions: during the same two years there were 6414.

Prevalence: The commission calculates that ‘approximately 1.3 million children currently living in England will have been a victim of contact sexual abuse by the time they turn 18.'

It often starts around the age of nine. Two-thirds of sexual abuse takes place in the family environment, but it is a much smaller ratio of the 50,000 known cases - it is least likely to be disclosed and detected.

The men who do this live among us, we know them. They enjoy virtual impunity.

This is the ‘most defended crime,' comments the academic researcher Sarah Nelson, who has tracked sexual abuse for decades.

Despite the legal duty to protect children from harm, despite seemingly endless tinkering with procedures, and regular scandals, prevalence seems to be no lower than it was, and perpetrators no more likely to be called to account. In the 1980s child sexual abuse became part of the statutory services' guidelines, augmented by a commandment to be collegial: Working Together was the mantra.

Since then, however, the police, the most unschooled and the most masculinised service has taken over. Police officers interviewed by Sociologist Paul Michael Garrett, in his book Remaking Social Work With Children and Families, believed that co-operation meant domination.

Whilst awareness grows, detection declines: Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary reported in Making The Victim Count in 2014 that more than a quarter of sexual offences reported to the police are not even recorded. And the inspectorate warned in 2015 that the police were ‘at risk of failing another generation of children.'

So erratic is the national performance, that vital data about the victim-culprit relationship ‘cannot be easily extracted', reports the children's commissioner. The police are not duty bound to record it, so there is huge variation in recording ‘and indeed whether it is recorded at all.'

Police data on family abuse also varies wildly, ‘from 5% to 69%'. Those with the highest numbers are most likely to be comprehensive and ‘more likely to be accurate'.

The prevalence figures are huge, and they are consistent with earlier and international figures. A large study led by Prof. Lorraine Radford, published by Child Abuse and Neglect in 2013, showed that 20 per cent of girls interviewed at the age of 15 reported sexual victimisation in the past year. A quarter of 18-24 year-olds, 24 said they had experienced sexual assault or rape during childhood.

We can assume, therefore, that the commissioner's figure for un reported and un detected cases is an underestimate. British Home Secretary, Theresa May, was not exaggerating when she said in March that that child sexual abuse is ‘woven, covertly, into the fabric' of society, where places of safety were instead settings of ‘the most appalling abuse' and ‘what the country doesn't yet appreciate is the true scale of that abuse.'

That's what makes publication both useful and disappointing: where was fighting talk from the Children's Commissioner? Whose side is she on - children in adversity or a government dedicated to austerity?

How can the Office of the Children's Commissioner (OCC) intervene effectively when its own staff have been savaged?. The OCC has failed to confirm or deny that staff have been scythed from 30 to 15.

How will the government and indeed the Office of the Children's Commissioner follow up, will they do something?

This important research was initiated by the energetic Deputy Commissioner, Sue Berelowitz, following her 2013 report on the sexual exploitation of children and her robust interventions in debates about child prostitution. But last spring she was summarily sacked by the newly-appointed Commissioner, Anne Longfield. There was no explanation. ‘It was a set-up,' complained a colleague. Staff were aghast. Berelowitz had been nothing if not an enthusiast.

A redundancy package was organised by the Department of Education and the Children's Commissioner and approved by the Treasury. That was jeopardised, though, when the Tory press ran what appeared to be a campaign to humiliate Berelowitz and disparage the deal.

So, instead of being a herald of a fresh start, the new evidence is launched into a mess: Berelowitz's expertise lost, colleagues in disarray and disabling staff cuts.

What does the report propose?

It urges that yet again inter-professional relations should be assessed. It urges compulsory lessons for life - the government baulks at compulsory. It cautions that since most children are harmed in their family, they should not carry the burden of disclosure, and parents aren't necessarily the people they can tell.

Three quarters of the victims are girls, it says, and 90 per cent of the perpetrators are men. Gender appears in the report, but primarily as a concern about boys, not gender as a system - there is no reference to, or strategy to confront the structural links between sexism and sexual abuse.

The report doesn't explore the way that abuse varies according to age, time and place - the more a child ventures into the world beyond the family, the more vulnerable to abuse by peers and other men.

The evidence is inconvenient, it doesn't offer up a cameo of a perfect victim: blond, blue eyed, crouching in a corner; Nor a stereotypical perpetrator: an ogre. Nor does the report explore what it is about global popular cultures that sustains sexual abuse.

That leaves intact the dangerous polarisation between two categories: incest and paedophilia, as if the problem is pathology rather than politics.

Will the commissioner's figures caution those commentators still claiming, with unfounded confidence, that children are suggestible, that adults' reports of historic abuse are part of frenzy, hysteria, panic, witch hunting and latter-day McCarthyism?

Children's testimony is still maligned - the Rotherham sexual exploitation scandal, for example, revealed that children's entrapment in prostitution was deemed ‘a lifestyle choice'.

Yet survivors' testimony is virtually the only resource in calling the perpetrators to account. Medical signs that might have offered an another route into this most secret of crimes became the disputed crux of the 1987 Cleveland child abuse crisis - the defining moment in child protection politics from which services have not recovered.

The Children's Commissioner insists that the system must not depend on children speaking out: ‘a system which waits for children to tell someone cannot be effective.'

But that's how it is Commissioner, so what are you going to do about it?



Investigators seize property allegedly used in child sexual assaults from Bullard man's house

by Micah McCartney

Last week, the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office seized multiple items from the house of a Bullard man accused of child sexual abuse – items, detectives say, the man used to lure young boys to his property.

Ranging from several vehicles to various aerial toys, investigators report seizing possessions they allege the suspect used as bait in his abuse of multiple children. He's currently incarcerated, facing 13 charges with bonds totaling almost $329,000 while law enforcement personnel reach out to potential victims in the area.

Thomas E. Scroggins, 25, of Bullard, was arrested by CCSO detectives after they executed a search warrant Friday, Nov. 27 in the 200 block of Lake Rd. in the Shady Brook subdivision near Bullard.

Scoggins was initially booked into the Cherokee County Jail on three counts, with total bonds of $102,000. Then, on Dec. 1, Justice of the Peace Brenda Dominy expanded the list to 13 total charges, the new allegations including an additional $227,000 in bonds.

According to a jail employee, records show the suspect is charged with five counts of Indecency with a Child, five counts of Display Harmful Material to a Minor, Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Child, Injury to a Child and Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child.

A press release from the Cherokee County District Attorney's Office describes a joint effort by DA Rachel Patton and CCSO Det. Kelly Ray to seize some of Scroggins' property Tuesday, Dec. 8, beginning the process to forfeit suspect items to the county.

According to the release, “The law provides that when a person uses property in the commission of a first or second degree felony, that property could be deemed contraband and be subject to forfeiture under Chapter 59 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.”

Patton reports how an “extensive ongoing investigation” of Scroggins provided probable cause to believe some of the man's possessions were used “as locations to abuse the boys, to transport the boys to locations where he would abuse them, and/ or to the lure the boys so that he could get them in a position where he could abuse them.”

Suspect items described in an affidavit tied to the case include a 16-foot fiberglass pleasure boat, a boat trailer and a 2007 Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck as well as an unspecified number of model hobby airplanes, helicopters and drones allegedly used to entice the boys.

“It is not often we are able to use this law in our fight against child sexual abuse,” Patton noted, “but in this case, it is one of the many ways we will fight to seek justice.”

At the time of his arrest, Scroggins was employed with Frankston ISD Maintenance Department. He also attended a local church in Frankston and was involved with Little League Baseball in that community.

In a previous press release, Cherokee County detectives said they made contact with both Frankston ISD and the church to alert officials to the ongoing investigation so each could make a determination on Scroggins' status with them upon his release from Cherokee County Jail.

According to local law enforcement sources, the abuse investigation began when a victim alleged inappropriate conduct by Scroggins toward that victim and two others. In addition to those reported (and identified) victims, an initial interview with Scroggins after his arrest indicated there may be other victims who have not come forward or been identified.

Investigators say each of the incidents in question reportedly occurred at or near Scroggins' residence in Shady Brook.

“We believe all offenses occurred in Scroggins' home,” said James Campbell, Cherokee County sheriff. “We ask that any parent or guardian who has concerns or has reason to believe that their child may be a victim to refrain from questioning their child, and contact the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office and ask to speak with an investigator.”

