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Recent News - News from other times

December, 2016 - Week 5
MJ Goyings
Many thanks to our very own "MJ" Goyings, a resident of Ohio, for her daily research that provides us with the news related material that appears on the LACP & NAASCA web sites.


Washington D.C.

Child Abuse: Another Consequence of 15 Years Of War

by David S. Cloud

The Pentagon has struggled to deal with the cascade of child abuse and neglect cases in military families in the years since America went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, a Los Angeles Times/Tribune Washington Bureau investigation has found.

In September 2011, Army Sgt. 1st Class Crispen Hanson's commander at Fort Bliss ordered him into a military treatment program for child abusers.

Texas child welfare authorities had formally reported a “reason to believe” the 20-year Army veteran had severely beaten his 6-month-old son, Malachi, leaving him with a broken leg.

For the next four months, Hanson met weekly with a therapist from the Family Advocacy Program, a $200 million-a-year Pentagon program known as FAP that seeks to prevent child abuse in the ranks.

When Hanson completed the therapy, FAP officials closed the case and a state judge allowed him to see his infant son.

But three months later, on April 9, 2012, El Paso paramedics called to Hanson's house found Malachi dead. An autopsy found “blunt force injuries” and “innumerable contusions of the head, torso and extremities.”

The county medical examiner ruled the death a homicide.

Last year, Hanson pleaded guilty to two counts of injuring a child after prosecutors agreed to drop murder charges. A state judge sentenced him to probation. The Army gave him an honorable discharge and a full pension of about $28,000 a year.

Army officials said the decision to close the FAP case before the infant's death was appropriate. “No program has a 100 percent guarantee of success when dealing with individuals,” said William Costlow, an Army spokesman.

The Pentagon has struggled to deal with a little-noticed cascade of child abuse and neglect cases in military families in the years since America went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, a Los Angeles Times/Tribune Washington Bureau investigation has found.

Previously unreleased reports by the Army, Navy and Air Force reveal numerous cases in which military officials knew or suspected that child abuse or neglect was occurring, but failed to intervene or to alert the Family Advocacy Program or state child welfare agencies, The Times found.

In many cases, the reports blamed military personnel for failing to report cases of abuse and neglect to FAP officials.

FAP “is not accessing those most in need due to … failure on the part of others to report concerns or maltreatment incidents,” warned an internal 2014 report on 27 deaths in Army families.

“In several cases, command was aware of ongoing abuse but failed to report it,” it said.

A 2014 report on 50 deaths in Air Force families over five years reached a similar conclusion.

“In numerous cases … Air Force employees and other individuals were aware of suspected child maltreatment or domestic abuse and did not report it to FAP or any other authority,” it said.

Citing privacy restrictions, Pentagon officials redacted parts of each report, which were released in response to Freedom of Information Act requests. The Times was able to identify many victims and their abusers by comparing the reports with court records and other legal documents.

Even senior FAP officials concede they are able to help only a fraction of the children who suffer abuse.

“We get about 25 percent of the incidents,” said Rene Robichaux, who oversees an Army-wide clinical child abuse treatment program from the Army Medical Command in San Antonio. “The rest occur behind closed doors.”

America's longest wars already have been associated with poor mental health in military families, behavioral problems in children, a higher risk of divorce, and higher rates of suicide, studies show.

Experts now add child abuse to that tragic list.

“We have a relatively high rate of child maltreatment,” said Dr. Sharon Cooper, a pediatrician and retired Army colonel who treats child abuse victims at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. “And we know that child abuse and neglect is highly influenced by deployment.”

Child fatalities have soared even as the armed forces have shrunk by 10 percent in recent years.

Fatalities more than doubled from 14 in 2003 to 38 in 2012. They remained above 30 a year through 2014 before dropping to 23 in 2015, the last year that Pentagon records are available. Overall, FAP counted 5,378 child abuse and neglect victims in military families in 2015.

The Pentagon long has claimed that child abuse is less severe in the military than in the civilian population. The military weeds out alcohol and drug users with random tests and annual fitness reports, and the mental strain of unemployment isn't a problem.

Moreover, base commanders are supposed to monitor their troops' daily lives and the welfare of their families. They can order FAP to counsel parents and even temporarily bar service members from contact with their families in abuse cases.

Military bases also are required to cooperate closely with state child welfare agencies, which share responsibility for protecting children in military families living on and off U.S. installations.

