County investigates thousands of child abuse reports annually
by Lauren Pack
BUTLER COUNTY — Every year millions of reports of child abuse are made in the United States, involving more than 6 million children. The U.S. has one of the worst records among industrialized nations in child abuse deaths, losing an average of four to seven children per day to child abuse and neglect.
About 6.3 million children are referred to state agencies each year because of abuse.
The numbers can be startling and part of an ongoing challenge for those tasked with protecting children in Butler County While the most horrific cases that result in the death of a child grab headlines, county Children Services officials say the agency opened thousands of investigations this year with the majority having more positive results.
So far this year, Butler County Children Services has seen seven cases where a child had to be taken to the hospital due to abuse, according to Bill Morrison, the agency's director.
Two incidents this year ended with the death of babies, most recently 2-year-old Madison Twp. toddler, Kinsley Kinner. In 2012, the county saw a five-year high of 30 child abuse cases that required a trip to the hospital. Morrison said the parents are almost always involved and often the mom's boyfriend is the culprit.
“I wouldn't say it is a prevalent problem, but one is too many,” he said. “You hate to see it any time it occurs. I don't have any reason to believe…Butler County is any different statistically from any other counties around the state.
Kinsley's mother, Rebekah Kinner, who is pregnant with a son due in February, is charged with involuntary manslaughter because sheriff's detectives say she watched her boyfriend, Bradley Young, beat the toddler and did nothing to intervene. Young is charged with murder for the alleged fatal beating.
Earlier this year, Phillip J. Cunningham, 27, of Hamilton, was charged with murder after he allegedly dropped his 2-month-old daughter and shook her, according to Hamilton police. The baby later died from her injuries, which included intracranial bleeding, skull fractures and “serious brain injuries,” police said.
Cunningham, who remains housed in the county Jail is scheduled to appear in Butler County Common Pleas Court on Jan. 21.
Through November, Butler County Children Services has opened 2,553 cases this year based on an allegation of a child in need, which includes anything from physical abuse to emotional maltreatment to homelessness and neglect. For the intakes investigated, there were out of home placement in 191, which includes foster care and relative placements.
“Some of the most difficult case are those involving infants and toddlers, because they can't talk, or defend themselves,” Morrison said.
He said when Children Services opens a cause involving a young child, they are also challenged with finding out who may be inflicting the harm, which can be difficult if many people and family members have access to the child.
Depending on the circumstances of the situation, such as if a crime has been committed and the police are involved, the child can be removed from the home. But often the child is placed with the other parent, a safe family member or friend of the family.
“We have a some wonderful foster families, but think about it: If you are a child, four of five years old, and you are taken from your home and given to people you have never met before, that is a class A, 911 event for that child,” Morrison said. “We know growing up in foster care causes a lot of childhood problems.”
Case workers assigned to a case are required by law to check and speak with the child and parents, depending on the situation, with regularity.
The case and a disposition of the validity of the allegations must be completed in 45 days.
On the “front end” of a case, according to Julie Gilbert, a children services supervisor who spent many years as a case worker, they are trying to determine if there has been any physical abuse. That means something other than marks on the buttocks from corporal punishment. And also if the child has been exposed to violent acts, drug abuse, mental illness or if they simply have no food or shelter.
“We meet with the child victim and at least one person caring for them,” she said. Follow up is done every five days with the worker attempting to visually see the child, Gilbert said.
Morrison said the agency works within the system and the structure they have to keep children safe, but the bottom line is the agency is not about breaking up families, when counseling and other services can make life better for all.
“We are future thinking for the child and the family,” Morrison said. “But the reality is, we don't have the ability to predict human nature.”
Morrison said the agency was not involved with Rebekah Kinner as a parent prior to her daughter's death, and they don't have jurisdiction over any unborn children.
“But we will be watching (once the child is born),” Morrison said.
If a person should suspect a child is being abused or neglected, they can call Butler County Children Services on its 24-hour hotline: 513- 868-0888. Callers can remain anonymous.
Officials said, however, if someone sees a child being harmed, and they believe it is an emergency, they should call 911.
Butler County Children Services investigations through November 2015
Emotional maltreatment — 40
Medical neglect — 71
Neglect — 778
Stranger danger — 10
Physical abuse — 1109
Sexual abuse — 278
Dependency — 101
Family in need of Services (homelessness, lack of food) — 166
Colorado hotline expands reporting of suspected child abuse and neglect
by John Fryar
Child abuse reporting
State and local officials encourage Coloradans to report suspected child abuse and neglect.
People living anywhere in Colorado can call the state child abuse/neglect hotline: 1-844-CO-4-KIDS (1-844-264-5437), to speak to a representative 24 hours a day, every day.
People suspecting abuse of children or at-risk adults living in Boulder County can also call the county's own hotline: 303-441-1309, also 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Information about Boulder County's child welfare programs and services: bit.ly/1PmW8Uz
Colorado Department of Human Services information about preventing and reporting child abuse and neglect: bit.ly/1FiAkQH
With the approaching first anniversary of the launch of a toll-free statewide telephone hotline for reporting child abuse and neglect, child-welfare officials are urging Coloradans to stay vigilant if they're concerned about a child's safety and well-being.
The Colorado Department of Human Services announced that as of Dec. 20, state and county officials had received nearly 205,000 reports of suspected child abuse or neglect since the hotline went live on Jan. 1 — both through the new state hotline and from people contacting counties' and the state's human services offices.
"There is a growing understanding in our community that we all play a role in keeping our kids safe," state Department of Human Services Director Reggie Bicha said in a news release.
Bicha said the 1-844-CO-4-KIDS hotline is integral to help Coloradans spot and report signs of child abuse and neglect. "One call can save a child," he said.
Of the total 204,983 calls received by Dec. 20 about possible child abuse or neglect, 26,461 were made on the state hotline, according to Department of Human Services spokesman Lee Rasizer. Of that total, 4,516 came from Boulder County, 706 from Broomfield County and 5,395 from Weld County.
Under a system in which calls are evaluated and determinations made about whether further assessments and investigations are merited, and how rapidly those assessments and investigations need to be made, 88,441 of the total calls to the state's hotline and Colorado counties were accepted for assessment and 32,709 were assessed and investigated, Rasizer said.
Accepted for assessment and possible further action, he said, were 1,678 of the original 4,516 reports originally received about possible child abuse or neglect in Boulder County, 183 of the 706 reports received about situations in Broomfield County, and 1,793 of the 5,395 reports about possible abuse or neglect in Weld County.
The state child abuse and neglect hotline links callers at all hours to the appropriate official. All calls are confidential and will be routed to the county where a child resides.
Boulder County also has its own child abuse hotline, 303-441-1309, said Jim Williams, spokesman for the County Department of Housing and Human Services. But in emergencies, call 911.
"The hotline technology allows callers to be connected around the clock with screeners who can discuss their concerns with them," Williams said.
New curriculum aimed to combat child abuse
by Cameron Miculka
Of more than 700 people listed on Guam's sex offender registry, more than 80 percent are listed for sexually assaulting a child.
In response to the high rate of sexual assault committed against children, several of the island's government agencies and nonprofit organizations have come together to combat the trend.
For its population, Guam has one of the highest rates of rape in the nation.
In 2013, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the Guam Police Department received 106 reports of forcible rape. That gave the island a rate of about 64.2 reported rapes per 100,000 people.
The national rate, according to FBI crime statistics for the same year, was about 25.2 reported rapes per 100,000 people.
Of the 50 states, only Alaska, with a rate of 87.6 reported rapes per 100,000 people, had a higher rate than Guam.
The island's sex offender registry was created in 1999 by the 25th Guam Legislature.
Local law requires the names of those convicted of sex crimes be placed on the registry along with their photograph and description as well as the date and place of their conviction.
As of this week, the sex offender registry included 752 individuals. Close to three-quarters of them are registered for life.
In 2011, the governor signed into law the “LaniKate Protehi Y Famagu'on-ta Act,” which created the LaniKate task force.
The task force included members from various government agencies and nonprofit organizations and was tasked with developing opportunities to prevent child sexual abuse in Guam.
One of the task force's mandates was to create age-appropriate curriculum for students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.
This past summer, Attorney General Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson and Deputy Attorney General Carol Hinkle-Sanchez attended a three-day program in Honolulu.
There, they learned to train others here in Guam and implement the curriculum as mandated by the 2011 law.
For the past several months, they have been training educators about the curriculum and are prepared to roll the program out in March, Hinkle-Sanchez said Wednesday.
Hinkle-Sanchez is deputy attorney general for the office's juvenile division.
Although only mandated to put the curriculum in elementary schools, Hinkle-Sanchez said it will cover all grade levels.
The program is divided into four levels, each of which is designed for a particular age range.
The lowest division is aimed at children in pre-kindergarten through second grade. The next is for third through fifth graders. There are also lesson plans for students in middle and high schools.
Hinkle-Sanchez said the program for the youngest children teaches very basic lessons in personal space and the concept of “good touch/bad touch.”
As students get older, Hinkle-Sanchez said, they'll be exposed to a wider range of topics, such as respecting others' boundaries and concepts surrounding Internet safety.
“We just wanna create this ability for them to be safe,” she said.
Hinkle-Sanchez added that the program isn't a sex education class and is focused entirely on promoting safety.
Another key issue in the fight against sexual assault is the issue of disclosure.
For instance, the data available from the Guam Police Department, by its very nature, only includes the number of rapes that are reported to law enforcement.
As a result, it's unknown exactly how many sexual assaults occur but go unreported.
Not disclosing abuse
A survey by the U.S. Justice Department a couple years ago found that only 28 percent of people who said they had been raped also said they reported the attack to law enforcement.
Hinkle-Sanchez said underreporting is an issue here as well.
“It's always been an underreported crime because not many victims know where to go to get help, or know what to do or they're scared to get help,” she said.
In many cases, she added, attacks go unreported because they occur between family members.
“Sometimes they do tell another family member and, because it's family, they try to do what they can to protect inside without getting law enforcement and the judicial system involved,” she said.
That leads to issues of parents who aren't effectively protecting children against attackers within the family.
“And so the victim feels hopeless,” she said.
In order to address that as well, the proposed curriculum will also involve the issue of disclosing abuse when it occurs.
“What can you do if something happened to your friend? Who can you go to?” Hinkle-Sanchez said. “What can you do to help your friend?”
Teaching that, she said, would ideally resolve the issues of children finding themselves with nobody to whom they can turn.
“There's your teachers, there's your counselors. Develop a list of people you can trust,” she said.
It also instructs teachers on what signs to look for, and how to recognize possible abuse.
Often times, Hinkle-Sanchez said, teachers have more “one-to-one” time with students than anybody else, making them well-suited for recognizing abuse.
“Whether it's (criminal sexual conduct) or not, you want to correct that kid as early as you can,” she said.
When the curriculum was first introduced in Hawaii, she said, the state found a corresponding increase in the number of reported sexual assaults.
Hinkle-Sanchez said they are anticipating the same thing here. As students learn the curriculum, she said, it's expected that some children will come forward to report abuse.
Teachers so far have embraced the proposed curriculum, Hinkle-Sanchez asked, even wondering why something like it wasn't implemented years ago.
The courses will be taught as a component of health class, she said, although some teachers have expressed interest in folding it into other courses as well, such as life skills.
“It's teaching these kids how to respect their bodies,” she said.
Parents, too, are invited to sit in on the course, and will be provided with materials and literature being taught and distributed in the course.
She noted that a lot of parents may be hesitant about broaching the subject, but stressed the need to get them involved in educating children about the issue.
The program is expected to launch in March. The unit will be taught as a 3-day lesson for students in elementary school and a 5-day lesson in middle and high school.
Hinkle-Sanchez added that even though the curriculum is from Hawaii, it's being brought to Guam at no cost, and the island has the freedom to tweak it and adjust the lessons as they see fit.
Child Sexual Abuse the Most Reported Crime in Paraguay
Asunción, Dec 27 (Prensa Latina) -- Child sex abuse was the most reported crime this year in Paraguay, according to Ultima Hora newspaper.
A total of 1,191 cases were reported to the Center of Attention to Victims of the Ministry of Justice, mostly involving child abuse, family violence and sexual coercion, with most victims of 10-18 years of age, according to the source that quotes a report released by the Attotney General's Office.
The authorities are showing concern about the increase of child sexual abuse, which amounted to 1,308, followed by family violence (1,109) and sexual coercion and rape (460).
According to the figures, most cases involve female victimsm, with 3,454 cases handled this year against 661 male victims.
The most vulnerable are the teens of 13-15 years of age, followed by those of 10-12 and those of 16-18.
Million Kids works to combat human trafficking
by Taryn Murphy
Running away from home is a teenager classic—it sends a message, provides a method of retaliation, and most of all, worries parents. But while the idea of running away is often idealized with visions of red knapsacks and goodbye sticky notes, the facts are haunting.
“1 out of 3 children who run away will be in sex trafficked in the next 48 hours,” Opal Singleton said.
Singleton is the founder and president of Million Kids, a 501(c)(3) public benefit nonprofit which fights human trafficking. And it isn't just runaways who are at risk, it's every day tweens and teens, too. In a world where “stranger danger” is more real than ever, Singleton is passionate about proactive prevention. All too often, anti-trafficking organizations raise awareness after the fact when the crime could have been prevented altogether through training and education.
Million Kids began with the realization that human trafficking is not a foreign, isolated problem—rather, it victimizes one million children each year worldwide. That translates to three thousand children every day. And while it may be surprising, many of these children are within the United States. On domestic soil, children as young as ten or eleven continuously find themselves ensnared in the clutches of traffickers. More often than not, these traffickers are individuals whom the children trusted – friends, partners, or acquaintances who gained their confidence over a period of time solely for the purpose of exploiting them later. All of these chilling facts combine to make human trafficking the fastest growing crime in America.
“Our name Million Kids says it all. According to UNICEF over one million kids are trafficked worldwide each year. Statistics like this are mind-numbing,” the Million Kids website states.
After a missions trip to Cambodia with her church, Singleton was given a first-hand look at a country where human trafficking runs rampant, which jumpstarted her interest in preventing the crime. After the Riverside County Anti Human Trafficking Task Force asked Singleton to train and educate personnel, Singleton sat down at her kitchen table and began writing curriculum. In 2008, Million Kids was born as Singleton segued into presenting the literature at churches and organizations. Since then, she has trained over 50,000 people.
Although she is tackling a titanic issue, Singleton's motivation is simple yet powerful: “If the bad guys are harming this many children a year, then the good guys must help even more.”
Today, Million Kids works with local law enforcement to end human trafficking domestically.
“I have a contract now for 20 hours of training for the Riverside Task Force each week,” Singleton said.
In addition to serving on the task force, Singleton helps activists and communities develop effective anti-trafficking programs in their locales. Million Kids places a strong emphasis on educating individuals, organizations, and corporations—a key component to pre-empting traffickers and preparing potential victims. Across the United States, it also works to serve rescued children and strategize about prevention methods.
One effort unique to Million Kids is its use of original material to raise awareness for human trafficking. Singleton took it upon herself to write three different curriculums, each targeting a specific aspect of the crime. In “The Love Trap.” Singleton teaches school administrators, teachers, parents, and teenagers how predators identify a potential victim, the methods they use to recruit innocent kids, and how parents can recognize the signs that their child may be being recruited.
In “Grace, Hope, and Fatherhood”, Singleton provides a special curriculum for churches to understand the powerful and practical ways that they can prevent and combat human trafficking. Lastly, Singleton's most popular curriculum is a book titled “Seduced – The Grooming of America's Teenagers.” It addresses the increase of technology in the past decade, and its resulting influence on young people.
“The dialogue between parent and child has decreased and outside influence has increased exponentially. Even face-time between parent and child often degenerates to clipped syllables sandwiched between texts and tweets. So that begs the question, ‘Who's grooming our children'” Singleton asks on her website.
“Seduced” points out how social media is used to groom and recruit young people, often ending in exploitation. It is a parent-empowering program, helping adults to understand the influence and coercion processes and the psychology behind technology.