For more information or to file a report, contact CCSO at 903-683-2272.


New York

Our traumas must be healed for the world to thrive

by Lu Hannessian

We live in a world of numbers. Populations. Statistics. Charts. These are left-brained matters. Our left hemispheres are not concerned with context or connection. Left brain loves numbers, stats, sequence, order. Left is linear, linguistic, logical. Right brain is relational, global-minded, intuitive.

Our news is filled with endless stories and statistics. Traumas and terrors at a distance and around the corner. How do we process them? What do they mean to us? What do they say about who we are?

Trauma is not generally recognized, by our left brain world, as a human crisis.

When we talk, for example, about 11 million refugees, the media photos, stories and story angles don't invite us, as readers or viewers--as citizens and human beings--to consider the meaning, context, and consequence of their experience

Numbers don't reveal the need.

If you and I were suddenly to find ourselves in lethal danger here in the bucolic suburbs, we'd grab our families and run for safe cover.

What if that safe cover was miles and miles away?

We'd go.

What if we had to board a raft and risk our lives?

We'd go.

What choice would we have?

What I don't see anywhere, in any paper, magazine or television show, is even a glimpse of this story as a trauma for this generation and the generations after it. In other words, this massive exodus of millions of Syrians will linger for millions of people...for many years. I don't mean because the crisis will take years to resolve. I mean because the crisis is a trauma which will affect the very DNA of this generation and the next generation after it.

The epigenetics of trauma.

The same is true of any of our past wars. Of the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide. Of the Genocides and mass killings throughout Africa and the Middle East.

The same is true of famine.

Of legacies of crime.

Of poverty.

Of abuse.

Of homelessness.

Imagine if every statistic of our children in this country was accompanied by photos of their faces.

The statistics tell us ONE in FIVE people in America is...sexually abused as a child. How unfathomably grievous. Stats are static. What's the humanity behind numbers? The reality is that we then must look at every classroom, every playground, every school bus, every airplane, every soccer field, every grocery store, every family through different eyes.

When we read that ONE in every EIGHT children has been beaten by a parent to the point of leaving a mark, we must see every raging student, every child in juvenile hall, every drug addict, every teen bully, every suicide attempt and every child who never made it...through different eyes.

Not just to see. But to act, relate, perceive and treat children, each other, differently.


We cannot treat people with compassion if we are desensitized, if we are angry and fearful, if we are raging and resentful, if we are numb, anesthetized and indifferent.

We must heal our emotional wellbeing to become a more empathic, feeling population.

If ONE in FIVE, ONE in FOUR, ONE in EIGHT, ONE in SEVEN children has been abused, witnessed abuse, grown up in fear and terror in this country...that equates to MILLIONS of children who don't feel safe in the world and who, because of their traumas, can't cope, can't learn, can't focus, can't make it through school, can't get through without self-medicating, who end up facing adults who can't deal with them and punish them.

Who punish them.

Who punish them.



This is not a cycle of one small neighborhood on the wrong side of the tracks. Right now, we are all on the wrong side of the tracks. We are all off track. There are millions of people in this country who have suffered abuse as children, emotional, verbal, physical, sexual, from parents and relatives who had suffered it prior to them. They grow up with all this in tow.

This is the epigenetics of trauma, writ larger and larger in our country. In the world.

A child who acts out in a classroom is not misbehaving. He's telling you something about what he has lived.

A teen addict is telling you something about what he has experienced and can't bear.

A child who bullies is telling you something about someone who overpowers him or her, who ignores him or her, who threatens him or her, who neglects or abuses.

The 5400 suicide attempts by kids 12-18 in this country is a massive siren call warning us all of their stories of disconnection, intolerable pain and shame.

The alarming statistics of college campus rapes are sounding the fire alarm on a growing, sinister misogyny and breathtaking sociopathy among very young men, before they're even considered to be adults. There are new films, documentaries, books, articles telling these stories, shining a glaring but compassionate floodlight on some of our traumas.

I want us to tell trauma's story. To stop whispering about it and bring it to the forefront so parents, teachers, principals, judges, cops, wardens, counselors understand the impact and effect of trauma on the lives of kids and teens. And know something about how to help instead of hurt, support instead of punish, connect, reach out and restore instead of threaten and excoriate and sentence.

We must talk about trauma like it's part of our lives, not the silent stigma of war vets and abuse survivors. We must do all we can to support people to thrive. Trauma is reality for all of us, unique to each person.

We must not immunize ourselves against our own humanity, but wake up to our collective right to flourish, not just survive. We can only do this with hope, trust and compassion when we are heard, known and healed through sharing our stories.

Trauma means wound in Greek. My Greek mother had her share of trauma growing in WWII, losing siblings and her mother, listening for single and double sirens to let them know if bombs were striking or not.

Here in the US, legions of troops have returned to traumatized lives of hellish nightmares, broken marriages and profoundly traumatic flashbacks, suicide. Trauma is not always the war, the rape, the accident, the fire, the mass exodus or the massacre. Trauma is any experience that overwhelms us such that we can't process it. It floods our senses and we cope the best we can and try to move on.

But we can't.

We get stuck again and again in our pain eddies, swirling around in past experiences that come rushing forward in our bodies' memories of fear, shock, disconnection, toxic stress, terror, abandonment, loss.

Everybody has a story. When we fear others, we don't know their story and don't want to. We can't let headlines and the endless feed of "news" numb you. We can either continue to re-wire our brains for fear and live with our internal thermostats on HIGH ALERT or we can choose a process of healing.

Trauma has existed since time immemorial. But, I wonder if it's taking on a different layer in our modern age of anxiety, stress, fear and dehumanization. When one person heals, he improves the lives of those he loves. Research shows that the wives of men with PTSD are more prone to depression, and consequently, those mothers have children who are more anxious and depressed.

Ironically, paradoxically, cycles of pain are a reflection of our human connection.

We are so connected that we shape and affect each other. For better and worse. Human emotions are contagious. We are influential in the lives of those around us and those who cross paths with those around us. Because we can change our brains, systems, chemistry and circuitry through what we think, practice and feel, imagine how powerful we are to change the course of our lives and the lives of those around us and connected to us through unseen pathways.

Trauma may be the purple heart of our relational wounds...but our biological design and innate birthright to joy, compassion, love and joy are the way back to life, to each other and to the home we build together.

Lu Hanessian -- author, science journalist, television host, educator, speaker, social entrepreneur, consultant


From the FBI

Human Trafficking -- Prison Time for Men Who Attempted to Buy Sex Slaves

During the course of an international human trafficking investigation, FBI agents uncovered disturbing information: American men were making what appeared to be serious inquiries about buying kidnapped women from Asia to serve as sex and domestic slaves.

“This case opened people's eyes to a much darker side of human trafficking than we were previously aware of,” said Special Agent Ryan Blay, who worked the investigation from the FBI's Phoenix Division.

The case started in 2012, when agents were alerted to an advertisement from Malaysia on the now-defunct bondage website, purporting to sell kidnapped Asian women “who are naturally very obedient.”

The online solicitation turned out to be a money-making scam, Blay said, but the response from potential customers in the U.S.—nearly 200 inquiries during a two-month period—was “alarming.” After the fraudulent advertisement was removed from the website and the FBI referred the matter to Malaysian authorities, Blay and his team devised an undercover operation targeting the same clientele.

“The idea was to be proactive, to identify these individuals and stop them before they could actually victimize anyone,” he said. The FBI created an undercover platform advertising kidnapped women for sale as sexual and domestic slaves.

“Almost immediately there were responses,” Blay said. “We weren't interested in individuals who were just pursuing some sort of fantasy,” he explained. “The only people we wanted were those who were serious about buying kidnapped women.”

The undercover operative posing as the seller “actually tried to talk people out of it,” Blay said. “He stressed that these women would be taken against their will and the transaction would be illegal in every possible way.”

More than 100 people responded, and most dropped out quickly. But four individuals were anxious to proceed—and willing to pay thousands of dollars for a sex slave. “All of them said this was something they had wanted to do for a long time,” Blay said.