But in the last five years, the rate of child abuse and neglect in the military has gone up sharply — from 4.8 incidents per 1,000 children to 7.2 incidents, according to Pentagon records. Civilian rates vary depending on how they're counted, but generally are higher.

The failure of base commanders to intervene has sparked special concern among child welfare advocates.

Experts say those failures may occur because a criminal charge of child abuse can lead to a soldier's discharge — costing the family its livelihood — and also can be seen as a blot on a commander's record.

“There's a real reluctance to address child abuse fatalities in the military because it's a career ender for soldiers,” said Theresa Covington, head of the National Center for the Review and Prevention of Child Deaths, a nonprofit group in Washington that works closely with the Pentagon.

‘Absurd' solution

Underlying the problems is the belief at senior levels of the Pentagon that the military can handle family violence by ordering an accused abuser into FAP counseling, experts say.

“Ultimately an allegation of abuse is plopped down on the desk of some commander, who is supposed to take action, as if … you can discipline somebody who is abusing their children and make them stop, which is absurd,” said Mark Davis, an attorney involved in a decadelong lawsuit against the Army over the abuse death of 5-year-old girl on a military base in Hawaii.

FAP, created after the Vietnam War, now has more than 2,000 case workers and administrators. They offer help to 1.2 million active-duty couples and 1.1 million children at almost every U.S. military base, including in Germany, Japan and other overseas posts where families are allowed.

In the most violent cases, FAP officials can seek a protective order from the military that bars an abusive parent from contact with a child, or ask a civilian court to place a battered child in foster care.

FAP and Pentagon officials say the program provides valuable counseling, parenting classes, home visits and other help to thousands of military families, many of them young parents living on their own for the first time.

“The welfare of our service members and their family members warrants the highest priority in the Department of Defense,” said a Pentagon spokesman, Maj. Benjamin E. Sakrisson. “The department is actively committed to keeping children safe and healthy.”

The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines all have boosted training and staffing at their FAP operations over the last decade, officials say.

FAP staffing at Army bases, for instance, has grown from 136 to 390, with many new hires assigned to visit homes of new parents to teach parenting techniques.

But some FAP offices are overwhelmed, especially after units deployed overseas return home.

At Fort Bragg, the nation's largest Army base, soldiers often wait weeks to see a FAP therapist for routine counseling, said Anne Malena, a civilian social worker in private practice who mostly works with Fort Bragg families.

“They're extremely overworked, and they're working on crisis situations most of the time,” she said.

FAP officials contend it is unfair to blame their staff for failing to foresee which military parents will abuse their children when warning signs often are fragmentary or ambiguous.

“Predicting these kinds of events is an extremely difficult thing to do,” said Dr. Terri Rau, a psychiatrist and senior policy analyst for the Navy's Fleet and Family Support Programs in Norfolk, Va., which oversees FAP.

Yet in some cases, there were clear warning signs.


In August 2012, Tamryn Klapheke starved to death in her crib at her parents' house on Dyess Air Force Base in Texas. She was 22 months old.

State prosecutors said her mother, Tiffany Klapheke, had left the infant without food or water for four days while her husband, an Air Force enlisted man, was overseas. Her two other children were also badly malnourished.

The base FAP office and Texas' Child Protective Services, the state agency responsible for investigating child abuse, had been repeatedly warned of neglect at the house.

Air Force doctors had notified both offices in 2010 and 2011 that the older children were underweight and had missed medical appointments.

“The consequences of not feeding the child could be fatal,” Edward Wilcock, the FAP social worker assigned to Tamryn's case, wrote in her file in September 2011.

But FAP closed its case three months later when Klapheke completed her assigned doctor visits and Tamryn had gained a little weight, records show.

Child Protective Services in Taylor County, where Dyess is located, closed its own investigation a week before Tamryn starved to death. Its last face-to-face contact with the family was 10 months earlier, courts records show.

Klapheke, 23, was convicted of injury to a child and sentenced in state court to 30 years in prison. Four employees at Child Protective Services resigned over misconduct in the case. The two older children were placed with a foster family.

Wilcock, who remains employed by FAP at Dyess, declined to comment for this story.

Capt. Nicole Ferrara, a base spokeswoman, said that the Air Force investigated whether “various personnel met their required duty obligations” and that “appropriate action was taken to address the findings.” She declined to disclose the findings or the action taken.

FAP also failed Kylee Houston, who lived her entire brief life inside the secure gates of Naval Air Station New Orleans.

Just 14 weeks old, the malnourished infant died in a soiled crib at her home on March 15, 2015. An autopsy blamed accidental suffocation.