“We are at a unique time in the universe where perfectly normal parents hand their child a device that provides access to their child's ideological formation 24/7 for literally hundreds of thousands of unknown individuals around the globe,” Singleton explained.
With such an extensive list of diverse outreaches and programs, a large portion of Million Kids' work undoubtedly depends on the generous support of donors. While the organization has many dedicated benefactors, it continues to struggle financially.
“The hardest part about the whole thing is raising the funds to keep going,” Singleton said, “because a lot of people don't donate to prevention. They donate to sickness, and I'm saying, ‘Why wait?'”
Annually, Singleton alone puts 50,000 miles on her car traveling to speaking engagements. She and volunteers for Million Kids make no salary, and reliesy on donations to support their efforts.
Singleton hopes for a boost in funds so that her book “Seduced” can be provided on a wider-scale.
“The book has been instrumental many times now in educating parents who then start to look at their kid's phone and realize they're in trouble. And it has actually resulted in several interventions,” she said.
Her long-term goal is to provide churches and foster programs with the eye-opening material and have them distribute it at no cost to the public. The free asset would especially be vital for foster parents and grandparents raising their grandchildren, Singleton said.
“Foster parenting is tough business, and when you're fostering a teenager who has already started promiscuous activity, you have a foster parent who probably isn't really aware of social media. Especially if you have grandparents raising grandkids,” she explained.
Singleton also hopes that her newest program, Million Kids Missing Kids, will spread so that 50,000 people can be notified of a missing child in less than four hours.
The road ahead may be difficult, and the crime of sex trafficking may be daunting, but Singleton has already changed the lives of many children by educating and training Riverside County.
“We cannot afford to be overwhelmed by the scope of the problem. We must provide the solution,” she said.
For more information on human trafficking and what you can do to make a difference, visit www.millionkids.org
Taekwondo Teacher Knocked Out a 5-Year-Old: Cops
by Cassandra Vinograd
A martial arts instructor has been charged with felony child abuse for allegedly knocking out a 5-year-old boy, according to police in Virginia.
Prince William police said Justin Branick, 21, was a taekwondo teacher at the Tiger Martial Arts Academy in Bristow.
His arrest and charges came after detectives were called to the martial arts school to investigate reports of an assault on Dec 21.
"The investigation revealed that the accused... grabbed the victim, a 5-year-old male... by the ankle then threw him over his shoulders and onto the ground causing the victim to lose consciousness," police said in a daily incident report.
The victim was treated for "serious injuries" at a local hospital, the incident report added.
Branick was arrested without incident, charged and release on $5,000 bail.
St. George's School Says Inquiry Found 26 Cases of Sexual Misconduct
by Cassandra Vinograd
An internal investigation at a Rhode Island prep school found that at least 26 students were sexually abused by staff in the 1970s and 80s — and that the alleged perpetrators were fired but not reported to authorities.
St. George's School released a report on its nearly year-long inquiry into sexual misconduct to alumni of the Middletown, Rhode Island-based boarding school Wednesday night.
It identified six former employees who allegedly committed sexual misconduct in the 1970s and 80s and expressed "regret, sorrow, and shame that students in our care were hurt."
Four of the six had been dismissed by St. George's — which hosts grades 9-12 — though the inquiry made clear the school did not do enough.
"It is evident that school failed on several occasions to fulfill its legal reporting requirements to the authorities," the report said. "The school could have done more to keep its students safe."
The inquiry received "credible first-hand accounts" and corroborating evidence which "strongly" suggested that three of the former school employees committed sexual misconduct against "multiple" students — resulting in a total of 23 victims. Three other former employees had one victim each, the report added.
The school's report said that none of the living alleged perpetrators was contacted as part of the inquiry due to the advice of the authorities.
Only one alleged perpetrator was named in the report: former athletic trainer Al Gibbs, who died in 1996. Gibbs was fired from the school in 1980 for "inappropriate activity" after a senior allegedly found him taking pictures of a naked female student.
"Regrettably, the school did not report misconduct by Gibbs to any state agency at the time of his termination in 1980," the report said. It was not immediately clear if Gibbs contested the allegations at the time.
The St. George's report said that firsthand accounts accused Gibbs of engaging in a "range" of inappropriate actions, including "fondling or grabbing the breasts of seven different students, touching the genitals of three students, and in one case, rape."
Of the other alleged perpetrators, the investigation showed that one reportedly had inappropriate and potentially sexual contact with at least three students. The staffer admitted to misconduct after a parent contacted the school and was fired, but authorities were not contacted.
One student told the inquiry that he slept in the same room with another one of the alleged perpetrators, where the student was raped.
Another was apparently warned "not to give students more backrubs" years before he was fired over an inappropriate relationship with a student. The new report found that the employee watched pornography with students, touched them sexually and engineered "nude encounters."
Meanwhile, alleged perpetrator #5 was fired for giving students alcohol — but the inquiry uncovered allegations of sexual touching and an attempt to perform oral sex on a student.
The last — "#6" — reportedly was in a long-term relationship with a student.
"As a result of this relationship, the student reportedly attempted suicide, suffering severe injuries," the report said.
It called the results of the abuse — which in addition to suicide attempts included acting out, suffering from depression, and the inability to form healthy relationships — for victims "heartbreaking."
"The school deeply regrets what happened to them, and we pledge to do all we can to support and help them in their efforts to heal," the report said.
The 11-page report — which also uncovered allegations that three former students had engaged in sexual misconduct — was the culmination of a nearly year-long internal investigation requested by the school's administration.
"The school underscores its regret, sorrow, and shame that students in our care were hurt," it said. "We commit ourselves to taking responsibility, to healing those wounds, and to making every effort to mend the fabric of the St. George's community."
Baltimore Child Abuse Center seeking donations
Supplies, toys needed for children in need
by Megan Pringle
BALTIMORE —This is the season of giving.
That is exactly what the Baltimore Child Abuse Center is hoping people will do. The center takes care of families who find themselves in traumatic situations, and often times that means a child being removed from their home.
So, those at the center are doing all they can to help the children during the holiday and beyond.
This includes having necessities ready at a moment's notice. The center has backpacks filled with items like toothpaste, diapers and pajamas, just some of things a child may need when they are taken from their home unexpectedly.
"Many of them have faced a traumatic experience and we want to make sure they have the tools to move forward," said Danielle Randall, with the Baltimore Child Abuse Center. "Sometimes they come with (just) the clothes they have on their back."
So these everyday items can make a huge difference. To help with those needs, the Baltimore Child Abuse Center just started Project ARK: Awesome and Ready Kids.
The idea is to collect back packs, stuffed with necessities specific to a child's age. They have a start thanks to a non-profit that donated bags but it is not nearly enough.
This year, the center has helped around a 1,000 children. Project ARK also comes at a time when the center is also kicking off its toy drive.
"Nine out of 10 these kids are victims of sexual abuse, witnesses to homicide or they are transitioning to foster care and they may not even get a Christmas," said Alyssa Deiter with the Baltimore Child Abuse Center. "So we want make sure they have something extra special for the holidays."
While the center is seeking toys for the holiday drive, they can accept them any time. Those interested in donated toys or supplies for Project ARK can drop them off at the center or make a donation online. For more information, click here.
Amid Holyoke allegations, new rules for handling unruly students
by Jeremy C. Fox
Regulations that take effect Jan. 1 will limit how children can be physically restrained in Massachusetts public schools, at a time when alleged violations at a Holyoke school have shined a spotlight on the use of force to control unruly students.
The new rules, approved by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education late last year, are the first update to state policies on the use of restraint since 2001.
The regulations will add restrictions on how unruly students can be held down for their protection, and bar the use of devices or medication to subdue an agitated child — two tactics that previously were permitted with the consent of a parent and a doctor.
The rules also require for the first time that students assigned a “time out” to calm down be continuously monitored by school staff and that principals grant approval for any “time out” lasting longer than 30 minutes. In addition, principals must approve restraints lasting longer than 20 minutes.
Most students who are subjected to physical restraint are children and teens with behavioral or emotional disabilities. Advocates are lauding the upcoming changes.
Rick Glassman, director of advocacy for the Disability Law Center, said it is particularly helpful that the regulations allow a student to be pinned to the ground face-down — called a “prone restraint” — only when rigorous standards are met.
Those conditions include parental consent, the failure of other attempts to subdue the student, a documented history of behavior endangering the student or others, and the absence of medical conditions that could be worsened, such as asthma, heart conditions, obesity, or seizures.
“Basically, any floor restraint is dangerous, but prone restraints have been shown to be especially dangerous,” Glassman said. “There's a lot of clinical literature showing . . . . an increased risk of injury or death from positional asphyxia as a result of using prone restraints.”
The law center issued a report this month alleging that workers hired to calm students with emotional and behavioral disabilities at the Peck Full Service Community School in Holyoke instead berated, slapped, tackled, and physically restrained the children, violating existing regulations on the use of force.
Sergio Paez, who was superintendent during the time the abuse allegedly occurred, has repeatedly defended his handling of reports of abuse that crossed his desk.
Another significant change in the new regulations, advocates say, is the requirement that any use of restraint be reported quickly to the school's principal and to parents, and that principals review individual student data on restraints each week and schoolwide data each month.
The rules will also require that all uses of physical restraint be reported to the state. Previously, schools were required to report restraints to the state only if a student or school staff member was injured or the student was restrained for more than 20 minutes.
“Reporting can be particularly important . . . . so the parents know what's going on and whether a child has suffered an injury as a result of a restraint, and why,” Glassman said. “Reporting is important for schools so that school supervisory personnel know what's going on in the classroom.”
Programs around the state that work with special education students have been training employees this fall to prepare for the new regulations, said James V. Major, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Approved Private Schools, which represents private, state-funded, special education schools.
He said the changes are prompting some schools to update their own policies in ways that are even more restrictive than required by the new rules.
“Even though prone restraints are allowed under restricted circumstances, I think most of our members will be moving away from using them at all,” Major said.
In pacifying children who are out of control, he believes, schools will elect to hold them in place while standing or pin them to the floor facing up. Both techniques require an additional staff member.
“Schools and providers are going to have to figure out how to get the additional staff,” he said. “That's going to mean more money and additional changes in staffing patterns. There's also a potential for increased injury to staff, which is why they were using prone in the past.”
With proper training, Major said, staff should be able to avoid injury.
The new reporting requirements will also require additional staff time, but they will provide schools with better information about their own procedures and how to avoid situations that escalate to the point that a child needs to be restrained, Major said.
Because the new requirements impose greater rigor, he said, they could ultimately affect enrollment policies for schools serving children with special needs.
“I think there may be an unintended consequence of tightened admission criteria and procedures as schools really scrutinize their ability to meet the needs of students,” Major said. “There might be some students that will find it more difficult to get appropriate placement.”
FAIR Girls raise money to combat sex trafficking by wrapping presents
by Debra Alfarone
MCLEAN, Va. (WUSA9) -- On Christmas Eve volunteers at Tyson's Galleria Mall were working to not only spread holiday cheer but to spread the message that we all need to help combat sex trafficking because it is thriving in the District.
Volunteers and staff from FAIR Girls wrapped presents and took donations to help the non-profit. FAIR Girls helps up to 150 girls a year to escape the life, gives them a place to stay, helps with legal issues, jobs, and self-esteem.
"Many of the girls in our program come to us feeling isolated and alone after years of being sold in sex trafficking," founder, Andrea Powell said. “The holidays brings up these feelings of wanting family, wanting love, and wanting a warm place to be and feeling like they have a place to go at Fair Girls is really important.”
For the past four years, this has been an important fundraiser for the struggling non-profit.
"We've had people give $200, $500, $1,000,” Powell said. “They know that the money goes straight to support survivors of sex trafficking right here in the local community and, in particular, our safe house."
And if you think this is something that happens in other places, to other people's children, Powell says this, "D.C. has one of the top 10 locations for child sex trafficking in the country.
“People travel from other parts of the world to D.C. to buy children in the District, this is a very serious problem," Powell said.
Even though this is holiday-time, Powell says their 24-hour hotline never takes a holiday: 1-855-900-3247.
The scourge of sex trafficking
It's the scourge around the corner, in the house down the street – or even in our own families.
Women and girls (and, less frequently, even men and boys) reduced to sexual chattel, bought and sold for their bodies and deprived, day after day, of fundamental freedoms.
Free Press editorial cartoonist Mike Thompson brings the horror of sex-trafficking to life in an animated documentary on the subject, which appeared at Freep.com on Monday, Dec. 21 and will run in the print edition on Sunday, Dec. 27.
The work does many things well, but importantly, it trains focus on two important truths: what sex trafficking is, and how ordinary citizens can help fight it.
You can be forgiven if the phrase “sex trafficking,” leaves you thinking only of young women stuffed in truck trailers being carted around the country in prostitution rings. No doubt, that happens.
But as Thompson's work highlights, it's far more common than that. Indeed, any instance in which a person is forced or coerced into sexual activity for money, it's trafficking. And the geographic dimensions of it don't matter. Many trafficking victims never leave their own homes, as “D.,” one of the women in Thompson's animated documentary, points up. She says she was first victimized by a brother-in-law. That person also forced her into sexual situations with other men – all in the home where she lived.
It's also important to note that D.'s story begins when she is 14 – a child, unable to legally give consent for any sexual activity. A Department of Justice analysis of more than 2,500 reported trafficking cases between 2008 and 2010 showed that more than 40% of victims were children.
It is estimated that the average age of trafficked children is 11 to 14.
Thompson's work also calls us all to more action with regard to human trafficking, and defines the ways that vigilance can pay off.
It's about following up when a neighbor regularly has bruises, seems to be in constant fear, or under the control of someone else.
It's about asking questions when a minor is in an odd relationship with an adult, or seems unable to act or think freely of the other person.
Opening our eyes, and being more aggressive about following up when something doesn't seem right, is a huge part of identifying and battling human trafficking. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center runs a 24-hour hotline at 1-888-373-7888, where it takes anonymous tips and connects trafficking victims with help.
There are also some cultural and legal changes that could better help the women, in particular, who find themselves in these situations.
Most counseling services and shelters, for instance, focus on helping children. And too often, law enforcement still responds to trafficking situations as if the victims are also law-breakers, rather than the ones being violated. The laws on the books aim to protect victims of human trafficking, but enforcement sometimes warps that intention.
There should also be more focus on the men who make human trafficking possible through their demand for forced sex. So-called “Johns” still enjoy too meager penalties and not enough focus by law enforcement.
Mike Thompson's work brings this issue into focus, with a detailed explication of the problem and a run-down of solutions. It's a wake-up call, with instructions for ending a nightmare for victims of a scourge that is identifiable, and preventable.
Dalene Bowden, Idaho Cafeteria Worker Fired Over Hungry Student's Free Meal, Offered Job Back
by Richie Duchon and Elizabeth Chuch
A school cafeteria worker allegedly fired after she gave a hungry student a free lunch has been offered her job back, the Idaho school district involved said.
Dalene Bowden, a server at Irving Middle School in Pocatello, told NBC affiliate KPVI in Idaho that she gave a hot meal to a 12-year-old girl with no lunch money who said she was hungry on Dec. 15.
"I handed her the food and said, 'Here, we'll take care of it in a minute,"' Bowden told the station. She said she then offered to pay the $1.70 cost of the lunch.
Instead, her supervisor placed her on leave, according to Bowden. On Monday, she received a registered letter from the Pocatello/Chubbuck School District informing her she had officially been fired for theft of school property, according to the Idaho Statesman.
Bowden's firing sparked outrage on social media. A petition calling for her job to be reinstated had nearly 74,000 signatures as of Thursday morning.
The school district declined to address the specifics of Bowden's case, citing prohibitions against commenting on personnel matters, suggested Bowden was not fired only for serving one student a free meal.
The school district "does not and has not ever taken negative employment action against any food service worker due to a singular event of this nature," it said in a statement.
However, it added that "in the spirit of the holidays...the district has been in communication with Ms. Bowden, extending an opportunity for her to return to employment," it said in a statement.
Study after study has found that hungry children perform worse at school. According to the National Education Association, missing meals affect a child's academic performance and behavior in school, and hungry children are more likely to repeat a grade, be tardy for school, or miss school.