The undercover operative told the four buyers he was connected to a human trafficking group that would identify foreign females in the U.S. on temporary visas, kidnap them, and sell them into a life of slavery. The operative also said his organization held a biannual auction, where the women would be sold to the highest bidders.

The four individuals—two from Arizona, one from Montana, and one from California—were in their 50s and 60s. One was an engineer with a Top Secret government clearance. Another was a financial analyst. The Montana man was going to pay $10,000 for two women. When he flew to Phoenix in May 2014 to make the purchase, he was carrying u-bolts to bind the women's wrists and gags to keep them quiet. He planned to transport them back to Montana in a recreational vehicle. The man told the undercover operative he had a fully functional dungeon in the basement of his home.

“When we eventually conducted searches,” Blay said, “all the subjects had basically manufactured rooms in their homes to be prison cells. There were bars on windows, obscured glass, and insulation so no one could see or hear the women from the outside. One guy bolted chains in the floorboards of a room.”

The four men were indicted on human trafficking charges between December 2013 and May 2014. They all pled guilty, and in September 2015, an Arizona federal judge sentenced them to prison terms ranging from seven to nine years.

“We are extremely pleased that we were able to intervene before any of these individuals was able to hurt anyone,” Blay said. “We didn't want to wait until there were actual victims.”


Two Children Found Dead in Northern California Storage Unit

by Alastair Jamieson and M. Alex Johnson

Two suspects were being held on charges of child abuse and torture Tuesday, according to police who found two dead children inside a storage locker in northern California.

A third abused child — a young girl — was fighting for her life after undergoing surgery, according to NBC station KSBW.

Tami Joy Huntsman, 39, and Gonzalo Curiel, 17, both of Quincy, California, and recently of Salinas, south of San Francisco, remained in the Plumas County Jail on charges of felony child abuse, torture and mayhem, police said.

"This case is being investigated as a homicide with an autopsy pending," Redding Police Department said in a news release.

No further information about them or their relationship to the children was publicly available, although KSBW said the dead children were aged three and five years and that all three victims were siblings.

The bodies were discovered in Redding — about 300 miles north of San Francisco — on Monday after Plumas County sheriff's deputies arrested Huntsman and Curiel in connection with the injured child.

Investigators were combing the suspects' house in Salinas on Monday night.


The Second Assault

Victims of childhood sexual abuse are far more likely to become obese adults. New research shows that early trauma is so damaging that it can disrupt a person's entire psychology and metabolism.

by Olga Khazan

Christine White was a preteen when she went on her first diet. At school, she was bubbly and sociable, an honors student immersed in social causes. But at home, she would carefully ration her food.

By the time she was 14, she had developed bulimia. It was easier to hide the purging from her family than it was to explain why she wasn't eating. In her darkest moments, she would scribble her anxieties into a blue-lined journal.

When I eat food now I feel guilty,” she wrote in rounded, 14-year-old script. “I don't like to eat in front of other people.”

As a college student, she stopped throwing up but kept overeating. Carbs were her crutch. “If I'm stressed, let me crawl inside a bag of Tostitos,” said White, who goes by her nickname, Cissy. She would shovel handfuls of cereal in her mouth, or boil and eat enormous amounts of pasta.

She didn't fully understand what drove her binges, but she had one idea—an experience she referred to as “my hell” and “my secret” in later journals.

When White was an infant, her mother began dating a man 26 years her senior, and he lived with the family until White was 10. Though to outsiders he seemed affable, the stepfather was largely unemployed, according to White, and he had a boorish streak. “He was the kind of guy who would beep at pretty women walking down the street,” she said, “even with his kids in the car.”

At home, his immaturity had a sinister element, White said. A number of times, after White showered, he'd make her parade in front of him naked so he could “inspect” her. During games of Yahtzee, he would force her to sit on his lap for longer than was comfortable. He'd grab her behind and make flirtatious comments. Occasionally, he'd put a treat in his pocket and cajole her into fishing around for it.

“I knew that I didn't like what was happening,” she said, “but I didn't know what was appropriate.”

To her teen self, White's body was criminal. “I felt like I was always in a battle with food,” she said. “I just thought, this body needs to be tamed. It makes terrible things happen.”

As horrifying as White's story is, it's a common one among people who have been abused as children. Researchers are increasingly finding that, in addition to leaving deep emotional scars, childhood sexual abuse often turns food into an obsession for its victims. Many, like White, become prone to binge-eating. Others willfully put on weight to desexualize, in the hope that what happened to them as children will never happen again.

In White's case, overeating did not lead to obesity—her weight only ever ranged from roughly 118 pounds to 175. But research shows that in general, childhood sexual abuse might be an important predictor of obesity and overweight in adulthood. More importantly, experts say, this disturbing connection suggests it's fruitless to treat eating-disordered patients without investigating and addressing potential childhood trauma first.

In 1985, a 28-year-old woman named Patty arrived at a weight-loss clinic in San Diego operated by Kaiser Permanente. The clinic was designed for people who were between 60 and 600 pounds overweight. Patty asked the doctor running the program, Vincent Felitti, for help. Patty weighed 408 pounds. In less than a year, she had shed 276 of them on a near-fasting diet.

“We thought, ‘Well, we've obviously got this problem licked,'” Felitti told me recently. “We're going to be a world-famous department of preventive medicine here.”

Patty stayed at her svelte new weight for a few weeks. Then, in less than a month, she gained back 37 pounds—a feat that would require eating more than 4,000 excess calories daily. Patty blamed it on sleepwalking, saying that though she lived alone, she had been waking up in the mornings to a kitchen covered in opened boxes and cans.

Felitti believed her sleep-eating story, but he asked her, “Why did that start now? Why not five years ago? Why not 10 years from now?”

Patty said she didn't know. When Felitti pressed her, she said there was a man at work who was much older and married. After she lost weight, he complimented and propositioned her.

Felitti countered that, though the sexual advances were understandably unpleasant, extreme weight-gain seemed like a strange response.

That's when Patty revealed that her grandfather began raping her when she was 10.

In short order, Patty regained all of the weight and then some.

Patty's story offered a clue into why nearly half of Felitti's obesity patients dropped out of the weight-loss program. He interviewed more of these patients and found that 55 percent acknowledged some form of childhood sexual abuse. Like Patty, many would enter his program, slim down, then promptly bulk up again.

Together with Robert Anda at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Felitti would go on to run the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, which hunted for lingering impacts of difficult upbringings in the general population. The study generated a framework called the ACE Score, or the sum of all the types of trauma a person might have experienced in childhood—everything from their parents' divorce, to poverty, to physical and sexual abuse.

The more ACEs a person has, the greater their risk of all sorts of maladies. Six ACEs increases the risk of injecting-drug abuse by 4600 percent, for example. Though some people develop resilience to early adversity, Felitti and Anda found that abuse victims' ability to “bounce back” without treatment is markedly overstated.

“The things that don't kill you can make you stronger,” Felitti said. But if they go unaddressed, they can also “get to a point where they become overwhelming and will destroy you.”

White's stepfather moved out eventually, but he still made her wary whenever they interacted. His overtures ramped up as White lost weight in adolescence. He'd send her cards and tell her she should be a model. “That was just disgusting to me,” she said.

White's stepfather has since passed away, but the distress he inflicted loomed over her early adult life. In 1985, when she was 18, she confessed to her journal that she was having trouble having intercourse with her boyfriend. “I'm so frigid,” she wrote.

She wouldn't have a normal sex life until her early 40s. In college, she'd cry nearly every day and wake up with nightmares and flashbacks.

Experts say sexual abuse is one of the worst adverse experiences, and also one of the most likely to compound other life stressors.

“It's bad to have a substance-abusing parent, or a mentally ill parent who's untreated,” said Frank Putnam, a professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and another prominent childhood adversity researcher. “Of all those [ACEs], sexual abuse seems to be the most pernicious. This is particularly true for women.”

“Sexual abuse is about betrayal,” he added. “It's occurring at the hands of trusted family members and caregivers.”

Studies by Putnam and others have found that sexually abused women are more likely to suffer from an array of seemingly unrelated mental and physical ailments, including premature puberty and problems in school.