Kylee's twin sister and four siblings, all under age 5, also suffered from extreme neglect, police found.

State prosecutors put them all in foster care and arrested the parents on charges of cruelty to juveniles and second-degree murder.

The father, Navy Seaman Xavier Houston, pleaded guilty in January to cruelty to juveniles and is serving a 10-year prison sentence. His wife, Calendria, is awaiting trial.

FAP was well aware of the danger.

On July 1, 2014, neighbors called the military police when they heard the parents fighting, a frequent occurrence. The police report noted that one child was filthy and the house reeked of dirty diapers.

The police shared the report with the base Fleet and Family Support Center, which oversees the FAP office. But the office didn't inform Louisiana's child welfare agency, as an agreement between the base and the state required.

A month later, on Aug. 5, Calendria Houston complained to base authorities that her husband had “left their four children, ranging in age from 3 years old to 5 months old, unattended at their residence,” according to a Navy investigation.

At his commander's urging, Xavier Houston had met a FAP counselor “a handful of times” to discuss his strained marriage, but not the welfare of his children, according to Houston's attorney, Clarke Beljean.

That failure angers Charles J. Ballay, the district attorney in Louisiana's Plaquemines Parish who is prosecuting the parents.

The military was “aware or should have been aware” that the Houstons were neglecting their children, Ballay said. “Somebody should have taken action to save the life of this young child.”

The Navy appears to agree.

Mike Andrews, a Navy spokesman, said several contractors involved in the Houston case resigned after Kylee's death. He declined to identify them or say whether they quit in response to pending disciplinary action.

Military police on the base were instructed for the first time to notify Louisiana's child protection agency in cases “involving child welfare of any kind,” Andrews said.


FAP has come under fire before.

In the early 1980s, about a decade after the Army, Navy and Air Force each developed programs for treating domestic violence on military installations, an investigation by federal auditors found the efforts were poorly funded, understaffed and often inadequate.

Congress provided additional money in response and ordered the Pentagon to keep better track of personnel accused of abuse. After cases continued to increase, Congress in 2001 created an independent task force to evaluate the military's efforts.

The panel issued 193 recommendations, including a call for the Pentagon to hire hundreds of “victim advocates” on military bases to help abused children and spouses, whom panel members believed often received short shrift from FAP.

The task force delivered its report to Congress on the same day in March 2003 that U.S. forces invaded Iraq. During a House Armed Services Committee hearing, distracted lawmakers ducked into side rooms to watch the invasion on TV. The Pentagon ultimately adopted many of the changes the panel proposed.

In 2011, Jessica Wright, then undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, ordered another “top-level rapid review” of FAP. It produced 84 “preliminary ideas” for improvements.

It also led to creation of an Integrated Project Team to recommend ways to “help families in need and at risk as early as possible,” said Sakrisson, the Pentagon spokesman.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and a major in the Army National Guard, is one of the few lawmakers to focus on the issue.

Congress this month passed a national defense authorization bill that includes a provision Gabbard introduced that requires military personnel to immediately report suspected cases of child abuse to FAP and to state child protection agencies.


New York

More child abuse cases

by Don Lehman

The region continued to deal with a spate of violence toward young children in 2016, with a weeks-old infant dying at the hands of her father and a young girl from Fort Edward suffering severe head injuries from an assault among the more serious cases.

Nicholas D. Jones, 25, will serve at least 22 years in state prison for his Oct. 17 guilty plea in the death of his 22-day-old daughter two days after he allegedly shook and threw her in his Johnsburg home.

The baby, Gabriella Rose Jones, died two days after she was hospitalized with severe head injuries that Nicholas Jones inflicted when she woke up and wouldn't stop crying. He confessed to State Police after his daughter was hospitalized at Albany Medical Center.

Nicholas Jones was indicted on second-degree murder and manslaughter charges and accepted a plea deal that resulted in the murder charge being dropped. He apologized during sentencing, though his apology upset some, as it focused more on the impact the death had on him than on the family of his child.

Washington County sheriff's officers were concerned they had another child homicide to investigate when a 4-year-old Fort Edward girl was critically injured in her home Sept. 21.

Kaiden Starr Rice survived a fractured skull and stroke and has made a miraculous recovery, though she still is enduring rehabilitation and has limitations from her injuries.

The woman who allegedly injured her, her stepmother, Marissa Bickford-Rice, 22, has been charged with a felony count of reckless assault of a child and is being held in Washington County Jail pending further court action.