Adult Abuse Act: Helping keep Missourians safe for 35 years
by Jason Dodson
E.W. was beaten badly this time. Normally, her husband would push her around, sometimes to the ground while screaming at her. He would constantly degrade her, accuse her of cheating and monitor everything she was doing. It had been hard for her to keep a job since he would call her work constantly and often show up looking for her. This time was different.
This time, early one morning after the older kids had left for school and E.W. stood in the kitchen holding their new baby, her husband hit her in the face with a closed fist, knocking her and the baby to the ground. He continued punching her in the face and stomping on her with his boots. Eventually, she somehow convinced him to stop. She grabbed the baby and ran. Doctors would later treat her for a ruptured ear drum, bruised ribs and soft tissue of her face, and a fracture of the orbital area around her left eye. E.W.'s husband spent the night in jail, was released and went home. But this time was different in another way, too: as soon as she was released from the hospital, E.W. filed for an order of protection in state court.
We see these cases every day at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, which provides civil legal services, including family law, for survivors of domestic violence.
The data are staggering. In Missouri alone, there are more than 40,000 incidents of domestic violence and over 50 people killed by an intimate partner or family member. Throughout the United States, nearly 20 people each minute are physically abused by an intimate partner — over 10 million women and men each year. Even more troubling, most experts believe that domestic and sexual abuse incidents are underreported.
Orders of protection provide a foothold to a life free of violence. In Missouri, orders of protection were created with the passage of the Adult Abuse Act 35 years ago. Before 1980, there were few legal remedies for people — mostly women — who were abused by their intimate partners. To make matters worse, there was no process to get custody and child or spousal support on an emergency basis, which often forced abuse victims to return to their abusers out of financial necessity.
All of that changed overnight when the Adult Abuse Act was signed into law in the state of Missouri and gave victims of domestic violence a way to file for emergency protection without a lawyer. Now, survivors of intimate partner violence file around 44,000 adult order of protection petitions in Missouri each year.
Throughout the year, we should all be aware that our friends, acquaintances or even family members may be suffering in silence. Every victim of abuse should know there is a way out, there is help and there is hope. In the Lasting Solutions Program at LSEM, we handle hundreds of orders of protection each year, as well as provide holistic legal representation in 21 counties of eastern Missouri for lower-income survivors of abuse who seek safety for themselves and their children. Our number is 314-534-4200. St. Louis also has a 24-hour crisis line through Safe Connections — 314-531-2003 — one of many excellent organizations in the area who serve abuse survivors.
The idea of getting safe and staying away from their abusive partner can seem impossible to victims of abuse who are caught in the middle of the cycle of violence and control. It felt that way to E.W. before she filed for her order of protection and then made her way to Lasting Solutions and LSEM. Now, the violence in E.W. and her children's lives has ended. She is working full time, supporting her family and even working with other abuse victims who are just beginning the process of leaving.
If you are being abused by an intimate partner, there is a way out and there are people who can help. If you suspect that someone you know is being abused, let them know there is a way out. There is a social safety net of providers like Legal Services of Eastern Missouri who can help.
Jason Dodson is managing attorney for Legal Services of Eastern Missouri's Lasting Solutions Program.
Classes give parents tools to prevent child abuse
by Scott Thompson
Bobbie Voegel has a simple definition of child abuse: “It's one of the worst things ever.”
And Great Falls is the worst in the state.
In 2014, Cascade County accounted for one in every eight substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect in Montana.
The Department of Child and Family Services reported 107 substantiated cases of child abuse in Cascade County last year, with each case representing a family that could have more than one child victimized. Throughout last year, 521 local children were in foster care.
Voegel, a licensed counselor who owns Discovery Family Counseling Services, and Julie Trosper, her fellow counselor and employee, have a plan on how to cut into those statistics.
They offer a pair of classes designed to build attachment and a stronger bond between caregivers and the children they are raising while also giving them ideas on how to enforce discipline.
The classes are free and open to anyone thanks to many organizations and grants that help defer the costs. Classes are funded by grants through Alliance for Youth and the Great Falls Early Childhood Coalition. Other financial supporters are Montana Children's Trust Fund, General Mills Foundation, United Way of Cascade County, Better Way Foundation and Benefis Foundation.
“Every parent needs help,” Trosper said. “As a society, we spend a lot of money on education for our careers, but the most important thing we do (parenting), there is not a lot.”
Voegel and Trosper have started Circle of Security Parenting (eight-week class) and Nurturing Parenting (15 weeks) classes that are evidence-based intervention programs designed to improve parents' understanding of the needs of their children and improve appropriate parent response to meet the children's needs. Circle of Security Parenting targets parents of children up to 5 years old, and Nurturing Parenting works with parents who have children between age 5 and 11.
The Montana Department of Child and Family Services, the Great Falls Public Schools and Youth Court Services provide most of the referrals for the parenting classes, but some parents seek out the service themselves.
The latter are the people Voegel and Trosper most want to reach, getting help to people before things go bad.
“There is a stigma, ‘Why are you in a parenting class? You don't abuse your children,'” Voegel said.
The classes combat that notion. In fact, Voegel and Trosper want to see more people come in before there is a problem. And those attending the classes cut across all demographics, ranging from wealthy professionals to those less fortunate.
“Get help before you have contact with the (Department of Family Services),” Voegel said.
The classes of eight participants are in an intimate setting in a cozy room with a soft fire going in the back. Voegel and Trosper are both quick to laugh and joke. It is comfortable.
“We hear from people all of the time, ‘This helped so much,'” Trosper said. “And that feels really good.”
Even those who are ordered by the court and come to the initial classes “less than enthused” leave the classes excited because of the tools they have to be better parents, Voegel said.
Those who come in on their own usually take the classes in the early evening, and those who are court ordered come during the daytime hours.
And while the class for someone with a meth addiction and an airman suffering from PTSD are the same, both also can get targeted individual sessions designed at meeting their needs.
The program works with parents to adjust their expectations of children, help parents empathize with their children and develop appropriate responses to their children's needs.
Eventually, overall family function and communication improve as new and more functional skills to address the single most challenging parenting issue (identified by the parent and/or provider) are taught, learned, modeled and practiced.
When children are in abusive or neglectful circumstances, you can see the difference in brain scans, Trosper said. Their brains atrophy. She calls them “survival brains,” but children can recover. “The brain has an amazing ability to heal itself,” she said.
Six months after the classes are complete, an Alliance for Youth case manager checks in with the families to see if both parents and children are making progress and to make sure there are no further signs of abuse.
The target is for 90 percent of those who finish the classes not to have substantiated incidents of child abuse in those six months. Voegel said participants exceed those goals.
Trosper said that it can be daunting and depressing when looking at national reports about child abuse, but she grows very excited when talking about the future.
“We are the answer,” she said.
United Way of Cascade County asks for money once a year. So far, United Way has raised , which is percent of its $1,275,000 goal. People can give monthly or one-time gifts through our website at www.uwccmt.org or can send donations directly to United Way at PO Box 1343, Great Falls, MT 59403.
Discovery Family Counseling Services
Those interested in taking the free parenting classes can get more information and a registration form at www.discoveryfamilycounseling.net. People also can reach them at 761-4150, email@example.com or 712 13th Street South.
Speak up about child abuse, and give your name
The case of the two children found dead in a storage unit has horrified not only our community but those in Salinas, where authorities believe they were killed, and Quincy, where the two suspects were arrested.
Tami Joy Huntsman may face the death penalty if convicted on torture and murder charges in the case that left two young children dead and a 9-year-old recovering from severe abuse. Her alleged accomplice, Gonzalo Curiel, will be tried as an adult but isn't eligible for execution because he is 17.
We're left wondering how the apparent beatings and starvation that took place over a year could go unnoticed by authorities. According to Monterey County officials, Salinas police received two anonymous tips of abuse involving the family over the past year, and Child Protective Services was called out four times on neglect reports. Those visits did not show any abuse, apparently.
Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin said in a news conference last week in Salinas that if there is a takeaway from this case, it's to provide your name and phone number when reporting abuse, so authorities can contact you to get more information. With anonymous tips, McMillin said, follow-up is difficult.
In his department's case, his officers did not find anyone at home after the first anonymous tip, and the second time they found one child asleep and others doing homework. Because they did not see any abuse during that visit, they did not take action.
Had that tipster provided a way for officers to contact him or her, officers may have received more information to justify another visit to the home.
We're not ready to fully absolve authorities of their responsibilities in this case. There should be a thorough, independent investigation into how so many complaints led to nothing, especially given the unspeakable consequences of that inaction. Our local agencies, while not directly involved in this case, should take the opportunity for a thorough review of their procedures as well.
And yet, none of us wants to live in a community where an anonymous call can prompt massive overreaction by CPS. That would be an invitation to anyone with a grudge and a cellphone. Rights of parents and needs of children must be balanced.
Earlier this week, Rachelle Modena, executive director of Shasta County Child Abuse Prevention Coordinating Council, wrote in a Speak Your Piece that it's up to all of us to consider ourselves mandated reporters for child abuse. She asks us all to be the eyes, ears and voices for children suffering abuse or neglect.
There may be circumstances where anonymous tips to authorities are called for, but when it comes to child abuse, if you really want to help that child, make yourself available for authorities to learn more about what you know.
A child's life could be at stake.
Keep holidays happy: Stress can affect development and future well-being of children
by Lacey Peterson
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that stress and trauma can have deep, lasting impacts on children, but it does take a concerned, mindful parent to mitigate the negative consequences and offer safety and stability.
“People think that trauma is a huge thing. It doesn't need to be. A trauma comes from a negative event,” explained Claudia Forester, a Sonora-based licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in trauma, children, eating disorders and posttraumatic stress disorder.
“A negative event can be a little thing,” she said. “What (is a stress) to me, might not be to you and a child in the same way.”
Forester says as long as there are holidays and school, she'll be in business.
According to child psychiatrist and neurologist Dr. Bruce Perry in his book, “The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog,” by conservative estimates, about 40 percent of American children will have at least one potentially traumatizing experience by age 18, including the death of a parent or sibling, ongoing physical abuse or neglect, sexual abuse, or experiencing a serious accident, natural disaster, domestic violence or other violent crime.
Estimates indicate that, at any given time, more than 8 million children in the U.S. suffer from serious, diagnosable, trauma-related psychiatric problems, and millions more experience less serious but still distressing issues.
Stress and negative events, especially in young children, change the normal development of neural pathways in the brain and cause the child to associate perceived threats with previous events, or sometimes be hypervigilant, experts say.
A 2011 study published by the University College London said that children exposed to family violence show the same pattern of activity in their brains as soldiers exposed to combat.
Scientists found that exposure to family violence was associated with increased brain activity in two specific brain areas — the anterior insula and the amygdala — when children viewed pictures of angry faces.
Previous studies that scanned the brains of soldiers exposed to violent combat situations have shown the same pattern of heightened activation in these two areas of the brain, which are associated with threat detection, the study said. The findings suggest that both maltreated children and soldiers may have adapted to be “hyper-aware” of danger in their environment.
The anterior insula and amygdala are also areas of the brain implicated in anxiety disorders, the study said. Neural adaptation in these regions may explain why children exposed to family violence are at greater risk of developing anxiety problems later in life.
For a child, a negative event could be something as “minor” as someone making fun of them, or a teacher not letting them go to the bathroom and them having an accident. The brain doesn't know what to do with the negative event, and it's often replayed in the mind and can disrupt sleeping patterns, Forester said.
The child feels guilt, sadness, anger, shame and other negative thoughts and wonders if they did something wrong or if they caused the event.
Often adult clients who say they are going through a hard time will say they feel like it's their fault. When Forester asks them what it reminds them of, they often recall some of their earliest memories of feeling that way.
For example, a client recalled being in preschool and another child was made fun of for being overweight. The client remembered thinking to themselves that they never wanted to be overweight. The client wasn't the one being made fun of and wasn't overweight, but later went on to have an eating disorder.
Stressors can include parents separating or arguing; not having basic needs like food, exercise or attention; the death of animal; parents remarrying; someone making fun of them or calling them bad or disgusting; not having a lunch or what they need for school; rejection by peers, and so forth.
“It's the little details sometimes that can affect them a lot,” Forester said.
Children carry these stressors with them into adulthood.
“A lot of perceptions we have as adults are the reaction to events that happened earlier in our life,” Forester said.
The brain tries to make sense of the world by looking for patterns, Perry said in his book.
“Resilient children are made, not born,” he said.
And the developing brain is most malleable and most sensitive to both good and bad experiences early in life.
Stress on children is caused from not having their basic needs met, said Sonora-based school psychologist Jason Sevier.
“The thing that gives a child stress is feelings of emotional disconnection from their caregivers,” Sevier said.
So if the child's caregivers are attentive and responsive to their needs, the stress they experience from everyday occurrences can be mitigated. Children thrive on having their emotional needs recognized and responded to in an accepting way, rather than in a shaming way, like: “I can't believe you're acting like this right now. Why are you doing this to me?' “ Sevier said.
When human beings are emotionally stressed, the natural tendency is to reconnect with those who we love and trust. If they aren't available for whatever reason — their own stress or issues — the child retreats and goes into fight or flight mode, which creates anxiety in them.
During fight or flight, the forebrain, responsible for reasoning and emotional regulation, goes offline and the brain relies on primitive responses and can't be reasoned with, Sevier explained.
A perfect example of this is all of the stress around the holidays that can be absorbed by children. Many times, adults build this perfect picture of what the holiday is supposed to be like, but it often comes up short, Sevier said.
There are financial stressors, family issues that resurface, and a packed, overstimulating schedule that often involves dragging children along from place to place where they have no control or input to the situation and are expected to behave like angels.
“Children really look to parents as a barometer for measuring how they react and how stressful a situation is, and they will mirror that,” Sevier said. “They are very well attuned to our emotional states.”
Parents are often wrapped up in the stress of finishing every item on their list and won't notice a child is stressed out until a child gets upset and acts out.
“We tell the child to calm down, and it feeds into the mistaken belief that they are the cause of the parent's stress,” he said. Children in preschool through primary grades will internalize stress, and their egocentric response makes them think they are responsible.
“The first person we should calm down is ourself. I need to get back right with myself. That models to the child how to calm down,” Sevier said.
According to Perry, ultimately what determines how children survive trauma is whether the people around them stand by them with love, support and encouragement.
Parents need to be calm, eat well and try not to be reactive, Forester said.
“As parents, we are not always able to be mindful of how we are feeling. If we don't realize that and are running around feeling anxious, do you think we can notice what is happening with our children?” Forester said.
Parents should ask someone for help, not try to make holidays perfect and relax their expectations, Forester said.
“So what if you're going to have paper plates?” she said.
The high energy of events can be overwhelming to children who thrive on stability, consistency and routine. Stress can have physical health effects like lack of sleep, increased heart rate, faster breathing, muscle tension, slowed digestion, increased blood pressure, comfort eating, feelings of sadness, restlessness, irritability, crying, tics, nervous fidgeting, sweating, fingernail chewing and headaches.
The most important thing parents can do to help children during stressful times is to take a minute and calm down, take a walk with them, have a snack, and get back to a stable place.
Once the child's brain is back online, from being off in fight or flight mode after an emotional surge, parents can engage in verbal problem solving, Sevier said.
Parents must take care of themselves in order to take care of their children properly.
“How we are doing as parents is the foundation of how the family is doing,” Sevier said.
Stress, especially during the holidays, can be mitigated by giving children a verbal preview of events and provides a chance for connectedness before the times of dysregulation, Sevier said.
For example, tell the child, “Ok, we are going to grandma's and then aunt so-and-so's, but when we get there, do you want to eat first or play outside first?” which gives them a chance to exercise some choice. This is so you don't find yourself in response mode. You're being proactive, listening more than telling, Sevier explained.
Neglected boy shut in room with heater on dies of hyperthermia
by Tiffany Ap and Artemis Moshtaghian
A 2-year-old boy died in a home used as a methamphetamine lab after his parents left him alone in his room with a heater turned on - and didn't check on him, police in Missouri said.
Braydon Barnes was put in his crib on a Friday and left unattended with a space heater on for more than 38 hours, St. Charles police said.