One 75-year-old former patient of Felitti's, who saw him when she was in her 20s and weighed 270 pounds, said she began eating compulsively after a childhood of horrific sexual and emotional violence. (She and several other sources requested anonymity to protect family members and friends.) She now has a host of health problems, like bone problems and tumors in her brain and sciatic nerve, that she believes are related to her weight and mental anguish.

“It bothers you all your life,” the woman told me. “It decimates you as a human being.”

The trauma of sexual abuse often manifests through a preoccupation with food, dieting, and a drive to feel uncomfortably full. One analysis of 57,000 women in 2013 found that those who experienced physical or sexual abuse as children were twice as likely to be addicted to food than those who did not.

One Maryland woman who was a victim of incest at the hands of her father, uncle, and cousin would sometimes go for days without eating as a teen. Now that she's in her 50s, the pattern has reversed, and she finds herself prone to binges. When at the airport, for example, she beelines for snack shops, buys two to three bags of M&Ms and a pack of Cheez-Its, and downs it all.

“I'm telling myself the whole time, ‘Why am I doing this?'” she said. “We still always carry this guilt around.”

Trauma that occurs during critical periods in the brain's development can change its neurobiology, making it less responsive to rewards. This anhedonia—a deficit of positive emotions—more than doubles the likelihood that abused children will become clinically depressed adults. It also increases their risk of addiction. With their brains unable to produce a natural high, many adult victims of child abuse chase happiness in food. It's this tendency, when combined with what many described as a desire to become less noticeable, that makes this group especially vulnerable to obesity.

Constance, a 53-year-old Virginia woman who also asked that I use a pseudonym, was fondled as a young girl by both an older cousin and her grandfather. A few years after the molestation ended, she was at a family function when she became so uncomfortable that she snuck off to a pantry and ate cookies until she felt sick.

In middle school, three neighborhood boys tricked her into coming over to their house. When she arrived, she said, they held her down and gang-raped her. For years, Constance didn't tell anyone about the rape. Her weight spiked. When people weren't looking, she would gorge on cookies, cakes, and chips. By the time she was a teenager, she weighed 180 pounds.

In high school, she turned to drinking and prescription pills, and later, she went to jail and rehab for a cocaine addiction. “When I was under the influence, I was able to come outside of myself,” she said. “I would talk and laugh.” Even after rehab, she struggled with a compulsive shopping habit that ran up her credit cards.

Today, Constance is still overweight and lives alone. She'd like to find a partner, but she has doubts. “I'm never really quite comfortable or feel safe with men,” she said. “I'm a little afraid of them because I know what they can do.”

Compulsive overeating doesn't always lead to obesity, but studies show that sexual-abuse victims are far more likely to be obese in adulthood. Research suggests childhood sexual abuse increases the odds of adult obesity by between 31 and 100 percent. One study found that about 8 percent of all cases of obesity, and 17 percent of “class three” severe obesity, can be attributed to some form of child abuse.

The reasons are both metabolic and psychological, both willful and subconscious. For many victims, the drivers of their obesity act in synergy, compounding each other, and they might change over time. One such pathway is inflammation: The major, unrelieved stress of abuse triggers the adrenal glands to pump out steroid-like hormones. One of these hormones, cortisol, not only affects the brain's ability to plan things like diets, it also affects appetite, satiety, and metabolism.

And there's some evidence that stress induces the body to squirrel away fat—a vestige of a time in human evolution when this would have been useful. Chronic stress also sparks the release chemicals called pro-inflammatory cytokines, which prevent insulin from being taken up by the muscle cells. This is called insulin resistance, and it's strongly correlated with obesity. “If you think of the body as a clever organism, if it's exposed to something that's threatening, it protects itself by making sure there are plenty of calories on board,” said Erik Hemmingsson, an associate professor of medicine at Karolinska University in Sweden.

Abuse victims might therefore become heavy even if they eat normal amounts. One 93-year-old woman, Helen McClure, has been obese for years, but she's not quite sure why. She doesn't have a problem with overeating, she says.

As a child, she thought the fact that her father occasionally massaged her genitals was “just a part of growing up.”

“I first realized how bad it was was when I was in junior high and we learned about how babies are born,” she said. “It shocked me.” By then, she weighed 200 pounds.

Many survivors, meanwhile, put on weight in order to protect against future abuse. Women I interviewed said they felt more physically imposing when they were bigger. They felt their size, rightly or wrongly, helped ward off sexual advances from men.

Patricia Borad, another of Felitti's patients, said physical abuse was a daily part of her childhood. Her mother called her “jezebel”; her father would paddle her and her other siblings if only one of them did something wrong. When she was in her teens, her father refused her permission to go on a camping trip with her boyfriend's family. When she asked him why, he backhanded her so hard she flew across the room.

“For that reason, I just grew up not being able to say ‘no' to a man,” she said.

In adulthood, she was fine with the attention she drew from romantic prospects—whenever she was single. But if she was in a relationship, she'd put on weight so that other men would be less likely to flirt with her and try to lure her away from her partner. “If I didn't want that extra attention from men,” she said, “it was much easier not to get it if I was overweight.”

Another survivor echoed her perspective: “Eating and getting big, I felt like nobody would notice me.”

People who have unexamined childhood trauma often fail when they attempt weight-loss treatments. Some studies show that patients with histories of abuse tend to lose less weight after bariatric surgery or during clinical weight-loss treatment. Among women who were hospitalized for psychiatric treatment after bariatric surgery, one study found that 73 percent had a history of childhood sexual abuse. Gastric bypass prevents them from eating large quantities—thereby removing an essential coping mechanism.

In Felitti's weight-loss group, there was one woman, also a victim of abuse, who would come every week and sit silently with a smile on her face. One week, she announced that her family had finally scraped together the $20,000 necessary for her to have bariatric surgery.

Well, this is going to be a disaster ,” Felitti thought.

She lost 94 pounds, became suicidal, and was psychiatrically hospitalized five times the following year.

“The [weight] came off too quick,” she told him later. “I felt like I was losing my protective wall.

These women's stories suggest that obesity is not what it seems. Given how it increases obesity risk, preventing child abuse could be considered a public-health measure on par with mandatory calorie labels. Doctors may tell overweight patients to diet and hit the gym, but if they've suffered childhood trauma, their bodies might be actively working against them. Worse still, the patient might—consciously or otherwise—have a dark reason for remaining heavy.

Felitti eventually incorporated a questionnaire that asks patients about sexual abuse and other childhood trauma into Kaiser Permanente's Obesity Program. Several obesity-treatment specialists contacted for this story also said they routinely ask their patients about sexual abuse—most won't mention it unless prompted.

Wendy Scinta, an obesity-medicine specialist in central New York, says the first question she asks patients who seek weight-loss treatment is, “Did you have a happy childhood?”

People who did will say so right away. Among those who didn't, there's usually a pause. A “hmmm.” A vague explanation. If the patient recalls abuse, Scinta might refer them to the psychologist she has on staff.

Some doctors say they struggle to secure insurance-plan payouts for the extensive psychological or psychiatric treatment that abuse survivors require. About half of psychiatrists don't take insurance, and half of U.S. counties have no mental-health professionals. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services covers 16 to 22 visits per year for obesity-related medical counseling, but psychological therapy is not included.

“With people who are abused, you have to uncover their awful wounds before they get better,” said Marijane Hynes, an internist at the George Washington University Medical School in Washington who focuses on obesity. At her hospital, psychiatry residents see many of her patients for free, and she's not sure how she would provide mental-health treatment without their help.

Some survivors find unorthodox routes to restoring mental and physical health. Later in her life, McClure, the 93-year-old abuse victim, began speaking regularly on abuse issues to groups of doctors, social workers, and police departments. The advocacy “has certainly dulled the pain and given me a sense of pride in the fact that I have been able to turn my disgusting story into a tool to help others,” she said.

White, the woman who documented her teenage dieting and bulimia in journals, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in her 20s. After suffering an anxiety attack, she called the health center at her college, which referred her to therapy. She would ride the bus to the therapist's lily-white, immaculate office twice each week. “I used to refer to it as paid-for parenting,” said White, who is now 49 and living in Weymouth, Massachusetts.

The therapist was warm and welcoming. Eventually, though, White felt it wasn't enough to simply talk about her emotions. Her abuse had left her feeling like an amputee, she said. Talk therapy was like retracing the question, “How do you feel about the fact that you can't get up the stairs?” she said—when all she really wanted was a ramp.