Bickford-Rice was pregnant at the time of the assault and has since given birth to a son, Landon. The Washington County Department of Social Services filed an emergency removal petition, and the child is in the custody of her husband.

Warren County Court will also be the site of a trial Feb. 6 of a registered sex offender who faces 12 felony charges for alleged sexual abuse of three boys. Daryl A. Tucker, 38, of Warrensburg, has pleaded not guilty but could face up to life in state prison if convicted.



Watchdog gets results in 2016: Exposing child sexual and physical abuse

by Lee Rood

A bizarre and shocking child abuse case resulting in a 16-year-old girl starving to death. A pastor's misguided treatment program nearly ending in the death of a young man. Troubled children isolated and abused at a private boarding school. Reports of sexual assaults at Iowa schools not being taken seriously.

The Watchdog column began five years ago with the goal of letting readers decide the direction of some of the Register's investigative and in-depth coverage. My charge, on your behalf, has been to seek answers and accountability — and, if possible, to obtain results — for problems that directly affect your lives.

This year's questions once again have been diverse: What's really behind the erotic massage businesses popping up around the Des Moines metro and the state, and can anything be done? Why did a father who shook an infant get no prison time? Can a contractor really get away with pocketing thousands and not doing the work, without being criminally charged?

Ideally, I'm touching on issues that resonate with many Iowans.

Schools mishandling sexual assaults

This year, the most-read columns dealt with the toughest of topics: America's largely unchecked epidemic of sexual assaults among young people — and the failure of colleges and K-12 schools to handle sexual assault reports as the law requires.

The issue has been a top priority during Barack Obama's eight years in the White House and of immense interest in Iowa as well. Half of 2016's most-read Watchdog columns were part of "Hard Lessons," an exclusive Register series examining what can go wrong — and what has gone wrong — after sexual assaults of students were reported at K-12 schools in Iowa.

One probe in August prompted Valley High School in West Des Moines to revise its policies surrounding sexual assault, seek new legal guidance in affected cases and increase penalties for students who are accused of crimes.

Principal Tim Miller thanked several former sexual assault victims and students who told their stories publicly for the first time to show how the school failed them.

“These improvements would not have been possible if not for the courage of the Valley High School graduates,” Miller said.

A survey of 25 school districts conducted by the Register over the summer showed school officials weren't training key employees how to deal with reports of sexual assault and weren't tracking how the cases were being handled.

Legal experts said districts should be doing both under the state's anti-bullying and sexual harassment law and Title IX, the federal civil rights law.

National stakeholders say they want to pursue ongoing issues pertaining to sexual assaults in K-12 schools.

But with president-elect Donald Trump's ascent to the White House, experts say they don't yet know what, if anything, will happen next.

Starvation death spurs calls for change

Few columns last year agitated readers like the scant details that emerged out of 16-year-old Natalie Finn's death by starvation.

Many Iowans have written and called, wanting to know more about what role police, social workers, private contract workers, school officials, lawyers and judges played in failing to halt the abuse that the West Des Moines teen and at least two of her four siblings allegedly suffered before she died.

Neighbor Becca Gordon wrote the Watchdog Nov. 1 — a week after Finn suffered cardiac arrest Oct. 24 from starving. She had reported many types of abuse to police five months before Natalie died and, like others, was anxious to hear how Finn and her siblings fell through so many cracks.

Local authorities have resisted attempts to release information on the case: West Des Moines police took five weeks to respond to a request for basic information about police trips to Natalie's home. That information has long been public under Iowa law and usually is made available immediately.

At one point, police spokesman Sgt. Anthony Giampolo suggested a subpoena would be needed to obtain it. (Media outlets don't have subpoena power.)

Finally, I appealed to Iowa's Public Information Board for assistance in getting the city to release the information. The next morning, police announced the arrests of Nicole and Joseph Finn II on multiple felony charges related to their daughter's death and the alleged abuse of two of her siblings.

Gov. Terry Branstad has said state Human Services has made "personnel changes" in the case but has not shed more light than that.

State Sen. Matt McCoy, a Democrat from West Des Moines, learned in a confidential briefing Wednesday that numerous reports of abuse or neglect were made regarding the Finn children.

He and other legislators, as well as advocates for abused children, say they believe child-welfare authorities, police and school officials owe them more answers.

Pastor falls from grace

The criminal trial of Kevin Grimes, a Spencer pastor charged with sex abuse after a Watchdog probe in May, has been postponed until Feb. 21, 2017.