Both parents Kathleen Peacock and Lucas Barnes told police they had used methamphetamine recently. They told officers they had been manufacturing in the home the week preceding their son's death.
The two were home all weekend as Braydon was shut in his room.
Peacock, who is currently pregnant, told police she heard Braydon make noises and knew that she should check on him but didn't.
The space heater has no thermostat and does not turn off automatically.
It wasn't until Sunday morning that the parents checked in on the boy, and found Braydon had died.
Paramedics said the child had been dead for some time.
Autopsy results revealed that Braydon was generally malnourished and thin. His cause of death was hyperthermia due to the extreme heat, which would have "caused extreme discomfort and difficulty breathing as he died."
Both parents are facing criminal charges of child abuse that resulted in death, and of manufacturing a controlled substance in a residence where a child resides.
The living conditions inside the house were so poor, police declared it uninhabitable and have condemned the house.
South Windsor Man Facing Child Abuse Charges After Falling Asleep On Baby
by David Moran and Kathleen McWilliams
SOUTH WINDSOR — A 23-year-old man is facing child abuse charges after admitting he fell asleep on his 5-month-old son in September.
Kelson Dooley, who police say is homeless, was charged with risk of injury to a minor, cruelty to persons and second-degree reckless endangerment on Dec. 18 after a joint investigation involving the Department of Children and Families found that he was responsible for the child's injuries.
According to the arrest warrant, South Windsor police Officer Christopher Poehnert responded to a 911 call for a 5-month-old infant who had a bloody nose and was struggling to breathe.
Poehnert observed that the infant's skin was pale, he was making grunting noises and a small amount of blood was coming from his nostril.
Dooley told Poehnert that the baby had been sitting in a bouncy seat when he suddenly started making grunting noises. Dooley said he thought the child was trying to pass a bowel movement, but then the infant's eyes would not open and he became unresponsive.
The baby was transported to Connecticut Children's Medical Center for evaluation. After examining the baby, Dr. Nina Livingston said the injuries were consistent with suffocation.
In multiple interviews with police and DCF, Dooley said he had left the infant in the bouncy seat while he went to the kitchen to make a sandwich. He had a clear view of the infant the whole time and when the infant began to cry and grunt, Dooley said he picked the infant up and bounced him to soothe him. Dooley asserted he did not know how the baby was injured.
On Sept. 29, social worker Michael Clark received a text message from Dooley, who confessed he had fallen sleep with the infant and had awakened on top of him.
In a statement to police on Oct. 3, Dooley said "I unbuckled him and we laid on the couch. A few moments passed and then I had fallen asleep. I could have prevented this from happening … I looked down and knew what I had done. He began to cough and his breathing was different."
Dooley was held on $120,000 bail. His case was continued to Jan. 8.
Warped radiographer jailed for possessing more than a MILLION child abuse images and videos
by Mathew Di Salvo
A hospital radiographer has been jailed for possessing more than a MILLION child abuse images and videos - the biggest haul ever seen by the National Crime Agency.
Sick Christopher Daldorph, 45, spent 14 years amassing the vile collection by trawling the 'dark web' - a hidden layer of the internet used by paedophiles and drug dealers.
The married pervert was arrested in April 2015 after officers searched his home and found a number of devices containing images - featuring children as young as two.
One of the hard drives which Daldorph had concealed was found to contain 1.8 terabytes of footage data - the equivalent of 3,000 full-length feature films.
He faced charges today relating to 141,539 pictures and videos, but officers are still trawling through his computers, and reckon he stored more than ONE MILLION.
The National Crime Agency said it was the biggest haul it had ever discovered.
His Honour Judge Geoffrey Mercer QC jailed him for two years and four months at Bristol Crown Court.
He said: "For over 14 years as you admit, you have regularly set time aside to scour the darkest corners of the web to find some of the more disturbing representations of child abuse available.
"This is - in my judgement - an extreme case of downloading indecent photographs of children.
"It's an extreme case because of the volume of the material which you downloaded over a substantial time and it's an extreme case by reference of nature of the material which is found and described and documented before me.
"Your obsession with it causes the court great concern.
"What you did, as I hope you understand, encourages and supports the quite terrible abuse of children."
The court heard "obsessed" Daldorph, of Weston-super-Mare, near Bristol, was arrested after investigators recovered a large number of electronic devices from his home.
The computers and external hard drives contained indecent images and videos of children which he had sourced from the internet.
The vile material included thousands of Category A abuse images and videos - the most extreme kind.
When officers searched his house he admitted his guilt, and gave them the passwords to access the numerous laptops, hard drives and USBs containing the images.
Defending, Robert Duval, said Daldorph suffered from asthma as a child, was bullied at school and had developed the "obsession" because of his low self-esteem.
He said the defendant had "limited sexual experiences of his own" and did not meet his wife - who was present at court - until he was 27.
There was no evidence that Daldorph had ever engaged in any 'contact offending' with children, the court heard.
The sheer volume of data recovered means the examination of the contents is still ongoing.
But officers believe there are well in excess of one million pictures and videos, making it one of the largest single seizures of indecent images made by the NCA, it was said.
Daldorph pleaded guilty to nine charges of making indecent images of children, and one count of possessing extreme pornography.
Outside court a spokesman for the NCA said it was the largest haul of child images they had ever found.
Christian Hall, who led the investigation for the NCA, said: "Daldorph was responsible for amassing hundreds of thousands of indecent images, some of them the most extreme possible involving very young children.
"Each of those involved a child being abused in some of the worst ways imaginable.
"While we have no evidence to show he committed any contact offences himself, what he has done has perpetuated demand for products that can only be produced through the abuse of children."
Child sex abuse 'an open secret' in Hollywood
by Greg Corombos
A new, highly acclaimed documentary purports to blow the lid off rampant sex abuse of child actors in Hollywood and the stunning lack of consequences in an industry that consistently gives offenders more work – even if they've been convicted.
Titled “An Open Secret,” the film examines accounts of sexual abuse over the past few decades. It features former child stars Todd Bridges and Corey Feldman, among many others. But Producer Gabe Hoffman says the problem is much deeper than a couple of famous names.
“It continues to be a problem,” Hoffman told WND and Radio America. “We have a number of much more contemporary cases. One in particular, ‘Evan H.,' which was only just a couple of years ago. In ‘An Open Secret,' we tend to focus on cases where there are actual convictions or lawsuits that were won. This is incredibly documented stuff.”
Hoffman said the investigation into the scourge of sex abuse of children in Hollywood was never meant to spawn a documentary.
“We didn't set out to make a film,” he said. “This initially started as a research project with a film company. We looked at the evidence that was gathered and were absolutely compelled to make sure that ‘An Open Secret' became a film. Just in our possession, we had five to 10 times as much credible evidence as you'll see in ‘An Open Secret.' The depth and breadth is truly astonishing,” Hoffman said.
But the alleged horrors don't end there. Hoffman said the second layer of the scandal is that Hollywood continues to provide work for the offenders.
“What is truly amazing is the common-sense, simple, good-citizen steps that Hollywood studios can take right now to get the pedophiles off sets,” Hoffman said.
“Just like any small business, why can't a Hollywood studio type in someone's name and say, ‘Gosh, I don't want this convicted pedophile in the building, on the set where children might be'? Our laws say that kids are protected from convicted offenders. They can't be within a couple thousand feet of a school, let alone in the building. In Hollywood, it's OK, as long as they're not one-on-one.”
The documentary names many figures in the entertainment industry who have admitted or been convicted of sexual abuse of children. Hoffman shared a few for this interview, including actor Brian Peck.
“He's ingrained in the Hollywood elite, and even after his conviction for child sex abuse, Brian Peck worked as recently as 2013 on the hit TV show, ‘Anger Management,' the one that starred Charlie Sheen,” Hoffman said.
“Victor Salva is the director of the ‘Jeepers Creepers' franchise, of which there are several. He also filmed ‘Powder.' In 1989, Victor Salva was convicted of child sexual abuse with a 12-year-old boy, served time, and now he's a major director and hardly anybody talks about him,” Hoffman said.
Even those charged with protecting kids have been part of the problem.
"We had an example in 'An Open Secret' where a very prominent member of one of the largest Hollywood unions, who was serving on the committee to protect children, we exposed him as a pedophile," Hoffman said.
He said there are many more horror stories.
"We don't even address the huge number of cases that we know of that get settled privately," he said. "In 'An Open Secret,' we don't wish to engage in innuendo, and we stick with where there are convictions or lawsuits that are won. But as we say in the film, we only show the tip of the iceberg."
When seeking to get a response from Hollywood studios about what the film uncovered, Hoffman and his team were met with hostility.
"There's been a very strong backlash," Hoffman said. "The largest union in Hollywood threatened to sue us for merely identifying a member who admitted to this. The studios refused to work with us or distribute the film."
While focusing on the molestation of kids in the entertainment industry, Hoffman said the film also examines child sexual abuse in general and gives warnings to parents about how their kids could be vulnerable.
"When a child spends a lot more time away from home (where they're safe), and that could be competitive sports and travel teams – we've seen that recently with AAU girls volleyball and a host of others just this year – a child is vulnerable," he said. "You have an adult who is in a position of power, and again it could be a coach. It could be a teacher. In this case, it's in the acting world."
"So an adult in a position of power over a child, a lot of time away from home, that's a vulnerability that parents should pay attention to," he said.
Hoffman said it often takes years for kids to come forward and report the abuse, but he said it is vital for multiple reasons. First, he said the victims are often able to recover and cope better by revealing what happened. Second, he said going public with such assaults could encourage others to come forward if they've been victims of the same perpetrator.
Communities interested in a screening of "An Open Secret" can go to AnOpenSecretFilm.com or the website for Gathr Films.
Hong Kong needs to do more to protect its children, a vulnerable group who still lack a champion of their own
Grenville Cross says setting up a dedicated children's commission is the only way to ensure the gaps in provision for their welfare, legal and otherwise, are properly addressed
by Grenville Cross
As they celebrate Christmas, most children will be unaware of the dangers they face. Unlike other vulnerable groups, children lack a dedicated body to safeguard their interests, which is a blight on Hong Kong.
In the 1990s, the lot of child crime victims was vastly improved by, for example, the introduction of live television links and video-recorded testimony. Since then, justice reform has largely stalled.
Although domestic child abuse is not uncommon, if death results, it may be impossible to identify the culprit, as it may have involved different people. In Britain, legal reforms enable the prosecution of someone who has either caused the death or should have known that the child was at risk of serious harm but failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the harm, and Hong Kong must follow suit.
Moreover, while recent cases have highlighted the dangers to children of predators posing as volunteer tutors, parents cannot check criminal records before hiring them. Although the Security Bureau's Sexual Conviction Record Check allows minimal checking of job applicants, realistic child safety requires a sex offender register.
Although child physical abuse has tangible signs and is prosecutable, the emotional abuse or neglect of a child lacks outward manifestations. If a child is persistently frightened, bullied, ignored, isolated or scapegoated, the psychological effect may be devastating, yet culprits invariably escape justice. Hong Kong's child cruelty law is unfit for purpose, and must be widened – following Britain's “Cinderella law” – to include cruelty likely to cause psychological harm or suffering.
In 2013, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child urged governments to prohibit by law corporal punishment in all settings. Although corporal punishment is prohibited in Hong Kong schools, it remains legal in homes, and is widely used. Force traumatises the child and has no role in modern child rearing.
When children do misbehave, alternatives to prosecution must, where possible, be explored. Restorative justice, for example, promotes victim-offender mediation, and can be therapeutic for young offenders. However, the government, fearful of looking weak on crime, blocked restorative justice for young offenders in 2007.
Across the criminal justice spectrum, and beyond, children badly need a dedicated body to promote their interests. However, the government has failed to act.
If the chief executive announces a children's commission in his policy address next month, he will not only give children a much-needed champion, but also help those least able to help themselves.
The call that might save your life this Christmas – and how Lifeline saved mine
by Marcus Woolombi Waters
I have been ringing Lifeline since I was 12 years old. That's more than three decades since I started a relationship that would ultimately save my life.
I still call Lifeline around every Christmas – but for better reasons than before.
Christmas is a time of celebration for many Australian families. But many people also dread it, because it can be a time of confronting relationship problems, worrying about money, feeling alone, or facing bad memories from our past.
For those of you who might be feeling this way, I want to share my story in the hope that it might help you, or someone you love.
Facing ghosts from our past
Earlier this month, the latest Children's Rights Report was released, showing that one in 12 Australian men and women had experienced physical abuse by a family member, and one in 28 experienced sexual abuse by a family member, before the age of 15. A further 23% of children witnessed violence against their mother.
National Children's Commissioner Megan Mitchell put those statistics in more human terms:
You can think about an average class of teenagers – that's at least four or five kids in every class that have either witnessed or experienced violence as direct victims.
They're shocking statistics – except they weren't shocking to me.
As I know from experience, you don't just “get over” a childhood like that once you're an adult. Experiencing such trauma as a child or adolescent has been identified as a significant risk factor in developing poor mental health and disorders later in life.
This is not a conversation we usually associate with Christmas. But Christmas can be a time of real stress for people, including because of remembering past trauma or anxiety.
If I could talk to those four to five teenagers in our Australian classrooms – or go back and talk to myself when I was only 12 years old – what would I say?
“It's OK. I'm right here with you. This is not how your life will be when you're older. You will learn to breathe again, to trust people, and to love and be loved. You will learn to live with this, you will even learn how to forgive and, yes, you will be happy.”
And then I'd encourage them to find help – just as I did.
My story of overcoming shame
Many readers of my past Conversation articles have written comments asking why I have been successful when so many of my Aboriginal people are suffering.
I too am suffering. I didn't grow up with my Aboriginal mother. I love her but I will never have the relationship I should have, neither will my children. Even now, I cry … I am diagnosed with depression and at times still cut myself off from the people I need the most. My wife pays a terrible burden for loving me.
But over time, and with help and therapy, I have learned how to manage my pain.
Poor mental health is an illness, and like any illness it can be treated. But the longer it goes untreated, the harder it becomes.
Overcoming inter-generational damage done to our children is a challenge for the whole Australian community. It was through the people I loved that my early addictions and self-harming behaviours began.
It was uncles and older cousins who introduced me to yarndi (marijuana). I don't mean youthful experimentation: I mean systematic substance abuse. They were supposed to clip me around the ear and tell me to “knock off”, not ask me if I knew where they “could score”. What we believed were flirtatious playful sexual interactions were in reality abuse and sexualising of our youth.
Non-Indigenous readers may be interested to know the one phrase in particular that held my generation of Indigenous Australians back: “Shame”. It's why many of us wouldn't talk up in class, or didn't want to get better grades that would make us stand out … because that would be “Shame”.
We were not a naturally shy people who were opposed to success. I believe much of this was due to trauma. A deep emotional trauma, passed down through generations, reflecting unspeakable crimes carried by families who never received the support required to put an end to the pain.
I have now learned not to let shame define my life the way it once did. And we need to help more Australian kids and adults – non-Indigenous and Indigenous alike – by declaring that this is an Australian problem and we are in this together.
In my case, prayer and taking responsibility changed my life. I believe in Jesus Christ as the son of Biami (God and creation) and see no conflict within my own Burruguu-ngayi-li or Dreaming.
In prayer I began to read and in reading I learnt that I was responsible, not for my pain, but for choosing to dwell on it and allowing it to overcome me, rather than choosing better options that would guide me out of the darkness.
Why I still call Lifeline every Christmas
I remember the first time I was able to go up to my local shops and sing out to everyone with a happy smile, “Merry Christmas!”. Complete strangers would smile and answer back. It was an awesome feeling. Not just being part of Christmas, but knowing I was overcoming the demons of my past.
But every 33 seconds, somewhere in Australia, someone is making a new phone call to Lifeline. This “festive” season, Lifeline is expecting to receive about 2,500 calls a day for help.
When I first began calling Lifeline I would get through almost immediately, whereas now I've sometimes had to wait for 45 minutes to an hour before getting through. If you do call and you're on hold, don't hang up . You will get through, and it will help.