In her 30s, she enrolled in a writing workshop. She and dozens of other people, many of them survivors of trauma, would sit in a room, compose essays about their pasts, and share their work with the group. At first, being open about her childhood felt awkward. But after each of the four sessions, White found herself feeling better for months.

It was around that same time that she began regularly practicing yoga. That, too, was fraught initially. For a survivor of sexual abuse, lying down in a dark room with strangers, as most yogis do at the end of a class, was scary. Gradually, though, the practice helped her once again feel safe in her skin.

Decades later, the days of seeing her body as tainted are finally over for White. She still believes she'll be keenly sensitive to stress for the rest of her life. But now, when something triggers her—like her home flooding a few years ago—she turns to a relaxation technique called guided imagery to manage her symptoms. She's become an advocate for abuse victims, and in 2014 she opened her own writing workshop.

She says the abuse will always tug at her, but today its power is diminished. “That's just stuff that happened to you,” she said. “It isn't you.”



Help! the Girl-Child Is an Endangered Species

by Tobi Awodipe

It is no secret that child rape is now prevalent in Nigeria as hardly a day passes that the media is not awash with gory details of a minor being sexually assaulted by an adult that is supposed to nurture and protect. The courts are daily inundated with cases of rape, most of them minors and the justice system does not seem to be too sympathetic to this monstrous plight.

And these are the stories that make it to the media as most are not usually reported as studies and polls have shown. The rising incidence of sexual abuse of minors in the country is evidence that our policies and laws are not working. The ever-increasing incidents of rape, especially of minors, have become a source of worry to many Nigerians. The punishment for rape as spelt out in Section 358 of the Criminal Code is life imprisonment, while an attempt to commit rape attracts 14 years imprisonment. Nobody has, however, been convicted and faced this punishment despite overwhelming evidence. In spite of this stiff penalty for rape, it still thrives, because of bottlenecks of legal technicalities, and unwillingness of victims to pursue their cases to logical conclusions.

According to NOI polls in partnership with the Stand to End Rape Initiative (STER), about 70 per cent of Nigerians are aware of the high prevalence of child rape in the country and 50 per cent personally know a child that has been raped between the ages of 7-12 years. This is a worrying statistic and shows that this is more of a problem than we are willing to admit. Child rape is one of the most traumatising forms of violence against children, usually committed by a person in a position of power and trust in the child's life. While several cases are officially reported to the appropriate authorities in Nigeria, most people believe the majority of rape cases go unreported mainly because parents want to protect their children from potential stigmatisation and embarrassment.

Ivy Fidelia Basil-Ofili is the programme officer for Partnership For Justice, owners of Mirabel Centre, a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC). It is the only one of its kind and is located at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) in Lagos. It is a safe, friendly and conducive place where one can get free help after going through trauma of rape or sexual assault. The centre has catered to almost 900 victims with a whooping 90 per cent under the age of 18, a lot of them not even teenagers yet.

According to Basil-Ofili who spoke with The Guardian, "We can confidently say that there is increase in reporting as people are beginning to have more confidence in the system. However, impunity plays a major role in deterring prospective perpetrators. When an abuser is set free without facing the consequences of his or her action, either because prominent members of the society have begged on his behalf, we are sending the message that he can get away with the crime, that the violation of the rights of that child is not important. We are also encouraging others to abuse minors as they can get away with it. This is not acceptable."

On ways of tackling this menace, she insists that this hydra-headed monster cannot be tackled by one agency or by the government alone. "The Lagos state government has put in place a good legal framework by way of laws and policies like the Child rights Law, Domestic Violence Law, Sex Offenders Register and mandatory reporting. It has also set up the Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team for expedited response to issues of domestic and sexual violence in Lagos State. The society also has to do its part.

"First, we need to stop the silence and talk about the abuse and seek help for the abused child. We need to stop begging on behalf of the perpetrator and allow the law to take its course. We need to stop stigmatisation of the survivors and change the way we discuss rape and other issues. For instance, rather than talking about the child who was abused, the society should focus on the alleged perpetrator as the criminal that he/she is. That way, the perpetrator will not be protected but will face the consequences of his action. In addition, the society needs to stand up as a whole to condemn child abuse and hold the perpetrator accountable."

Basil-Ofili further points out that the tendency for an abused child to become an abuser in future was pretty high, thereby continuing the evil cycle. Also, many of these children contract sexually transmitted diseases, become pregnant and might have their education disrupted.

Furthermore, she adds that abused children tend to suffer psychologically and become emotionally unstable, swinging from one excessive trait to another and are extremely aggressive or violent in most cases. "Early introduction to sexual activities can lead to promiscuity in future or frigidity. Some suffer from VVF and have to live with that condition for the rest of their lives."

Basil-Ofili disclosed that rape and sexual abuse was not limited to just female children alone even though they constitute an overwhelming majority. She points out that young boys are now falling victims of rape and they have treated and counseled some male victims at the centre.

According to her, the only way sexual abuse can greatly reduce or even be eradicated is when the community takes a stand against it and ensures to protect every child, whether that child is known to one or not. If you see or notice any strange friendship/activity between an adult and a child, report to the appropriate authorities. She enjoins mothers to be more vigilant and ensure they are close with their children, such that the children tell you everything going on with them. Also, mothers should try as much as possible to refuse leaving children with even relatives as statistics have shown that 70 per cent or rape is carried out by known relatives and friends.

A three-year-old female child (name withheld) is one of the victims at the centre. She was brought there after she complained of pains in her private parts. Upon several prodding, she revealed that her uncle put his fingers in her repeatedly. The case has been lodged in the police station but the criminal has not been brought to justice, however.

Another female child aged 11 has unfortunately contracted Hepatitis B after being raped on three different occasions by their neighbour, warning her not to tell anyone or else she would die. The case is also lodged at the police station and the assaulter is undergoing prosecution. Another child, aged seven has been assaulted for over a year before help came her way. Two men raped the poor child on different occasions but thankfully, they have been arrested and it is hoped they would face the full wrath of the law.

One of the saddest cases this reporter noted, however, was that of Mary (not real name) who was sent to collect money from a man. The man was not around and referred her to his assistant who told her he forgot the money at a friend's house and told her to follow him to get it. On getting there, he pounced on her and raped her. The man has been arrested and it is only hoped that he would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

These are just several instances of the hundreds of children that have been assaulted and are still being assaulted till date. Basil-Ofili notes that the complicity and tendency to cover-up the crime is still very high. Many parents often drop the case out of fear, wanting to 'protect the child from stigma' and monetary incentive. Some parents do not even know it is a criminal act and fail to report to the police as well as take their child to the hospital for proper treatment. Such was the case of Rashida and her parents.

Rashida (not real name) was raped by her landlord on several occasions at their one-room apartment located in one of the suburbs of Lagos. After her mother discovered this sad incidence, she said the landlord threatened them with ejection and they had to keep mum because they didn't have money to look for another apartment. The best she could do was to send Rashida to go live with her sister in another part of Lagos.

This shouldn't be the case Basil-Ofili stresses and not getting help and justice for the victim only damages the victim even more and gives the criminal more room to continue committing evil, as if the child is not properly counseled and rehabilitated, it can lead to greater problems later on and affect his/her future negatively.


United Kingdom

Child sexual abuse: failing another generation of children?

by Beatrix Campbell

It is almost three decades since the sexual abuse, rape and buggery of children became a torrid theme in Britain's political culture.

It was in the mid-1980s that the government insisted that concern about sexual abuse must ignite intervention by police and children's services. Not may , intervene, but must. That was a historic moment, when the state took the side of children. Almost instantly child protection combusted.. The government recoiled.

It initiated public inquiries into what to do - and not to do - about sexual abuse. But not into how prevalent it is, or how to prevent it.

Into that vortex of not knowing, the Office of the Children's Commissioner has at last used its considerable authority and resources to find out. Last month it published a report that puts together what we know: Protecting Children From Harm: A Critical Assessment of Child Sexual Abuse in the Family Environment in England and Priorities for Action.