Grimes, 51, is accused of sexually exploiting at least three young men he counseled as a minister at Dayspring Assembly of God church in Spencer. He was charged in August with five felony counts of sexual exploitation by a counselor shortly after a Watchdog story into his controversial ministry.

The family of Alex Jacobsen, Grimes' close friend, contacted the Watchdog after the now 27-year-old attempted suicide while participating in Grimes' unregulated faith-based treatment program.

No drugs of any sort, including prescriptions, were allowed at the Discipleship Program Grimes started. The program aimed to heal people of their addictions using Bible study and prayer.

Alex Jacobsen slit his neck with a box cutter inside the residential program at the downtown Dream Center shortly after he stopped taking his medications for depression and anxiety.

Dave Jacobsen reports his son's mental health is better today after a mix of treatments. Alex, he says, is no longer suicidal.

Sexual allegations were made about Grimes before the Watchdog probe was published in May, but the Register newsroom's policy is not to publish such allegations unless criminal charges are filed.

Alex Jacobsen said he was never the victim of sexual abuse by Grimes, but his courage in discussing the unusual friendship the pastor began with him helped prompt others to come forward.

“From the beginning, our goals were to make sure no others had to go through what Alex did and making sure Grimes wasn't harming anyone else. That happened,” Leann Jacobsen, his stepmother, said.

Midwest Academy: Still under scrutiny

State and federal authorities won't say what's going on with the almost yearlong criminal investigation into the owner of a now-defunct boarding school in Keokuk, where children reported widespread abuse.

But a jury trial in the large civil case involving numerous former students and the Midwest Academy remains scheduled for June 27.

The lawsuit accuses the boarding school of fraud, negligent misrepresentation, false imprisonment, battery, assault, negligence, educational malpractice, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring and violations of Iowa's Consumer Fraud Act.

Midwest has been at the center of investigations by the FBI, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and the state's attorney general since it was raided last January. Owner Ben Trane was accused of sexually abusing a student and of fraud, court records showed.

The tough-love private boarding school was one of several around the country for troubled youths begun by the same founders in states with little or no regulation.

Iowa's Department of Human Services found Trane responsible for child abuse last year for failing to properly supervise children who were sexually abused while in his facility's care, according to the lawsuit.

Human Services and the FBI investigated after allegations involving several children were made in April and May 2015. The lawsuit says Trane was placed on the state's central child abuse registry as a result.

Trane appealed that decision, but the outcome is unknown. The registry and appeals are generally confidential under Iowa law.

Trane, 38, is also being sued by a former employee, Cheyenne Jerred, who was fired after reporting abuse.

Lawyer Timothy Semelroth of Cedar Rapids said he and fellow attorney David Ferlerger of Pennsylvania are trying to determine if there's any insurance that would apply to the actions of Trane, Midwest Academy or other defendants in the case. But the process has been made more difficult by the fact that Trane is representing himself, he said.

“We're proceeding. We haven't delayed anything because of what's going on in the criminal cases,” Semelroth said.

Defendants named in the lawsuit are Trane, Midwest Academy, Midwest Twister, Midwest Academy Treatment and the Midwest Academy Scholarship Fund.

The Midwest coverage prompted the introduction of a measure at the Statehouse that would have required Iowa to establish inspections and a certification process for private-pay treatment facilities, assuring basic health, safety and education standards are met, background checks are made, and restrictions on the use of seclusion and restraint are met.

That measure did not advance in the 2016 legislative session.

Viral news: Not the final word

Given the high profile of sexual assault cases nationally, it's no surprise that news of former Valley High School tennis player Nicholas Fifield's likely probation was the most read Watchdog column of 2016.

Fifield's plea agreement in August triggered strong criticism in Iowa and nationally from many who believed, based on what was known at the time, that a young white male athlete accused of sexually assaulting a disabled teen was receiving light punishment.

Polk County Attorney John Sarcone was so upset by the coverage of that public criticism that he vowed he would never be interviewed by Watchdog again.

But the Register didn't cover the Fifield case because it was looking for a story that would go viral. We decided to look into it because other parents in West Des Moines questioned the teen's punishment at the school while his father was his own tennis coach.

We wanted to follow the court case to its conclusion because it mattered to readers, and it was only fair to follow the case to its end. Covering the public criticism was part of the story.

Personally, I would have preferred the nearly 100,000 readers who saw the story online would have read the more in-depth column, penned a month later, that spelled out why the criminal investigation was so complicated.