With more support from individuals and from government, Lifeline could answer even more calls, sooner. If you're looking for a last-minute Christmas gift, Lifeline really does make a difference.
I still call Lifeline around every Christmas, and I will again this year.
But now, I no longer ask for help. Instead, I call up to say gabayiindah (thank you) for helping me all those years ago.
I explain to the person on the other end of the line that even if it wasn't them personally who saved me, someone just like them listened to me and saved my life.
I tell them that, over the years, the people on the other end of the phone have become some of my closest and dearest friends. They know my deepest secrets and my greatest joys. I still live with pain, but they have helped me to manage it, live beyond it and overcome it.
It's a call I plan on making every year.
Merry Christmas, and see you in the new year.
* If your life is in danger, call 000.
For help or information call Lifeline on 13 11 14, which is free from mobile or landline phones. You can also call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or MensLine Australia on 1300 78 99 78 or visit beyondblue.org.au. The National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line – 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.
The Dark Hallways of Horrace Mann
by Caitlin Flanagan
The Catcher in the Rye is famous for the intense and sometimes mysterious connection it makes with the adolescent boys who love it most. It's a novel about the inner life of a teenage boy, and about the great struggle that so many boys have faced through the ages: keeping the depth of that inner life a secret. It's a 250-page novel about trying not to cry, and that it speaks so loudly to so many boys says a lot about the experience of being an adolescent male in America.
It's also a book about upper-class boys' schools of a certain era—their casual cruelties, their obsession with status culture, and the vaulting chasm that exists between their Parnassian missions and their actual operation. It includes a scene that illuminates a particular, and hardly uncommon, aspect of such places in that time: the unexpected and unwanted physical affections of a male teacher.
At the end of the novel, Holden Caulfield is out of luck and out of options. Stranded in New York, he calls a former teacher named Mr. Antolini to see if he can stay in his apartment for a couple of nights. Of course he can, says the teacher, and from the moment the man opens the door, we realize we are dealing with a type. He has recently married a much older, wealthy woman, and the two are “never in the same room at the same time.” He's been drinking—heavily, it seems—and after pontificating on various subjects, he makes up the couch for Holden. “Goodnight, Handsome,” he says. Holden drifts off, but then startles awake: Mr. Antolini is on the floor next to the couch, gazing at him and patting his head. Horrified, Holden throws on his clothes and disappears into the night, eager to get far away from his “perverty” teacher.
Sex, Orwell taught us in “Such, Such Were the Joys,” is a force that is “always smoldering just under the surface” of a boys' school. When you add to that smoldering force a number of now blessedly outdated social norms—among them, the requirement that gay male schoolteachers lead closeted lives, and the absence of cultural vigilance regarding sex between teachers and students—it is hardly surprising to learn that there was once a Mr. Antolini, or several Mr. Antolinis, at many boys' schools. By the 1970s, an accelerant had been poured on these coals: the sexual and personal liberation of the American teenager, and the idea that he or she might form egalitarian relationships with adult figures of authority, including even teachers. Gather together a group of prep-school graduates of a certain age—over 45, say—and you are likely to hear stories that, by today's standards, would be the makings of a scandal.
Just such a scandal erupted in 2012, when a journalist named Amos Kamil published a blockbuster New York Times Magazine essay called “Prep-School Predators,” concerning the widespread practices of sexual abuse at the elite Horace Mann School, in New York City, from the late 1960s to the early '90s. Kamil, himself an alumnus of the school, had been shocked when, on a camping trip with several other alumni in the early '90s, one of them made a startling confession. “You guys remember Mark Wright, the football coach?” his friend asked as they sat around the campfire. He was a legendary and beloved figure at the school. “When we were in eighth grade, he raped me.”
As the evening wore on, three of Kamil's four friends told horrifying stories of sexual assault by teachers at the school; Kamil himself had been touched inappropriately by one teacher, and experienced a weird, boozy night with two others who would later be charged with abuse. For years, Kamil did nothing with this startling information, but when news broke in 2011 of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State, he remembered that night around the campfire: “The combination of the horrific stories and the happy-go-lucky man accused of being a rapist—a rapist charged with the task of taking care of defenseless children—was deeply disturbing. And it made me think of Horace Mann.”
The Sandusky story may also have been a catalyst in persuading so many Horace Mann survivors to talk to Kamil; so, surely, were the scandals in the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts. The era of keeping sexual abuse—especially the abuse of boys by men—a shameful, lifelong secret had come to an end. A year after Kamil's piece came out in The Times Magazine , another reporter—and Horace Mann alumnus—named Marc Fisher wrote a long New Yorker essay called “The Master” about one of the school's most notorious alleged abusers.
Now, along with a co-writer, Sean Elder, Kamil returns to the subject in Great Is the Truth . Part memoir and part exploration of what happened after the publication of his essay, the book is a bit padded. The two articles, and a withering evaluation released by “concerned alumni” in May—with which this new book dovetails very closely—would seem to provide all the information anyone could want on this sordid mess. But together, the documents give us a rare look into the world of a private school during a dark chapter of its history. They also provide insight into profound changes in the way our country regards sexual or romantic contact between teachers and students.
What's striking about the victims' reports is how many kinds of abuse were taking place at the school. There was frank molestation—and sometimes rape—of middle- and high-school boys. There were elaborate and manipulative relationships between senior teachers and older high-school students. And there were relatively typical '70s-style teacher-student “affairs,” which flourished in an environment of such close and unsupervised contact between adults and teenagers. (“This is what private schools sell,” Fisher has observed: “a level of intimacy and teacher involvement in the lives of the kids that in a healthy fashion can be inspiring and life-changing.”) It seemed that almost anything a teacher wanted to do to a boy during the '70s, a teacher could do at Horace Mann. The school became co-ed in 1975, and although Kamil heard plenty of rumors about the sexual abuse of female students (and of male students by female teachers), only two female victims stepped forward. Ultimately, the scandal, which resulted in credible charges of abuse against 22 teachers, overwhelmingly involved boys and men.
Who knew what, and when did they know it? In a way, Kamil reveals, everyone was both aware and not aware. “We knew on a DNA level what was going on,” an alumnus told him. Boys warned one another about “pervs”—teachers to avoid. And the faculty took its cues from the top. The climate and culture of a prep school are set by its headmaster. What he likes, the school likes; what he abhors, the school tries to stomp out. During the period when most of the abuse seemed to have occurred, Horace Mann was under the leadership of a stratospherically charismatic man, Russell “Inky” Clark Jr., who styled himself as a sort of young John F. Kennedy. He poured money into scholarships, he was fanatical about baseball, and he was—like the best teachers at the school—vividly intellectual. For whatever reason (perhaps because he had his own troubled and troubling relationships with male students), he couldn't or was unwilling to stop the behavior.
Where were the parents, you might wonder. They were right where the kids were, stuck in the '70s. Back then, parents didn't anxiously interview their children about every aspect of their school day, and teenagers didn't frantically text Mom and Dad every time they got an 86 on a quiz. Parents weren't people to turn to when things got weird. But by the mid-'80s, vigilance was on the rise, both throughout the country and at Horace Mann. The national fascination with the long-running McMartin case—in 1983, the owners and teachers of a California preschool were falsely charged with satanic sexual abuse of very young children, only to be exonerated seven years later—marked a turning point. Meanwhile, parents and teenagers—at least those in families on the private-school, college-bound trajectory—increasingly viewed the high-school years as a time that demanded deep closeness and constant hard work. Who had time to sit for an after-hours nude portrait with the art teacher? The PSAT was looming!
For many years, the reformed school sat uneasily with its secrets. “There was a kind of folkloric memory of the behavior,” one man who taught at the school from 2007 to 2012 told investigators; “it came up around the lunch table.” When Kamil's article appeared, survivors of the abuse began contacting one another. At first they merely offered emotional support. Then they began talking about justice. Finally, in the spring of 2013, the school issued a public acknowledgment that abuse had occurred and that “these unconscionable betrayals of trust never should have happened.” The statute of limitations for a criminal case had passed, but Horace Mann was a wealthy institution that had been charged with its students' well-being. Surely it would compensate the victims?
“It's not Horace Mann's bill to pay,” the chairman of the board of trustees reportedly told one of the first survivors to ask for relief. (To be a board member of an elite private school, you need the mind of a philanthropist and the heart of an assassin.) It was a harbinger of what became an exceedingly ugly process. Mediation revealed what many had long suspected: The survivors didn't have a legal leg to stand on, and the school was not inclined to be generous. Parents of current students complained that their children's college prospects might be diminished by all this talk about sex crimes that took place in the disco era. One enterprising 11th-grader came up with a killer community-service project: selling gently used designer clothes to help pay for the victims' psychotherapy. When you've spent your adult life coping with the trauma of repeated rapes during your adolescence, and when the powerful and wealthy institution that turned a blind eye to those rapes nickels-and-dimes you so badly that a teenager holds a tag sale to cover your therapy bills—well, that is its own great and revealing truth.
Kamil reports that after the publication of his essay he was accused of being homophobic, and it's easy to see why. The “monstrous” acts, to use a word favored by the author and victims, were primarily homosexual in nature. Clearly, these men caused profound and often lifelong suffering in their young victims. Yet some of the teachers, surely, were also suffering—“wounded, confused people trying to figure out how to function in a world that taught them that their homosexual desire was sick,” as one alumnus reflected after the Times Magazine article came out. “An intolerant society creates self-hating people who act out inappropriately.”
I had read The Catcher in the Rye many times before I realized that the scene with Mr. Antolini involves an artful bit of misdirection on Salinger's part. The writer invites us to understand the teacher as a stock character from '50s trash novels: the closeted groper, ever on the lookout for a young boy, taking immediate advantage of the juicy fly that suddenly appears in his web late one night. But if you reread the novel carefully, you realize that Holden has been talking about Mr. Antolini, in one way or another—and in admiring terms—since the very first pages.
They were student and teacher at the one school Holden didn't flunk out of. (Why did he leave? “It's a long story,” Holden says; “it's pretty complicated.”) While they were there, Mr. Antolini was the one who courageously picked up the body of James Castle, the bullied student who jumped out of a window, when no one else would dare go near. “Mr. Antolini felt his pulse and all, and then he took off his coat and put it over James Castle and carried him all the way over to the infirmary. He didn't even give a damn if his coat got all bloody.” In the years since, he and Holden have kept up a particular kind of friendship: Mr. Antolini checks up on him, invites him to play tennis, has dinner with him and his parents. Holden Caulfield is a person who keeps just three people's phone number in his address book. One of them is Mr. Antolini's.
Holden is everything a “prep-school predator” looks for—he's sensitive, vulnerable, desperate for affection and guidance from a reliable adult. And Mr. Antolini is the one adult in the novel who really seems to care about him. He knows that Holden is an excellent writer, and he understands that the boy is “troubled morally and spiritually,” which he is eager to help him solve. He loves Holden, and he is in love with him. And once—just once—he makes a mistake.
Mr. Antolini pleads for Holden to come back, but the boy won't come back. He's gone to spend the night in Grand Central, and to think about how kind Mr. Antolini has been to him over the years, how maybe the physical gesture had been merely an act of affection. “The more I thought about it,” he tells us, “the more depressed and screwed up about it I got.”
DHS settles child abuse case for $15 million
by Carol McAlice Currie
It's taken more than two years and hundreds of thousands of records, but nine medically fragile children who were once wards of the Oregon Department of Human Services and entrusted to its foster care program, will share a $15 million settlement reached Dec. 17 at the U.S. District Court in Eugene.
Steven Rizzo, of the Portland law firm of Rizzo Mattingly Bosworth PC, which originally sought $28 million on behalf of the children who were abused while under DHS purview, said the state agency made the settlement offer, subject to court approval, but did not admit to negligence.
The lawsuit was filed in June 2013 after James Earl Mooney, a former Salem resident, pleaded guilty in 2012 to five counts of first-degree sodomy of medically fragile children, ages 48 hours to 3 years, who had disabilities or other special needs. Mooney was sentenced to 50 years in the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution for crimes that included sodomizing an 18-month-old foster baby in her car seat while his wife attended a doctor's appointment with another foster child. His earliest release date is June 20, 2061.
Rizzo, attorney for the unnamed minor plaintiffs, alleged that DHS and at least 21 of its current or former, named and unnamed employees were negligent and created dangerous living conditions for children who were wards of the court while in DHS custody. All of the nine children have since been adopted or returned to their natural parents.
In the lawsuit, Rizzo alleged that in 2007, DHS, its supervisors, certifiers and caseworkers were responsible for initially certifying Mooney and his then wife to become a DHS-certified family. The agency placed dozens of children in the Mooney home, and it was recertified in 2008 and again in 2010, the agency confirms. Rizzo's case argued that while the minor children were in the legal and physical custody of the DHS, it was duty-bound to protect their health, safety and well being.
The suit further alleged that DHS failed to conduct an adequate background investigation, failed to conduct a comprehensive inquiry into Mooney's history and family dynamics, and failed to request or require the Mooneys to provide copies of medical reports. It said DHS was negligent in failing to conduct adequate fitness determinations for Mooney and his wife, and that it failed to obtain or review other criminal records, and adequately weigh Mooney's history of potentially disqualifying (for foster-parent status) crimes.
The complaint against DHS points out that Mooney was raised in a dysfunctional family, and had watched his father act incestuously with his adolescent sister. It also contended that Mooney molested infants in the family's in-home day care, and engaged in bestiality with dogs and cats.
This negligence, Rizzo said, was a substantial factor in causing the injuries and damages suffered by the plaintiffs.
Monday, DHS Interim Director Clyde Saiki said in a prepared statement that DHS had discovered that there were errors with regard to the certification and recertification of Mooney's home, and had agreed to the settlement.
"DHS knows, understands, and admits responsibility for the damages suffered by these innocent victims," Saiki said. "The settlement reflects the agency's accountability for failing to ensure the safety of these children in its care."
"We believe the settlement is reasonable, and one of the largest, if not the largest, settlements the agency has had to pay," Rizzo said. "But we endured a lengthy series of motions and discovery disputes since we filed," Rizzo said.
The case started in front of District Court Judge John Acosta in U.S. District Court in Portland, and the settlement was accepted by federal Judge Michael McShane in Eugene.
"We feel we achieved a successful outcome for the families," Rizzo said. "These same families are hopeful DHS will take the preventative measures necessary to make sure this doesn't happen to another child."
In November, Gov. Kate Brown ordered an independent review of the child welfare practices at the state Department of Human Services. The state also plans to hire independent third-party to investigate problems at DHS's child welfare program. The state's advisory committee will focus on oversight and licensing, cultural responsiveness, abuse and neglect investigations, accountability within the agency and financial stability of foster care providers.
Saiki said he is already conducting an internal investigation of this particular matter to determine how it happened and why DHS failed to protect the children.
"As soon as possible, I will take the appropriate action to see that system failures are corrected, and that the appropriate personnel action(s) is taken," Saiki said.
Law clarifies challenge of child-on-child sexual abuse
Legislation sometimes is designed to solve problems; at other times, legislation illuminates the nature and scope of a problem in a way that helps shape a solution.
During the past legislative session, a bill to address child-on-child sexual abuse was approved by lawmakers. In the three months since it became effective on Aug. 28, reported incidents have clarified the volume and complexities of child-on-child sexual abuse.
The state's Children's Division of the Department of Social Services received 1,270 reports of juveniles with problem sexual behavior between Aug. 28 and Nov. 30.
That quarterly number vastly exceeds the 600 cases annually estimated by child welfare advocates during legislative debate in the spring.
Some of the disparity can be attributed to reports that do not meet the criteria for sexual abuse.
Ryan Burns, spokeswoman for the state's Office of Administration, said: “We are starting to receive some calls that could qualify as ‘false alarms,' but it is too early to see a pattern.”
Emily van Schenkhof, deputy director of Missouri KidsFirst, added: “We expected that there would be some transition issues as we learn what needs intervention and what does not rise to the need. This is not a black and white issue — so it often isn't as clear, ‘yes, this child needs help and no, this child doesn't need help.'”
What is clear is that the state's existing manpower and resources are insufficient to keep up with the volume of reports.