Incidence: Over the two years between 2014 and 2014, about 50,000 children were known by the statutory services to have been assaulted or raped in the family environment. The Commissioner collated data from police, local authority and voluntary services that indicate that many, many more - between 400,000 and 450,000 children - were abused by known adults in and around their family home, but didn't come to anyone's attention.

So, only one in eight were reported to police or children's services. The cruel gap between known and not known grows if we factor in criminal convictions: during the same two years there were 6414.

Prevalence: The commission calculates that ‘approximately 1.3 million children currently living in England will have been a victim of contact sexual abuse by the time they turn 18.'

It often starts around the age of nine. Two-thirds of sexual abuse takes place in the family environment, but it is a much smaller ratio of the 50,000 known cases - it is least likely to be disclosed and detected.

The men who do this live among us, we know them. They enjoy virtual impunity.

This is the ‘most defended crime,' comments the Scottish journalist Sarah Nelson, who has tracked sexual abuse for decades.

Despite the legal duty to protect children from harm, despite seemingly endless tinkering with procedures, and regular scandals, prevalence seems to be no lower than it was, and perpetrators no more likely to be called to account. In the 1980s child sexual abuse became part of the statutory services' guidelines, augmented by a commandment to be collegial: Working Together was the mantra.

Since then, however, the police, the most unschooled and the most masculinised service has taken over. Police officers interviewed by Sociologist Paul Michael Garrett, in his book Remaking Social Work With Children and Families, believed that co-operation meant domination.

Whilst awareness grows, detection declines: Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary reported in Making The Victim Count in 2014 that more than a quarter of sexual offences reported to the police are not even recorded. And the inspectorate warned in 2015 that the police were ‘at risk of failing another generation of children.'

So erratic is the national performance, that vital data about the victim-culprit relationship ‘cannot be easily extracted', reports the children's commissioner. The police are not duty bound to record it, so there is huge variation in recording ‘and indeed whether it is recorded at all.'

Police data on family abuse also varies wildly, ‘from 5% to 69%'. Those with the highest numbers are most likely to be comprehensive and ‘more likely to be accurate'.

The prevalence figures are huge, and they are consistent with earlier and international figures. A large study led by Prof. Lorraine Radford, published by Child Abuse and Neglect in 2013, showed that 20 per cent of girls interviewed at the age of 15 reported sexual victimisation in the past year. A quarter of 18-24 year-olds, 24 said they had experienced sexual assault or rape during childhood.

We can assume, therefore, that the commissioner's figure for un reported and un detected cases is an underestimate. British Home Secretary, Theresa May, was not exaggerating when she said in March that that child sexual abuse is ‘woven, covertly, into the fabric' of society, where places of safety were instead settings of ‘the most appalling abuse' and ‘what the country doesn't yet appreciate is the true scale of that abuse.'

That's what makes publication both useful and disappointing: where was fighting talk from the Children's Commissioner? Whose side is she on - children in adversity or a government dedicated to austerity?

How can the Office of the Children's Commissioner (OCC) intervene effectively when its own staff have been savaged?. The OCC has failed to confirm or deny that staff have been scythed from 30 to 15.

How will the government and indeed the Office of the Children's Commissioner follow up, will they do something?

This important research was initiated by the energetic Deputy Commissioner, Sue Berelowitz, following her 2013 report on the sexual exploitation of children and her robust interventions in debates about child prostitution. But last spring she was summarily sacked by the newly-appointed Commissioner, Anne Longfield. There was no explanation. ‘It was a set-up,' complained a colleague. Staff were aghast. Berelowitz had been nothing if not an enthusiast.

A redundancy package was organised by the Department of Education and the Children's Commissioner and approved by the Treasury. That was jeopardised, though, when the Tory press ran what appeared to be a campaign to humiliate Berelowitz and disparage the deal.

So, instead of being a herald of a fresh start, the new evidence is launched into a mess: Berelowitz's expertise lost, colleagues in disarray and disabling staff cuts.

What does the report propose?

It urges that yet again inter-professional relations should be assessed. It urges compulsory lessons for life - the government baulks at compulsory. It cautions that since most children are harmed in their family, they should not carry the burden of disclosure, and parents aren't necessarily the people they can tell.

Three quarters of the victims are girls, it says, and 90 per cent of the perpetrators are men. Gender appears in the report, but primarily as a concern about boys, not gender as a system - there is no reference to, or strategy to confront the structural links between sexism and sexual abuse.

The report doesn't explore the way that abuse varies according to age, time and place - the more a child ventures into the world beyond the family, the more vulnerable to abuse by peers and other men.

The evidence is inconvenient, it doesn't offer up a cameo of a perfect victim: blond, blue eyed, crouching in a corner; Nor a stereotypical perpetrator: an ogre. Nor does the report explore what it is about global popular cultures that sustains sexual abuse.

That leaves intact the dangerous polarisation between two categories: incest and paedophilia, as if the problem is pathology rather than politics.

Will the commissioner's figures caution those commentators still claiming, with unfounded confidence, that children are suggestible, that adults' reports of historic abuse are part of frenzy, hysteria, panic, witch hunting and latter-day McCarthyism?

Children's testimony is still maligned - the Rotherham sexual exploitation scandal, for example, revealed that children's entrapment in prostitution was deemed ‘a lifestyle choice'.

Yet survivors' testimony is virtually the only resource in calling the perpetrators to account. Medical signs that might have offered an another route into this most secret of crimes became the disputed crux of the 1987 Cleveland child abuse crisis - the defining moment in child protection politics from which services have not recovered.

The Children's Commissioner insists that the system must not depend on children speaking out: ‘a system which waits for children to tell someone cannot be effective.'

But that's how it is Commissioner, so what are you going to do about it?



Doctors to counsel parents on child sexual abuse

by Somita Pal

The Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors (MARD) has started a new initiative to strike a chord with its patients. It has decided to have a campaign every month where they get an opportunity to interact with patients and create awareness on a chosen topic.

To begin with, MARD has started the 'Good touch and Bad touch' campaign for the month of December, where they will be counselling parents whose children are in age the bracket of 3-10. These doctors will also counsel the children on what is good touch and bad touch.

"Considering the fact that the doctor-patient relationships are not great today, at MARD, we have been doing many campaigns over the past few months. Continuing further with the same theme, we have started a "WE CARE" campaign for the next 4 months. Every month, we will take a certain topic which is very relevant to all of us but somehow there seems to be no awareness about it," said Dr Sagar Mundada, MARD president.

He added that since child sexual abuse is a burning issue, they decided to take it as the first campaign topic. "Awareness among children and parents on good touch and bad touch is must in today's time as most of the studies show that more than 85% of the time the accused is known to the child. Child sexual abuse has long-term consequences on the child. It can be disastrous and can even make the child a sexual predator in adulthood," said Dr Mundada.

Describing on how the children will be counselled, Dr Mundada added that posters have been prepared that will help us convey the awareness. "For example, if they have come across bad touch, they should run away, yell, tell parents, grandparents, teacher or a trusted person about their bad experience etc.," explained Dr Mundada.

Appreciating MARD's effort in selecting 'good touch and bad touch' as their campaign topic, psychiatrists said sexual assault on a juvenile is generally not reported because of social stigma attached to it and the child can develop psychological problems and remain depressed when they grow into adults.

"Children should know what they need to do when someone touches them inappropriately. Parents also need to have a frank chat with their children on this topic and also believe in their children and take them seriously," said Dr Fabian Almeida, child psychiatrist.

Tips to parents

Never allow a girl child to sit on anybody's lap (even an uncle or grandpa)
Never undress and dress a child in front of an adult after s/he is over 2 years of age
Never ever force a child to go out with an adult with whom s/he is not comfortable with
If your child complains of anything, never ever take it lightly
Activating parental controls on the cable network
Teach 3-year-old children that s/he must wash their private parts and not let any body else touch them there

Tips for kids

Good touch
Parents' hug and kisses
Grandparents' love
Friendly brief kiss on forehead by family members
Pat on the back by teacher saying "good job"
Touch that does not make child nervous..uncomfortable

Bad touch
Kissing on mouth
Touching buttocks
Touch which adult tells to keep secret
Any touch which makes child nervous, hurt, uncomfortable, disgusted
Touching areas covered by swim suits


North Dakota

Training the front lines in the fight against sex trafficking

by Ryan Laughlin

Grand Forks, ND (WDAZ-TV) - “The oil boom and how that's bringing in large groups of men and men have needs. So then there's a huge demand for sex,” said Erin Wirsing, a professional with years of experience in human trafficking.