“The five caseworkers that were allocated last year had full caseloads within a few week of the law going into effect,” van Schenkhof said. “We are going to have to look at the need to increase Children's Division staffing if we want to ensure that the safety needs of all Missouri children are met.”
We consistently supported the proposal when it was before lawmakers during the session. Early reports indicate the problem is more pervasive and more complicated than anticipated.
For the welfare of Missouri's children, this challenge must be met.
Online Sting Nets 10 Arrests, Charged with Sexual Abuse of a Child and Sexual Exploitation of a Child
Washington State Patrol's (WSP) Missing and Exploited Children Task Force (MECTF), arrested 10 people during a two-week operation that targeted individuals who sexually exploit children.
The Pierce County operation concluded on December 19, 2015, with the arrest and charging of 10 people for either sexual abuse of a child or sexual exploitation of a child.
Law enforcement officers acting in an undercover capacity, communicated on the internet with individuals interested in sexual exploitation of children. The operation generated hundreds of responses. Ten individuals agreed to meet with undercover investigators and were subsequently arrested.
This was a collaborative effort involving the Washington State Patrol's (WSP) Missing and Exploited Children Task Force (MECTF),Richland Police Department, Pierce County Sheriff's Office, Tacoma Police Department, Lakewood Police Department, United States Postal Inspection Service, Homeland Security Investigations, Federal Bureau of Investigations, Pierce County Prosecutors, and The State Attorneys Office.
Child exploitation is a serious problem in our country. Without the dedication and passion of organizations and task forces such as the Missing and Exploited Children Task Force (MECTF), Operation Underground Railroad, Missing and Unidentified Person's Unit, (MUPU) The Federal Bureau of Investigations Child Exploitation Task Force and the High Tech Crimes Unit, these arrests may not have been possible.
The operation was made possible by the generous efforts of Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.), a non-profit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to rescuing children around the world who are victims of sex slavery and assisting law enforcement in the prosecution of trafficking offenders. In addition to providing resources, O.U.R. operators, comprised of men and women who are internationally recognized experts in human trafficking and violence against women, played an active role in the development of the operation and were present throughout this mission.
The WSP is very proud of all the men and woman involved in bringing these individuals to justice.
More information about the various groups and task forces involved can be found online or call:
Operation Underground Railroad
Jerry Gowen -- Chief Operating Officer
503 / 313-0522
National Center for Missing & Exploited Children:
Washington State Patrol – MECTF -- Investigative Assistance Division
PO Box 2347
Olympia WA 98507
360 / 704-2410
Jehovah's Witnesses leaders say they don't protect sexual abusers
by Trey Bundy
In the face of evidence that the Jehovah's Witnesses organization in Australia failed to report more than 1,000 allegations of child sexual abuse, the religion's leaders say they're doing a great job of protecting children.
The response comes from a 141-page document filed by the Witnesses to an Australian government commission investigating rampant child sexual abuse within the religion. It provides an uncommon look into the reasoning of an organization that has come under fire on at least three continents for shielding child abusers from prosecution.
“It is quite apparent that Jehovah's Witnesses have for at least the last 65 years taken a proactive role in investigating and documenting such abuse and taken action against proved abusers,” the filing reads.
In recent years, Jehovah's Witnesses leaders have worked to avoid answering for their policies by shutting out the media, withholding documents under subpoena and, in some cases, refusing to testify in court.
Now the Witnesses have lashed back. In their rebuttal, they paint attorneys in the case as inexperienced, witnesses as unreliable, the criminal justice system as ineffective and the commission as overstepping its mandate.
They say they don't protect abusers, don't endanger children and don't break the law. At issue are policy directives originating from the religion's world headquarters in New York. Among them:
Elders are to report every allegation of child sexual abuse to headquarters, but not to secular authorities unless required by law.
Elders are not to take action against an accused child abuser without a confession, or two witnesses to the crime.
Elders are not to announce to the congregation that child abuse has occurred, even when the abuser is allowed to remain a member.
Here's a brief look at some of the arguments put forth in the Witnesses' response.
Child safety is the organization's top priority: “The safety of the victim and other children in congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses is the first concern of elders, the Australia branch and the Governing Body.”
Jehovah's Witnesses comply with secular laws: “So long as there is no violation of the secular law, the handling of the sin of child abuse by Jehovah's Witnesses based on Scripture cannot be faulted from a secular point of view.”
Most sexual assault cases are not prosecuted anyway: “In other words, resorting to the criminal justice system is not a ‘cure-all' of the problem.”
The two-witness rule cannot be changed: “Jehovah's Witnesses consider that the requirement for two witnesses is not a matter for debate as it is based on Scriptural requirements found in the Mosaic Law and reiterated by Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul.”
Jehovah's Witnesses monitor sexual misconduct by young members to prevent child abuse: “Elders are instructed to call the branch office if they learn that a minor is involved in ‘sexting.' ”
Elders may punish child abusers, even if they don't call the police: “The elders may warn the accused or place restrictions on his contact with children; and subsequently disfellowship the accused for breaching those restrictions.”
Not all abusers reoffend: “The mere presence of an offender within a congregation does not necessarily entail that other children in a congregation or the community are at risk.”
Repentance goes a long way: “If a person is truly repentant, then, by definition they are asserting that they are unlikely to sin again because they have an understanding of their wrongdoing and do not want to repeat it.”
Jehovah's Witnesses can gauge an abuser's risk of reoffending as well as anyone: “Further, neither psychiatrists, nor psychologists, have a monopoly on the prediction of human behaviour. Indeed, every day of the week, ordinary people predict with some accuracy the behaviour of others and, by and large, our daily experiences demonstrate the accuracy of such predictions.”
Child seriously burned at Lakewood daycare
by Jessica Oh
LAKEWOOD - A daycare center in Lakewood has been shut down after an investigation by the Department of Human Services found that a toddler was severely burned at the center.
A Child's View Preschool on South Wadsworth Boulevard is accused of leaving a Crock-Pot full of hot water in a 14-month-old boy's reach on Dec. 13. The boy was sitting on a high chair and spilled the hot water onto his body, severely burning his arms, legs and abdomen, according to the Department of Human Services.
The center contacted the toddler's parents instead of calling 911. The child's father came to the daycare and found his son screaming, according to a report by the Department of Human Services. When asked why the center did not call emergency responders, staff members reportedly said they "didn't know what to do."
The report states that the center relied on another child's parent, who is a nurse, to provide medical care until his father arrived.
The child underwent surgery for skin grafts and is likely facing long-term care requirements as a result of the burns, according to a family spokesperson.
A criminal investigation into potential child abuse is ongoing.
A Child's View Preschool has a history of incidents reported since 2013. The Department of Human Services was already investigating the preschool for medical neglect, after the center failed to report a child's head injury in June 2015.
The child's parents, Brittany and Danny Pendery, issued the following statement:
"When our son was burned, the center did not call 911. Instead, they called Brittany three separate times and never called Danny, who was literally across the street. We still don't know how long our son suffered before he received care.
Prior to placing our son at this center, we did all of the homework that any normal parent does. We toured the facility and looked for violations at the appropriate sites online. We were unaware of how hard it is to find violations, which is why we want to tell our story. We want other parents to dig deeper into their center's record, whether they are searching for a new center or they have been at a center for years. It's important to be diligent and to regularly look into a daycare center's government records.
We also want the other parents whose children were at A Child's View to know that we are sorry they have had to scramble for new daycare options, but this was not a minor burn. Our son has suffered tremendously and we are struggling to manage the financial, emotional and medical requirements of his care. Please keep him in your thoughts as he faces these injuries."
The family, along with the Department of Human Services, wants to remind other parents what to look for when researching a daycare.
These sites are helpful if you are researching a daycare.
Department of Human Services
Parent's Guide to Choosing Safe and Healthy Childcare
If your center has violations listed, you may not be able to learn how minor or severe the violations were without asking the center itself and calling the Department of Human Services.
Some centers may not inform parents of violations. It is recommended to research your facility frequently to make sure they are up to standards.
Should I Make My Kid Hug His Grandma at Christmas?
There's no one way to handle this situation.
by Elissa Strauss
Romper, a website for millennial parents, recently ran a story listing the “10 Things Feminist Moms Do Differently Than Other Moms.” Overall the advice is familiar: avoid gender norms, be supportive of other moms, etc. But there's one suggestion that this particular feminist mom has never heard before. Feminist moms, I learned, “don't make our children hug or kiss anyone they don't want to.”
The writer Jamie Kenney explains that “if we want to get everyone on the same page about consent, that needs to start young.” The thinking here, which appears to be on the rise, is that by forcing unwilling children to hug Great Aunt Edna, we are teaching them that they don't have bodily autonomy. Yield to their objections, on the other hand, and we are teaching them that they can and should speak up when they feel discomfort with physical intimacy.
I'll come right out and say it: I make my 3-year-old son hug people all the time. I was raised to believe that our responsibility to others is sometimes expressed through our bodies; sometimes that means hugging and kissing relatives, even when we'd rather not. Children can be fickle, and that's when they're not being total jerks. Allowing them to follow their social instincts would pave the way for a lot of uncomfortable moments and hurt feelings. They just don't always know better.
Luckily, many of them have parents who do, and will nudge them toward a relative for a hug or kiss even if they resist. Sure, the child's efforts might lack sincerity, but much of what children do is mimicry or a performance. Childhood, including puberty, involves some going through the motions before you understand how emotions work. (And it continues after childhood: Most marriages and adult friendships entail a bit of grinning and bearing it, too.)
Still, the instinct to teach children that they have the power to say no is understandable. Children are far more likely to be sexually abused by someone they know as opposed to a stranger. Following a long and ugly tradition of ignoring such abuse, it makes perfect sense that parents would use whatever tools available to try to protect their children.
“We need to help kids understand their gut instincts,” says Lisa Fiore, a professor of psychology at Lesley University. “Too often we teach them to ignore the things that make them comfortable. If you are conditioned to have contact against your will, you don't understand boundaries.”
Fiore suggests hearing out children who resist hugging relatives, but not necessarily letting them call the shots. “You can give them other options, like giving a high-five,” she says. “Or let it go this time and try again in the future.”
“Parents want there to be one way to handle these kinds of situations, but there's not,” says Tovah Klein, director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development and author of How Toddlers Thrive. One of the most important things parents can do in an awkward situation, Klein says, is to model physical affection for their children, which will help them figure out what kind of hugging and kissing is expected and appropriate.
Niobe Way, a professor of applied psychology at New York University, says the big worry for children today is social isolation; giving them a pass on hugging and kissing might be exactly what most children don't need.
“The American obsession with personal autonomy and the individual—this valuing of the individual over the community—is pushing us to raise kids to act in ways that goes against their nature,” Way says. “They're meant to be emotional beings, to connect with other people, not stay away from them.”
Loneliness is on the rise, with 40 percent of adults in recent surveys reporting they were lonely, up from 20 percent in the 1980s. A study from two years ago found that the number of Americans who get together for the holidays has declined, as has the number who buy presents, send cards, and bake goods for others. This decline in community is not just depressing; it's dangerous. More people die from loneliness than obesity.
In combatting isolation, physical touch matters. Researchers have found that we are not so different from our primate ancestors—who spend 10 to 20 percent of their day grooming one another—in our need for physical affection. Touch is crucial for maintaining social bonds. “I don't see how it's the feminist thing to do to raise a bunch of lone cowboys, who are taught to stay away from others and operate on fear,” Way says.
I don't, either, which is why this Christmas my toddler will be frequently nudged to say hello and goodbye to relatives with a hug. He might resist, and I might give in, but it won't be without giving everyone a big hug myself, and telling him that I hope he does the same next time.
“Healing Hooves: Inside The Fidelis Foundation”
by Roger Yale
For two hours on Sundays, magic happens at Jennifer LeFever's JL Equine Center at Double C Ranch in Myrtle Beach.
But you won't find magicians or illusionists here – no levitation, no sleight-of-hand – no deception of any sort.
What you will find are horses, children, volunteers and a group of remarkable women.
The Fidelis Foundation of Myrtle Beach [www.fidelisfoundationsc.com] is a program that provides Equine Assisted Learning for at-risk youth – kids in crisis who have experienced loss or trauma in their lives. A passage on the organization's Web site elegantly lays out its raison d'être:
“Our mission is to facilitate permanent, emotional healing for children in crisis due to trauma, neglect or abuse, through creative assisted learning. We mentor both equine and personal skills, helping the youth to develop the ability to make and set goals and to assist them make life-long positive changes.”
Fidelis, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, recently celebrated five years in operation in Myrtle Beach with the support of sponsors and donations from groups and individuals. It works with several agencies on the Grand Strand, including Lighthouse Care Center of Conway, CASA, Celebrate Kids, Seacoast Youth Academy and Heartland Hospice.
The program was founded in South Florida in 2007 by a woman named Stacy Gormley, a former foster parent and professional horse trainer. Her nonprofit is no longer active.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch –
Jennifer LeFever says that horses have always been in her life.
“I told my mom that she was jinxed,” she said. “Before I was born, my great-grandfather told my mother that if she had a girl, she had to name her Nancy Jane because he had a plow horse named Nancy Jane, and it was the best horse he ever owned.”
Her mother refused to name her daughter after a horse.
“I came out walking and talking horses, and at age three I started taking lessons,” she said.
LeFever, originally from Roanoke, VA, enjoyed a 13-year career as a trick rider for Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede in Pigeon Forge, TN, Branson, MO, and Myrtle Beach.
She started the JL Equine Center after leaving Dixie Stampede, ostensibly because she wanted to spend more time with her son Nicholas, now 15. She also has a five-year-old son, Matthew.
“We teach both English and western [riding] lessons,” she said. “Kids come daily to take lessons and there are a couple of different instructors there – then on Sundays we run the Fidelis program out of it.”
LeFever owns 12 horses, but said there are close to 30 at the barn.
“We do Equine Assisted Learning to help with kids,” she said. “Sometimes the kids are so shut down and they don't necessarily communicate or talk too much to people, but when you bring the horses into the equation they feel like they have a little bond with them.”
And then the trust factor comes into play – and it's a two-way street between the horse and the child.
LeFever said it is amazing to watch the process, starting when the child comes in, often with no expression and not wanting to look at anybody – and not sure if they want to ride or even get in the saddle.
“They start to brush the horse – and then we get the saddles on. And then, ‘well maybe I will get on, but let's not move' – and by the end they are able to trot around with the volunteers going with them. They are not on the horses by themselves.”
And then there are the ones that have been coming to the program for a while.
“They are able to walk and trot by themselves – and some of them are even able to canter,” she said, adding that many request the same horse each time.
“I think sometimes we get as much out of it as the kids do because we enjoy interacting with them.”
But she said she can't imagine the weight on their shoulders.
“It's just terrible,” she said. “These are kids you might pass in the hall at school and think nothing about it. And you don't know they have so much stuff that they are trying to deal with in their life. We had one where the grandfather died and then the grandmother wound up with cancer – and they were the ones who were raising them. I can't imagine if you are ten and trying to go through these things.”
She became involved with Fidelis when the founders in Florida decided that they wanted to branch out. Greg Anderson, who was pastor at Myrtle Beach Community Church [now Beach Church] before he moved to Calvary Chapel in Fort Lauderdale, FL, was by this time on the board of the Fidelis program in Florida.
“[Anderson] said there was nothing like this in Myrtle Beach, so they came up here on faith – trying to figure where to go and what to do.”
In what LeFever says was a roundabout way, they found out about JL Equine Center.
“They asked me if I would be interested and I was like, ‘Sure. I've got the horses – I've got the tack – how hard can it be,” she said. “I didn't think about all of the paperwork with trying to get the 501 and get all of that into place – but it worked out fine.”
Do horses have a sort of empathy for these kids? Is there any way to know this?
“I think that the horses tend to know what you are capable of – not necessarily what you are going through. And they know know if you are advanced versus if you are a beginner.”
She told us the story of Maya, a strong-willed mare.
“She is actually on stage at Carolina Opry at Christmas and she pulls the sleigh,” she said. “She is a tester – and it works for us because we get to show the kids a little bit about how they also test their boundaries.
Maya is like– ‘If you can't make me and you are not stronger than I am, maybe I'd just like to stand here and not necessarily listen to you.”
The kids, obviously, get this because some of them can relate.
And everyone is welcome to ride if they want to. “You might get one that doesn't want to get on – and we have some that just want to help and be part of it,” she said.
Fidelis Foundation Outreach coordinator Sybil Lee comes from a prevention background, and said she sees her role as reaching out to at-risk youth to give them hope and a sense of direction so that they can become productive citizens.
“The youth that we reach are probably as young as four years old to 17 or 18, and these are our riders,” she said. “We have volunteers from 13 years old and up – and I have found that some of our volunteers are just as much at-risk than the ones we are reaching out to,” she said. “But they have a heart for giving, and so they are receiving.”
Lee said that the at-risk youth that come into the program – some from group homes – may have been abused by a parent, or have a parents with addictions, or might have suffered the loss of a loved one – perhaps a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle or a sibling. “These are traumatic events in their lives,” she said. “Sometimes you don't see the needs of the ones we are reaching out to. It's like their hearts are broken.”
A good deal of her time is spent on motivating and educating her volunteers – to keep the program staffed and running smoothly. “I also make sure those that are coming are coming,” she said.
And it is important to keep the participating organizations on rotation.
“Since we only operate on Sunday for two hours, we have broken it down into five different organizations – and they overlap too in certain situations. I call to make sure they are coming and how many can make it.”
She cites the help of what she calls sharp interns over the past couple of years for shouldering much of this administrative load.
“Even with communications on Facebook and emails and texting – just to make sure that my volunteers can make it out is an awesome responsibility,” she said.
Lee is one of the original members of the Fidelis board here.
Lee took 18 months off from her duties to go to Swaziland with the Peace Corps in 2013. “They believe in sustainability,” she said. “You are not just doing something to make somebody happy for the meantime, and that's exactly what I believe – and I was leaning more about permaculture gardening, which is one of my loves.”
When she returned stateside, Lee was pleased to see that Fidelis was operating smoothly.
She has no equestrian background.
“I barely knew the front end of a horse from the back end,” she said. “But I knew kids – and I knew that by being with them and just showing them the love of God and that someone in the community cares for them with unconditional love would change their disposition. That's my end of it. That's what I do.”
Fidelis board member and Coastal Carolina University Adjunct Professor Nicole Pioli Smith said that she became involved with the program five years ago when she was working at a group home.
She said she was excited when Fidelis opened.
“I rode as a kid and know the benefits of riding,” she said. “I knew that it teaches kids responsibility and communication and building those relationships. For about 2 years, I was responsible for bringing kids out to Fidelis.”
Smith now teaches personal and community health at CCU. When she completed grad school, she was asked to become part of the Fidelis family.
“Right now, I would say that we work with children with disruptive behavior disorders,” she said, adding that these are children who have been in circumstances that have been oppressive or traumatic – children who have been in homes with domestic violence or substance abuse – in foster care or who have lost a family member and have been involved in hospice.
“These are kids who need some kind of healing experience or for their faith in humanity to be restored,” she said.
She is pleased that students from CCU are coming out to volunteer each week, including STAR (Students Taking Active Responsibility) Club members and Gamma Phi Beta sorority members.
Smith is currently secretary for the Fidelis board. “My major role is spreading the word of Fidelis to the community and to people who might be interested in learning more about us – either bringing new children out to our program or creating community awareness for sponsorships so we can grow.”
As far as the organization staying afloat, Smith credits LeFever first.
“Jennifer would be my number one answer to that,” she says. “She has been beyond generous – and when she got involved, she didn't know what maybe she was getting herself into – that it was going to become such a big program. But she has been selfless in donating her time, her space – her tack, and her horses.”
Donations from individuals, groups and community sponsors are essential to the survival and growth of Fidelis.
“We have had horse shows every year for the last four years at Hardee Lane Farms in Conway, and Prestwick Country Club has held a tennis tournament in our honor for the past two years,” she said. “Those are two businesses we can really thank for believing in our little program.”
Mary Ann Beshears of Celebrate Kids said she hand-picks children for the Fidelis program who have a recovering addict or alcoholic in their families.
“One of the reasons why I target that population is because people in recovery need a lot of support for their children,” she said. “They benefit and really seem to thrive because of the interaction between the parent and the child – doing something positive together in a healthy environment.”
Somebody must accompany the child to the ranch, and often it is the parent in recovery.
“The child learns and improves on life skills that maybe they didn't get, and the parent is also learning and improving the relationship with their child.”
She credits Fidelis for real changes in self-esteem for many of these children – also an increase in physical fitness from being involved at the ranch. “Some of them have gotten the skills to become helpers now – so they have gone from riders to helpers, from people that are being served to being people that are able to serve others.”
Beshears says she has even seen speech problems improve. “It's kind of amazing, and I saw better interaction – not just with the animals but with the people around them,” she said.”
Kirby Winstead, grief and bereavement counselor at heartland Hospice in Myrtle Beach, says that he knows what it is like to experience the loss of a parent. His father died when he was very small and his mother passed away when he was in grad school.
Helping children who have suffered the passing of a close immediate family member is no easy task.
“This is a tough job – but we work with the guidance counselors here in the schools and folks that refer to us from churches and other organizations. These are kids that need special attention and some special help.”
Some of this help can be found at JL Equine Center on Sundays.
“Fidelis Foundation helps these children feel special and feel loved,” he said. “It gives them an avenue to get away from the intense emotions that surround their lives – and when you do that, sometimes a child will open up and talk to people they don't know better than with the people that they do know.”
This bond could begin with a conversation about a particular horse and then develop from there, with the possibility of a child seeing that another person is able to relate to them. “That really pulls down the barriers and allows them to feel like they are in a safe environment in which they can talk about whatever is on their mind,” he said.
CCU sociology major Patrick Clarke got involved with Fidelis when his best friend brought him in last semester. “I don't get college credit for it, but I pretty much do administrative work and volunteer for their Sunday meetings,” he said. He said he volunteers roughly ten hours per week.
In addition to keeping track of of other volunteers and riders, he also helps guide interns who are getting college credit. But on Sundays, Clarke rolls up his sleeves.
“I will do whichever task they need me to do – whether it will be helping the kids out in the ring with the horses or helping out with an activity – or bouncing back and forth wherever they might be shorthanded.”
Clarke had noticed the profound effect the program has on some children.
“That experience is awesome,” he said. “A lot of the time you will go on a Sunday and you will have kids who don't have a support system or any real foundation in their lives. Just getting them on a horse and seeing that they can trust in the horse and the horse can trust in them helps them build confidence and trust. And seeing the smiles on their faces once they leave – it's like that whole process of change within a two hour span. That is just incredible.”
CCU's Smith said that the Fidelis Foundation and the connection to the amazing women behind it has been a blessing in her life. “There is no such thing as giving without getting something back – and we've got a lot going on in that little barn on Sundays.”
Breaking Point: Statistics Behind Child Abuse, Neglect
by Geoff Redick
Part 1 of "Breaking Point," Geoff Redick explores the statistics behind child abuse and neglect: how prominent it is, and how it affects those who work against it.
Away from the headlines and often behind closed doors, lies one of mankind's greatest scourges: violence and neglect towards children. There is no geographical region, gender, neighborhood, income bracket or demographic immune to it. And while child abuse is on a downward trend in New York and nationwide, its official numbers — and unofficial estimates — remain startlingly high.
"It's very disheartening," said Kate Hogan, district attorney for Warren County. Hogan is perhaps uniquely qualified to comment on the matter after her experience in 2012, prosecuting two young men for fatal abuses against toddler boys. Both are now in state prison.
"You shake your head and think, 'How could anyone be violent toward the most vulnerable, the most innocent in our population?'" Hogan said. "It doesn't make sense to any rational, well-adjusted adult."
"But that's not necessarily who is taking care of these children," she said.
To understand abuse and neglect, we must first know how the government defines it from a civil perspective. The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act calls it "any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker, which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation" of children. The government also criminalizes neglect, defining it as "an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm."?
The definition casts a wide enough net to catch a significant number of cases in Upstate New York. In the most recent data available from New York's Office of Children and Family Services, 25,182 cases of child abuse and neglect were confirmed in Upstate New York in 2013 (the OCFS defines "Upstate" as all counties outside New York City, including Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island). According to census data, that meant a little more than 500 of every 100,000 upstate children experienced neglect or abuse. Also in 2013, 111 upstate children died due to what child welfare investigators deemed abuse by parents or caretakers. That's about two out of every 100,000 children.
National data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services indicates that between 2009 and 2013, investigations of child abuse and neglect rose about a quarter of a percentage point, while actual confirmed victims of child abuse ticked down from 9.3 children per 1,000 to 9.1. There is no data to indicate that the downward trend has stopped over the past two years.
However in the month of November, Upstate New York saw a particularly violent period for children, at least in terms of news coverage. Over a nine-day period from November 20 to November 28, Time Warner Cable News covered five cases of serious abuse or neglect, ranging from the Capital Region to the Southern Tier. Six adult parents or caretakers were arrested, two children survived serious assault, and three children died.
Yet the issue still does not receive the attention that many believe it deserves.
"I'm not the only district attorney who's experienced this: when there's an animal abuse case, many of us get letters and emails urging the highest penalty for the perpetrator," said Warren County's top prosecutor Kate Hogan. "In a child abuse case, I don't receive those same letters and emails. I don't get the same sense of urgency. I think we need to recognize that every vulnerable population must be protected."
Breaking Point: In Abuse Case, One Family Lost it All
by Geoff Redick
Part 2 of "Breaking Point," Geoff Redick sits down with a local family that saw violent abuse firsthand — and suffered the worst possible consequence.
HUDSON FALLS, N.Y. --? When you watch five-year-old Jesse Smith's family laugh and throw the football around their backyard, it is the picture of happiness — almost.
What you cannot see is that this family, including Jesse's mother, his sister, an aunt and two cousins, is incomplete. That's because Jesse Smith is not there.
"We live with it every day," said Tricia Genier, Jesse's aunt and one-time guardian. "It doesn't ever get any easier."
Jesse James Smith was born on Halloween in 2010. Upon seeing him in the delivery room, his aunt Tricia nicknamed the boy "Mr. Magoo," after the grumpy cartoon character with a bald head and snub nose. Jesse, she says, just had that look.
"The name stuck with him," recalled Genier. "For his whole 15 months, that's who he was."
Jesse's mother Lisa Younes has trouble communicating thoughts about her son, but not memories.
"Jesse was happy. He was always smiling," she said. "He was a really good baby -- he'd wake up happy every morning and run around the house all day long."
Jesse's father was a different story. Gary Waite, who was 28 when Jesse was born, initially had no custody of the child and was not around to parent him, according to Younes. Once a paternity test established Waite's fatherhood, he was saddled with joint custody, and took Jesse home for half of each calendar week.
Younes and Genier said there were never any signs of abuse, though sometimes Waite would reach out for parenting help from another ex-girlfriend, or even from Younes' brother.
"And then," said Younes, "it just happened out of the blue."
In February 2013, Jesse was little more than 15 months old. On the thirteenth day of the month, he was staying with Gary Waite when, at some point, Jesse suffered severe head trauma. He was eventually rushed to Glens Falls Hospital that evening, but the injuries were so severe that doctors had Jesse airlifted to Albany Medical Center's trauma unit.
Lisa knew none of this when she got a knock on her door, beckoning her to Glens Falls Hospital. She called Tricia and said that all she knew was her son "had fallen off of a chair." By the time the pair arrived at the hospital, Jesse was already airborne to Albany. Before they left Glens Falls, though, Lisa learned that Gary Waite was in police custody and being questioned.
What she did not know at that point, was that Gary Waite would never be a free man again. But that was neither hers, nor Tricia Genier's concern by the time they arrived in Albany.
"We thought we could just walk into the hospital and see him when we got there," says Tricia. "But that wasn't the case. He was in brain surgery."
Swelling and bleeding on Jesse's brain had rapidly worsened. Surgeons eventually decided to open the toddler's skull to relieve pressure, and removed some brain tissue to stem the spreading damage.
By the time his mother and aunt saw him, Jesse Smith no longer looked like Mr. Magoo. Tricia Genier even told a nurse that they were in the wrong patient room.
?"She said, 'No, I'm sorry, that is your nephew,'" recalled Genier. "Jesse had changed. He was bruised, and the swelling -- his body looked like it had increased 20 pounds."
After a series of tests showed no sign of brain activity, Jesse James Smith was disconnected from life support and pronounced dead on February 15, 2012. Not long after, Gary Waite was charged with murder.
"There is an event that causes rage," says Warren County district attorney Kate Hogan. "And that rage causes force to be inflicted, which often causes catastrophic injury."
Speaking in general terms about serious child abuse cases, Hogan explains that the patterns leading to abuse are often the same. It is common, she says, that a defendant's violence toward a child reflects frustration. The injury patterns may even show the defendant exhibited some sort of "restraint" during the abuse, perhaps causing a more superficial injury than permanent damage. It is no excuse, says Hogan, but that "restraint" may shorten the defendant's prison sentence or probation.
But even before the physical abuse occurs, Hogan says a familiar set of circumstances often point to potential violence.
"The common theme is that a parent isn't capable of fulfilling that role effectively -- whether that's due to substance abuse, an undiagnosed mental illness, or whether you weren't raised in a household where you had a proper role model,' she said. "All of those are factors in cases like this."
Another factor is poverty, something the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services calls a "risk factor." In the most recent data available, nearly a quarter of children involved in abuse investigations were found living in homes with "financial problems." In those same abuse cases, more than half of the children's caretakers were on some form of government assistance.
"A lot of these parents are in 'the system,'" said Colleen Kelley-Lyon. She is president of the Glens Falls-based, grassroots child advocacy group Hands Across New York. The Facebook-driven organization fights child abuse and neglect through public rallies and marches -- but also by offering help to impoverished parents.
"There is a breaking point for everybody, but I think a lot of it is financial," said Kelley-Lyon.
She shares stories of parents with multiple children, forced into bare-bones government-funded motel rooms as a last resort.
"They're trying to make ends meet on a microwave," said Kelley-Lyon. "Maybe they have a part-time job, but what if they can't afford the gas money to get there?"
It is a cycle that pushes parents to violence, when the stress becomes too much. Kelley-Lyon also blames a Child Protective Services system that she says is overburdened, over-regulated and under-funded, which leaves gaps where young parents need help.
Still, she holds no love for parents who harm their children, Gary Waite included.
"Do I think (Waite) was a born child killer? No," she said. "I think it was, 'This kid is aggravating me, I'm going to set this kid aside, and he hits his head and he dies. But he [Waite] belongs right where he is."
Gary Waite, now 32, is serving a sentence of 25 years to life in Auburn Correctional Facility. He was convicted of murdering Jesse Smith in a November 2013 trial.
Waite has since appealed the conviction. He declined an interview for this series, but his mother Terri Waite released a short statement, saying: "I believe in my son is innocent. There is so much that people are unaware of."
The surviving family of Waite's slain child is left wishing that Waite, or someone close to him, had reached out for more help.
"I don't believe there's one excuse for injuring a child, or mentally hurting a child," said Tricia Genier. "There is no excuse. There's always a way."
"People need to make that phone call," she continued. "Whether it's the police, a social worker, the child abuse hotline -- call someone. There is some who's going to help that child."
"If you don't make that call," Genier said,"no one is going to help."
Stopping child abuse means we all must do more
Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin described it as one of the worst cases that he's ever laid eyes on. “Suffice it to say it was terrible,” he told reporters Thursday. “I've never seen anything like it. I've never seen such abuse.”
Two children, a 3-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy, their bodies stuffed into a plastic bin and left inside a Redding storage unit like extra Christmas decorations. A 9-year-old girl found in a parked SUV with broken bones and broken teeth. She weighed just 40 pounds.
It's a horrific case, made all the more so by the sad timing of a joyous holiday season.
There's plenty of blame to go around for this tragedy – starting, of course, with the two people who will be charged with killing and torturing them, Tami Joy Huntsman and her companion, Gonzalo Curiel.