The demand for human trafficking has brought much attention to the issue. So much attention, laws were quickly passed to combat the problem.

“I think there are ten different laws that passed and went into effect in August of this year in North Dakota. One of them is a brand new law, that sort of wipes out the previous human trafficking state law here that is super comprehensive,” Wirsing said.

Laws that have increased punishments and created more protection for those who may be the victims of trafficking.

“I think we have as a society have said, oh those or just prostitutes. And we dehumanize them and then it's not a big deal,” Wirsing said.

It's that mindset that's trying to be changed today. Along with how to identify the offenders, victims and how to make an impact.

“When we start to put the humanization back into somebody and remember that they're a human being with dignity and with worth, then there is a lot more motivation to help somebody then to just write them off,” Wirsing said.

And these kids who have been taken advantage of may not fit the stereotypical image of sex trafficking victim.

“Kids are not going to self-identify, because they are typically in-love with the person who is abusing them,” Wirsing said. “So what we have to look for as providers is, are the constantly running away from home or their placement and if so what are the running from and what are they running to?”

And the problem could be closer than you think.

“If we think it only happens to 'those' kids and our kids are fine. Then we're putting our kids at a disservice because we're not teaching them how to protect themselves and be aware of those dangers,” Wirsing said.

Parents should warn kids of the dangers of meeting people on the internet, that's where many dangerous interactions can start.

More than 150 people attended the training in Grand Forks. The training session will be held in the coming days in Minot, Jamestown and Dickinson.


United Kingdom

Targeted prosecutions needed to end modern-day slavery scourge

by Alex Whiting

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The might of the law is the best way to end modern day slavery, by bringing strategic cases to court that can change company practice or government policy, experts seeking to stamp out the problem in corporate supply chains said on Tuesday.

Such strategic litigation was successfully used to help end the British slave trade 250 years ago, making slavery in Britain illegal.

To help end slavery today, lawyers and NGOs must build an international network to use the law to punish and deter human traffickers, experts said.

"Strategic litigation can be a catalyst for genuine, long-term change," Nick Grono, head of Freedom Fund, an international initiative to fight slavery, said in a statement.

"It can ... force government action, drive legal reform, punish perpetrators, and compel action by businesses to end or prevent abuses," he added.

A few such cases are already happening.

In New Zealand, litigators secured court orders to seize fishing ships who were allegedly using slave labor in New Zealand waters.

"This is a really innovative approach because it gets the exploiter to the table," Grono said in an interview.

"If a fisherman brings a case in a New Zealand court against a (fishing) company, they'll probably just ignore it. But if you seize their multi-million dollar boat pending resolution of the court action, suddenly you get more attention," Grono added.

Another case in the United States ultimately resulted in a company, accused of human trafficking, being forced into bankruptcy. The corporation had brought hundreds of workers from India to repair shipyards after Hurricane Katrina.

The case ruled on a $20 million settlement for the workers.

Freedom Fund and the U.S.-based Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center want to establish a network of lawyers and NGOs to share their experiences and encourage better litigation practice to combat slavery, Grono said.

Nearly 21 million people are victims of forced labor, which generates about $150 billion a year in illegal profits, according to the International Labor Organization.

Despite the scale of the crime, it goes largely unpunished. In 2014 there were just 10,051 prosecutions worldwide, according to the U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Report.

"States have failed spectacularly to prosecute forced labor," said Martina E. Vandenberg, president and founder of the Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center, which links trafficking victims with pro bono lawyers, said in the joint statement.

"Human traffickers enjoy near absolute impunity for their crimes ... With millions held in servitude around the globe, human rights lawyers must act," she added.

Grono said the most effective outcome of targeted litigation would be wider pressure on companies to change their behavior.

"We're not naive about that, but as companies become more aware of the greater risks around this issue, they will devote more attention to these issues and that can improve practices independent of litigation."



California sex offenders exempt from ban on housing location

by Don Thompson

Sacramento — Three-quarters of California's paroled sex offenders previously banned from living near parks, schools and other places where children congregate now face no housing restrictions after the state changed its policy in response to a court ruling that said the prohibition only applies to child molesters, according to data compiled at the request of The Associated Press.

The rate is far higher than officials initially predicted. The state expected half of the 5,900 parolees would have restrictions on where they can live or sleep lifted when the corrections department changed its policy following the March ruling. Instead, data shows that 76 percent of offenders no longer are subject to the voter-approved restrictions.

Corrections officials said last spring that about half of the convicted sex offenders are considered child molesters who would still be subject to the housing ban.

But even some whose offense involved a child no longer face the 2,000-foot residency restriction, officials disclosed in explaining the higher number. That's because the department's new policy requires a direct connection between where a parolee lives and the offender's crime or potential to reoffend. Only rarely is the assailant a stranger to the victim, the type of offender whose behavior might be affected by where he lives.

"A parole agent cannot simply prevent a parolee from living near a school or park because the offender committed a crime against a child," Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Jeffrey Callison said in a statement.

The decision largely reverses a blanket housing ban imposed by California voters nine years ago. Many states impose a variety of residency restrictions on sex offenders, though states including Iowa, Georgia and Oklahoma rescinded or changed their residency restrictions and some now also tailor restrictions to individual sex offenders.

As a result of California's policy change, more than 4,200 of the state's 5,900 offenders no longer qualify for the residency restrictions, according to data compiled by the corrections department at the AP's request. However, their whereabouts still are monitored with tracking devices and they must still tell local law enforcement agencies where they live.

One in five sex offenders who used to be transient have been able to find permanent housing because they are no longer subject to the rule, the department said.

"These numbers are absolutely astounding," said state Sen. Sharon Runner, R-Lancaster, who co-authored the original ballot initiative. "Kids in kindergarten living across the street from a sex offender is not what the people voted for in Jessica's Law. Seventy percent of the people voted to keep them away from schools and parks."

The department spent months reviewing offenders' criminal backgrounds before deciding that the ban should continue to apply to about 1,400 offenders. The department couldn't provide the status of nearly 300 other offenders.

"That's a pretty dramatic reduction in numbers, so that's scary. That's scary for victims," said Nina Salarno, executive director of Crime Victims United of California.

She and Criminal Justice Legal Foundation president Michael Rushford, who represents crime victims, said the department is broadly interpreting the March court ruling, which applied only to San Diego County. Officials have refused to release the legal advice from the state attorney general that they are relying upon in making the decision.

In the March ruling, justices found that blanket restrictions violate offenders' constitutional rights by making it difficult for them to find housing and other services, without advancing the state's goal of protecting children. One of the San Diego Countyoffenders sued after he was forced to live in a dry riverbed, while two others slept in an alley near the parole office.

Susan Fisher, a board member of the victims support group Citizens against Homicide, said she would have been surprised at the low number of parolees still facing residency restrictions had she not spent so much time as a parole commissioner and as victims' rights adviser to former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Most people think "that around every corner is a child molester," she said. Yet experts say most child molesters are family members or acquaintances of the victim.

Ending the blanket housing restriction tracks recommendations that have been made for years by the Sex Offender Management Board, an advisory panel made up of law enforcement and treatment professionals.

Board vice chairman Tom Tobin said California parole officers who are responsible for enforcing the prohibition are doing a much better job now of tracking sex offendersbased on their individual risk.

Tobin, a psychologist who also is on the board of the California Coalition on Sexual Offending, said agents can still apply the housing ban where it makes sense, and the department said it still prohibits many offenders from having contact with minors or loitering near parks, schools or other places where children gather.

Tobin and Fisher said the public is safer with about 260 fewer transient sex offenderswho now have been able to find housing since the rule changed.

"If somebody's living under a bridge or going from one house to the next ... we're putting ourselves at greater risk," Fisher said.

Runner disagreed. She intends to try again next year to pass stalled legislation that would let judges in each county decide if the 2,000-foot limit is too restrictive in their jurisdiction.

"Unfortunately, that many people coming from transient to living near schools is not good," Runner said.