But Delylah Tara and her older brother, Shaun, died from physical abuse. Abuse that likely went on for weeks, if not months. Why didn't more people notice? Why didn't anyone step in to help? Where were the people who were supposed to catch this? These are questions that need answers.
Huntsman's mother, Joy Huntsman, told The Bee's Richard Chang and Sam Stanton that she called Child Protective Services several times about the poor condition of her daughter's apartment. CPS did indeed come out – four times during the past year, according to the agency – but workers never removed any children.
A Salinas cop, responding to an anonymous tip about suspected abuse, entered the apartment at least once in the past six months and found nothing worth a call to CPS. Just a child sleeping and two others doing homework.
And yet, investigators who searched the apartment last week found it in such apparently poor condition that Monterey County District Attorney Dean Flippo could only wonder “how someone could raise a child” there.
It doesn't make sense. It's tempting to point fingers and demand that police and social workers get better at spotting the signs, that they do more. While that ultimately might prove to be the right thing to demand in this extraordinary case, it glosses over the very real and complicated reasons why, in other cases involving kids living in troubled homes, “more” isn't done.
Removing a child from a home is an extraordinary step, the last resort. One reason is that often there aren't many better places for kids to go. Social workers have to scramble to find homes for children they've removed, many of whom are suffering from trauma.
The notion that some army of qualified, financially and emotionally stable adults stands ready to take in any strange child who needs help is false. There aren't enough foster parents. And those who do become foster parents can become disillusioned by the system when a child they've grown to love is sent back to his or her biological parents.
We've taken to heart the notion of “if you see something, say something” when it comes to terrorism, but too many of us fail to do so when it comes to adults who terrorize children. People don't want to get involved. They mind their own business. And those who do come forward often are afraid to give their names. With anonymous tips, building a case to prove ongoing abuse can be tough.
“When people call anonymously,” Salinas Police Chief McMillin said, “it really does make our job difficult.”
It's infuriating to think that authorities missed the clues that could have saved the lives of two children and avoided some of the beatings that will scar the third for life. Time will tell whether “more” could have been done.
But in keeping our eyes open and speaking out about abuse when it happens, there are things, important things, that the rest of us can do, too.
Working together we can prevent child abuse
by Rachelle Modena
Mandated reporters of suspected child abuse are individuals who typically have frequent contact with children in the course of their professional lives. The recent horror of two dead, young children stuffed into plastic containers and left in a storage unit, along with a sibling found locked in a car in near freezing temperatures, suffering such severe injuries that her first responders were traumatized, leaves me to ponder the question: Shouldn't we all be mandated reporters?
These kinds of tragedies often have warning signs. Someone is concerned or has a suspicion, but for some reason they don't report it. Maybe they don't know how or maybe they don't know what suspected child abuse looks like.
We should all be concerned for the well-being of the children in our lives.
Do you know the children who live on your street? Haven't seen them out playing recently? Are you worried about the toddler next door, sometimes unattended in the yard? Are you concerned that your sister seems to yell at her children a lot? Reach out, check in, offer your support. Protecting children is all of our responsibility, whether you deliver bread, sweep streets or work in a day care.
It's our responsibility at work, in our neighborhoods, in our parks, at stores, and on the street.
Not every situation is a suspected child abuse report, but we, as a community who cares about our children, can and should reach out to parents in our lives. We should offer our support and encouragement to our neighbors, friends and family before child abuse happens.
Parenting is joyous and fun, but also can be stressful and frustrating. You can make a difference in the life of a child. Be brave, be a hero. Join us in preventing child abuse.
To learn more about supporting child abuse prevention efforts in Shasta County or to take a free mandated child abuse reporter training, contact the Shasta County Child Abuse Prevention Coordinating Council at 241-5816 or visit: www.shastacapc.org
With your help, we can prevent child abuse.
Rachelle Modena is the executive director of Shasta CAPCC.
Protecting your children from sexual abuse
by The Jamaica Observer
CHILDREN are blessings and protecting them from abuse should be one of the top priorities of parents.
Parents should be vigilant to speak to their children from early about sexual abuse, so if the issue arises it can be prevented or dealt with effectively.
According to the Office of the Children's Advocate (OCA), sexual abuse is a problem that traumatises children and robs them of their childhood, and has the deleterious effect of leading to antisocial behaviour, depression, identity confusion, loss of self-esteem and other serious emotional problems.
As a result, the OCA said it is important that parents, guardians, caregivers and all persons who work directly with children ensure that they are aware of the signs of sexual abuse against children.
Below are tips to minimise your child's risk of sexual abuse.
1. Teach children that no one has the right to touch them on private places
According to the OCA, in early childhood parents should teach children the names of the genitals just as they teach them the names of other body parts. This teaches that the genitals, while private, are not so private that you can't talk about them. Children should also be taught that no one has the right to touch their bodies if they don't want that to happen. Parents are encouraged to help children differentiate between a ‘good touch' versus a ‘bad touch'.
2. Teach them to be open
The OCA advises parents to teach children early that there are no secrets between children and their parents or guardians and that they should be comfortable talking to their parents or guardians about anything good or bad, fun or sad, easy or difficult.
3. Know the adults who are around your children
Beware of adults who offer children special gifts or toys, or adults who want to take your child on a ‘special outing' or to special events.
4. Enrol your child in open-door programmes
According to the OCA, if enrolling your child in a day care or any programme, select one that has an ‘open-door' parent policy. Also monitor and participate in activities whenever possible.
5. Discuss sexual topics with children
The OCA said as children age, it is imperative that parents create an environment at home in which sexual topics can be discussed comfortably in an age-appropriate context. Also use news items and publicised reports of child sexual abuse to start discussions on safety, and reiterate that your children should always tell a parent or guardian about anyone who is taking advantage of them sexually.
6. Believe your children when they speak about sexual abuse
If your child discloses any history of sexual abuse, the OCA advises that you listen carefully and take his or her disclosure seriously. The OCA said too often children are not believed, particularly if they implicate a family member as the perpetrator. If parents don't intervene, the abuse might continue and the child may come to believe that home is not safe and that you are not available to help.
7. Don't blame children
According to the OCA, parents must support their children and let them know that they are not responsible for any form of abuse they may face.
8. Have your children examined
To ensure your child's physical health has not been affected, you should bring your child to a physician for examination.
9. If you have concerns seek help
If you have concerns that your child may be a victim of sexual abuse, you should talk with your child's paediatrician, a social worker or counsellor, the police or anyone in the child protection sector. These individuals can discuss your concerns, arrange for examination of your child and make necessary referrals and reports.
In Easthampton village, everyone helps the children
by Brian MacQuarrie
EASTHAMPTON — The 5-year-old boy in the green shirt with “Cool Little Bro” written across the chest had just thumped 81-year-old Mary Steele in the nose with a balloon. Steele, who was baby-sitting the excited child for his foster mother, stopped fast and flashed a look of mock surprise.
“Now, you have to give me a kiss right on the nose,” Steele said. The boy, clearly happy, did not consider this a chore.
Laughter and smiles have not come easily to the child, who was removed from his biological parents a year ago because of domestic violence and substance abuse.
But now, engaged and embraced, he is part of a pioneering social project called the Treehouse community, a 60-home village built from scratch nearly a decade ago in a broad former meadow near Mount Tom.
It's an uncommon place, where once-traumatized children are raised in a quiet neighborhood where the special needs of foster and adoptive families are supported and understood.
It's also a place where dozens of elderly residents have moved specifically to help these families in simple but critical ways — by walking children to school, by baby-sitting to give stressed parents a break — and to savor the simple pleasures of joining a community where their help and life experience are appreciated.
“This gives me an opportunity to serve,” said Steele, who had been a social worker in Oklahoma before she moved to Treehouse in 2007. “To me, life has meaning and purpose. This is the continuation of a vocation.”
Outside her brightly colored cottage, a small sign greets passersby with this simple message: “We love our children.”
The sign captures something about the Treehouse community: its aspiration to a hard-to-come-by small town ideal. Nearly everyone knows one another at Treehouse, and all the residents — parents, biological children, and the elderly — are encouraged to contribute to the mission, which is to give foster and adopted children a lasting sense of family and the tools to make good on life when they move out on their own.
Since Treehouse opened in 2006, a total of 61 children have arrived directly from foster care or with adoptive families. None of them have dropped out of school; there have been no teenage pregnancies, and all 16 children who applied for college have been accepted.
“This is a little utopia,” said Sandra Rubio, who lives at Treehouse with three adopted girls. “It's whatever you want it to be.”
The idea for Treehouse was born at Judy Cockerton's kitchen table in 1998, when the former teacher and toy-shop owner decided to do something for children without a permanent home. Her husband, Arthur Pollock, had just handed her a newspaper article about a 5-month-old boy in foster care who had been kidnapped from his crib in Worcester.
Cockerton summoned her two children back to the table at their Sharon home. “What do we want to do?” she asked the family. “We have the resources and the space and the ability to support children.”
The next day she called the state to offer her help. “Would you please take two?” Cockerton was asked. “We'll be there in an hour,” she replied.
From that beginning, Cockerton embarked on a complex journey in which she learned as she went — creating a nonprofit organization, seeking a site, finding an affordable-housing partner, and searching for child-welfare services that the Treehouse community would need.
“It takes a while for people to wrap their heads around this idea,” said Cockerton, who serves as chief executive officer of the Treehouse Foundation.
It's an idea that Treehouse officials would like to replicate. Nearly 30,000 young adults in the United States “age out” of the foster-care system each year, and their lives afterward are often difficult.
Cockerton's inspiration came from Hope Meadows, an adoptive Illinois community where seniors also live. What has emerged here 15 miles north of Springfield, Cockerton believes, is the only development of its kind in the Northeast that mixes adoptive and foster families with the elderly.
The $15.9 million project was designed by Beacon Communities, a Boston-based developer of affordable housing, with input from the City of Easthampton, the state, and conservation agencies. Berkshire Children and Families, a social-service organization, has two staff members on site who provide mental health and parenting support. Educational partnerships have been formed with schools and cultural groups.
Beacon owns and manages the property, which was built in a former hay field after investors, donors, grants, and state and federal tax credits helped make the dream a reality. Families who apply for housing are rigorously vetted by Treehouse managers.
The path to these connections was jump-started in 2002 when Cockerton asked for a meeting with Lewis “Harry” Spence, the commissioner of the state Department of Social Services, who steered Cockerton to Beacon Communities.
“I just thought the opportunity for a community of people who share a commitment to the parenting of adoptive children could be enormously valuable,” said Spence, who is the state's trial court administrator. “I think that can make the difference between a successful and a failed adoption.”
One measure of success is that Treehouse attracts residents of differing incomes as well as age. Aided by tax credits, half of the 12 homes for adoptive families are reserved for households that make less than $56,700. The 48 cottages for residents 55 and older go to singles or couples with incomes less than $42,000.
The growing pains have been few, Cockerton said, but a foster parent who worked off-site as a teacher was charged in 2007 in a child-pornography case. The foster child, who was not involved in the case, was removed from his custody. No child at Treehouse was harmed, Cockerton said.
Adults come to Treehouse full of idealism and hope; children come from another place.
All the adopted or foster children here have serious emotional or physical needs. Many were abused by their biological parents or in previous foster homes. And reunification with their mothers and fathers, the primary goal of the foster-care system, has been deemed unworkable or impossible.
Treehouse is their safe haven, with 106 residents spread among duplexes for adoptive families and farm-style cottages for seniors. The homes, all rentals, are clustered amid 17 acres of green, open space. The residences are angled toward others to encourage interaction.
There are two playgrounds, 32 dogs, and small buses that link residents with the Pioneer Valley and beyond.
Doors are often unlocked, and children visit the homes of elderly neighbors just to chat or to borrow a sweater. The community center — a gathering place that holds a kitchen, library, post office, and all-purpose room — is a beehive of activity that ranges from tutoring to parenting advice to holiday parties.
“I knew I was searching for community. This is community for me. This is family,” said Pam Hanson, 70, who crisscrosses the village in a motorized wheelchair. Hanson moved here from Central Massachusetts after a teaching career because she missed the interaction with children and wanted to feel productive.
“There is an innate kindness and respectfulness that you just don't see anywhere,” Hanson said. “I feel in love with the place — not just the physical place, but the idea of being older but not yet dead,” she added, chuckling.
Rosa Young, 71, drove here from her family cabin in Michigan nine years ago after she heard about Treehouse on National Public Radio.
“I just didn't like the idea of not having children around,” said Young, who had been a director of homeless services for the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health before she retired and moved back to the Midwest.
Young helped a Treehouse family with two biological children and three adopted siblings, driving them to school on some days and baby-sitting on Fridays to give their parents, Alison Plummer and Wendy Gannett, a night on the town by themselves.
Before connecting with Plummer and Gannett, the adopted siblings had meandered through foster care after being taken from their biological home. The children had been severely underfed and appear to have been physically abused. One of the siblings weighed 35 pounds at age 7 — after 12 foster homes in two years — when Plummer and Gannett began caring for him.
Young, for her part, followed a recipe for dealing with the effects of their trauma: “Being predictable, and kind, and saying yes as often as I can.”
Plummer and Gannett reciprocated her thoughtfulness in many ways, including accompanying Young to chemotherapy appointments for breast cancer two years ago.
Another neighbor, 80-year-old Gloria LaFlamme, moved to Treehouse from North Adams, not quite sure what to expect and not quite sure how she could help. The retired nurse had no previous experience with foster children.
Enter Ashlynn and Aliana,now 11 and 9, who needed transportation to weekly therapy sessions while their adoptive mother, Sandra Rubio, worked a dozen miles away in Westfield. The family faced a scheduling gap because Sandra's husband, Angel, works at night in food service at Amherst College.
LaFlamme's contribution — making the 35-minute drive each way to therapy — brought mutual benefits. The girls did not make a fuss when LaFlamme asked to listen to classical music. And updates from Ashlynn and Aliana about their daily ups and downs provided a lift and focus for LaFlamme.
The state placed the girls with Sandra Rubio when she was living in a tough Holyoke neighborhood scarred by crime and drugs. First came Ashlynn, an emergency placement whom Sandra agreed to take for a weekend.
“Monday morning never came,” Sandra recalled with a smile; Ashlynn never left. Gradually, the sullen girl who did not smile or make eye contact began to open up. Aliana arrived two years later in 2006, a four-day-old infant born with drugs in her system.
The girls rarely left their apartment, and they had few friends in the neighborhood. Then, three years ago, Sandra applied for one of the homes at Treehouse, and a fresh start became a reality.
Angel Rubio had moved in with Sandra by this time, and the pair decided to accept another foster child — Aliana's three-week-old sister, Alexandra. Angel had not known what to expect, and he had some trepidations, but foster care became a life-changing experience for him.
“All my life, I've been very irresponsible taking care of myself, but now I take care of myself because of the girls,” said Angel, a quiet 36-year-old who struggles with diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and Crohn's disease. “It makes me want to stay around a little bit longer.”
Sometimes, he is startled at who he has become, a recently married man with a ready-made family who sings children's rhymes as he works.
Sandra, 41, has seen the change in her partner. “He told me, ‘I thought this only happened in the movies,' ” she said.
In September, the Rubios were awarded custody of Alexandra in a festive ceremony at Hampden Juvenile Court in Springfield. Relatives, friends, and Treehouse residents wiped away tears as First Justice Daniel Swords worked his way through the legal minutiae.
Finally, with a broad smile, Swords declared the adoption “final and irrevocable.” Alexandra bounded up to the judge's chair, grabbed his gavel, and pounded the desk 13 loud and confident times.
The Treehouse concept so far has made a small dent in a vast problem, but Cockerton has plans that go well beyond the Pioneer Valley.
Discussions have begun for a Treehouse neighborhood in Santa Clara County, Calif., where Cockerton is exploring partnerships with housing and child-welfare organizations. Treehouse also is considering a community in the western Boston suburbs, and a group from Atlanta visited recently to seek ideas for a development in Georgia.
It is an ambitious vision fueled by a chronic need.
“We want to drive change in the nation,” Cockerton said. “I can see a Treehouse community in every state around the country.”