Twenty-four percent of sex offender parolees now face residency restrictions, down from 100 percent, based on a court decision and Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's policy change this year. The change reduced the number of paroledsex offenders who have no permanent home.

Here's a county-by-county breakdown on the number restricted by and released from the requirement that they live beyond 2,000 feet of a school or park, and the change in the number of transient offenders. The number of transient parolees is smaller than the statewide total because some cannot be placed in a specific county.

(See site for county by county breakdown)



DA to push for life sentences in child abuse cases

by Ebony Hall

19th Judicial Circuit District Attorney Randall Houston will ask the Alabama Legislature to increase the possible penalty for Aggravated Child Abuse for a child under six years of age to life in prison when it convenes for its regular session in February.

"I stood in court last week to oppose a bond request made by a mother who, along with her boyfriend, heinously abused her four-year-old son to the point that he was near death," Houston said. "As I looked that defendant in the eye and thought of the ways she and her boyfriend had abused her own son, I realized that the current penalties for such monstrous acts are inadequate and must be toughened so those who commit them can stare at the four cold walls of a prison cell for the rest of their lives."

He's talking about a case involving a 4 year old boy. In September, he was found unresponsive and injured in the back of a car in Florida. His mother Hallee McLeod and her boyfriend Scott Hicks now face aggravated child abuse charges. McLeod has also been charged with chemical endangerment of a child. Hicks is being held in Florida, but Houston successfully opposed McLeod's bond reduction request last week.

"Nothing can erase the trauma that this child suffered, but if we can ensure that the severity of the penalty truly matches the severity of the crime, then perhaps justice can be fully obtained," Houston said. "As a prosecutor I take my responsibility to ensure the protection of the most defenseless among us very seriously, and toughening our aggravated child abuse law will help accomplish that mission."

"I will be working in the coming weeks to line up bill sponsors and recruit child protective service organizations and local families of child victims to lay the groundwork for passing this important and much needed legislation," he noted.

Under current Alabama law, aggravated child abuse is a Class B felony punishable by two to 20 years in prison, but Houston said he will ask the Legislature to pass a law elevating the crime to a Class A felony punishable by 10 to 99 years, or life, in prison in cases involving a child younger than six-years-old. The new sentencing guidelines would mean aggravated child abuse would be raised to the same level as attempted murder charges.



Israelis unaware of risk factors, prevalence of sexual abuse

57% of Israeli parents believe sexual offenders are random strangers, and under 25% of parents speak to their children about the issue.

by Tova Dvorin

Most Israeli parents remain ignorant of the signs, extent, and threats of sexual abuse, a Panels Politics poll revealed Monday.

Only 11% of parents of children ages 5-18 understand the true prevalence of sexual violence in Israel.

57% believe that the prime offenders are pedophiles - not adults already known to the child or family - and the rate of this belief runs higher amongst traditional and observant Jews in Israel, as well as among men more than women.

The survey also found that 77% of parents were raised in homes where sexuality was never, or seldom, discussed - a trend that continues today. Just 24% of respondents talk to their children about healthy sexuality, with men being far less likely to give their children "the talk" than women.

Not all the statistics are bleak, however. 85% of parents talk to their children about safe surfing on the internet and on smartphones at least once per day; once again, women are more likely to conduct these talks than men.

Despite this, 30% of parents have never looked at their children's Facebook profiles; the 23% of parents who do so regularly are, by and large, mothers under the age of 40.

"The purpose of the survey is to raise awareness over the fact that in spite of the current pandemic [of sexual abuse] in the State of Israel, many parents are still not aware of it and therefore do not provide their children with the appropriate protection," Orit Sulitzeanu, Executive Director of the Association of Rape Crisis and Sexual Assault Victims, explained to Maariv . "Parents are still prisoners to their misconceptions about the nature of sexual violence."

"The tendency to see a pedophile or a stranger as the attacker is natural and in fact allows us to think that if you protect children from outsiders they won't be vulnerable," she continued. "The actual reality is different and therefore we need to raise parental awareness of the issue, to train professionals in the health, welfare and education sectors to recognize and identify [signs of sexual abuse] as soon as possible and ensure that every child in Israel will be within the framework of formal education classes about healthy sexuality and preventing sexual abuse."

Sulitzeanu will present the findings to the Children's Rights Committee later Monday. Ahead of the session, Committee chair MK Dr. Yifat Sasha-Biton (Kulanu) noted that the meeting's aim is to "end the epidemic of sexual abuse of minors and to raise awareness among parents and children, to provide tools to educators identify children affected and improve the care and support of the victims and their families."

"In addition, changes must be made in legislation and law enforcement to bring perpetrators to justice," she added.


United Kingdom

Social workers should be better 'parents' to vulnerable children, David Cameron says

Children's services 'which have persistently failed in the past will be take over immediately' by charities, other high performing authorities or groups of experts

by Christopher Hope

Social workers and child protection staff should behave more like “parents” to children in their care, David Cameron says today.

The Prime Minister made an emotional appeal to childcare professionals as he set out plans to allow the Government to take over immediately poorly performing councils children's services.

Under the plans children's services “which have persistently failed in the past will be take over immediately” by charities, other high performing authorities or groups of experts.

Powers to trigger immediate Ofsted inspections after evidence from whistle blowers will be strengthened.

Experts will immediately be sent in to run Sunderland City Council's children services unit after inspectors found “serious and widespread” failings.

New leaders will also be appointed to step in and tackle failings in Norfolk and Sandwell children's services. Doncaster's child protection services have been run by an independent not-for-profit company since last October

Mr Cameron said he wanted officials working for the state to look after vulnerable children to behave more like parents when considering their welfare.

He said: “Children's services support the most vulnerable children in our society. They are in our care; we, the state, are their parents; and we are failing them.

“It is our duty to put this right; to say poorly performing local authorities: improve, or be taken over. We will not stand by while children are let down by inadequate social services.”

The proposals were as significant as the Government's plans to deal with failing schools in the last Parliament, he said.

He added the plans “how serious we are about confronting state failure and tackling some the biggest social problems in our country.

“Together we will make sure that not a single child is left behind.”

Local authority departments judged inadequate by Ofsted will have six months to improve or they will be taken over in a system that mirrors Government reforms to tackle failing schools.

Top performing councils, experts in child protection and charities will be sent to run the worst units and will have the power to oust members of staff.

More than £100m will also be pumped into extending two schemes - Frontline and Step Up - which attract the best graduates into social work with bursaries of around £19,000.

An urgent review of local safeguarding children boards will also be carried out, the serious case review system will be centralised and a "what works centre" will be set up to make sure social workers learn from the best performers.

Peter Wanless, the Nspcc's chief executive, said: "Tackling child abuse is the greatest challenge of our generation.

“So an increased Government focus alongside these reforms, to help reduce the risk of harm to vulnerable children, are very welcome.

"Child protection is often a huge and complex area but too frequently some services have failed in this crucial duty; when this happens swift action is an absolute priority to prevent tragedies that shame us all.”



Large increase in abuse victims using phone counselling service

This year saw a 25 per cent rise in calls to Connect which deals with abuse in childhood

by Patsy McGarry

There has been a 25 per cent increase in calls for support during 2015 to the Connect telephone counselling service, which assists people who have suffered abuse in childhood. It follows a 17 per cent increase in such calls last year.

Established in 2006, Connect provides out of hours telephone based professional counselling and support for abuse survivors.

The total number of calls to the end of November was 8,113, and the number is expected to reach 9,000 by the end of this month.

Service director Theresa Merrigan believes the increase in demand is due to Connect being better known and also its anonymous nature. “Connect, for many, can be a safe port to begin to put words on traumatic childhood experiences where the caller, who initiates the contact, can remain anonymous while at the same time receiving support from a professionally experienced psychotherapist,” she said.

It was also the case that “many callers can find it difficult to get to a face-to-face counselling service because of geographical location, child care, lack of transport, or physical and emotional challenges. The telephone service can be an excellent resource for people in these circumstances,” she said.

Among callers the most common setting for abuse was the family (48 per cent) followed by the community (31 per cent) and 15 per cent were victims of institutional abuse. Within the family 24 per cent reported abuse by the father, of which 12.5 per cent was sexual abuse; 21 per cent reported abuse by the mother, predominantly emotional and physical abuse.