But that one — only read by about 8,000 readers online — was possible only after parents of both of the mentally disabled teens involved agreed to talk.

Fifield's new attorney is now moving to have the plea agreement thrown out and instead go to a trial.

Unless the facts of the unfortunate case are spelled out in open court, no one will really know what's fair.


United Kingdom

Historical Child Sexual Abuse Case Reopened After BuzzFeed News Investigation

“It's one of the most positive things that has happened in the last 35 years,” said David, who spoke out about being abused at a flat in London's notorious Dolphin Square in the 1980s.

by Patrick Strudwick

The survivor at the centre of a major historical child sexual abuse case has welcomed the decision by Lincolnshire police to reopen the case, following a six-month investigation by BuzzFeed News that raised multiple questions about the original police operation.

David, who asked that only his first name is reported, described the development as “one of the most positive things that has happened in the last 35 years”.

He approached BuzzFeed News in 2015 with concerns about how both Lincolnshire police in 2007 and the Metropolitan police last year investigated his claims. David alleged that Gordon Dawson, a well-connected member of the landed gentry, groomed and raped him aged 15 in Lincolnshire in the early 1980s before taking him on trips to London's Dolphin Square where further abuse took place.

The apartment complex close to Westminster subsequently became embroiled in allegations of sexual abuse by politicians. David revealed that he was taken to dinners with MPs and other powerful figures and said he would awake the next morning in the Dolphin Square flat, in pain and with blood and semen on him that was not his. He still does not know who, other than Dawson, might have been involved.

During our investigation, which unearthed key police files and documents from the inquest into the sudden death of Dawson in 2007 – he was found dead less than two hours after a police officer warned him he was to be arrested – it emerged that several other men had also come forward. Some alleged Dawson abused them when they were as young as 5 years old.

Many of the files supported David's testimony, such as his concerns that Dawson had been warned of his impending arrest on two occasions. David also alleged that he had advised police during their investigation to remove firearms from Dawson's private gun collection, but they failed to do so, and amid the investigation, Dawson was found dead with a rifle next to him.

Within two weeks of the BuzzFeed News investigation being published, Marc Jones, the police and crime commissioner for Lincolnshire, said “there are lessons the force can and must learn” and Detective Superintendent Rick Hatton, head of Lincolnshire police's public protection unit, apologised to survivors.

Keith Best, the chief executive of Survivors UK, the group for abuse victims, supported David's calls for the case to be re-investigated, citing “grave errors” by Lincolnshire police, while leading criminal lawyer Nigel Richardson described the police interventions at the time as “odd”, “irregular”, and “unusual” for an “allegation of this seriousness”.

Now, six months later, Lincolnshire police have started re-examining the original investigation carried out during 2006 and 2007. Details of this new probe are not currently being shared but BuzzFeed News understands that several lines of inquiry surrounding the case are being pursued.

Hatton, who is also head of Lincolnshire Police's public protection unit, told BuzzFeed News: “Lincolnshire Police have reviewed the original file and spoken further with [David]. As a result of this, investigations are ongoing into the original allegation and further details that have come to light.”

“What's happening now is very encouraging,” David told BuzzFeed News. He added that he hoped the fresh investigation would unearth “as many answers as possible” and that he was “very surprised” that the case is being re-examined “because it's been so hard to get here”.

Frustrated with Lincolnshire police, who had closed the investigation following Dawson's death in 2007, David responded to a request by the Metropolitan police in late 2014 for anyone who had been abused in Dolphin Square to come forward. After interviewing David, the Met declined to investigate further, prompting his decision to contact BuzzFeed News.



Protecting our children; Hamilton woman wants to help children emerge from shadows of sexual abuse by learning to speak out

by Perry Backus

Tara Walker Lyons had no idea what to expect when she took the stage at the Poplar High School a few weeks back.

She had traveled across the state to talk to students about a subject that no one wants to consider.

“I thought maybe I would look out and see all these little lights as they checked out their cell phones,” the Hamilton mother said.

Instead, as she told her story of being sexually abused at the age of six and the challenges she has faced since then, Lyons said that all eyes in that room were fixed on her.

She knew that they felt and understood her pain.

Poplar High School Principal Dwain Haggard wrote Lyons a letter of recommendation after that day.

“I don't believe I have ever seen my students so transfixed as Ms. Lyons told of her experiences and struggles as a child abuse survivor,” Haggard wrote.

When that talk came to an end, Haggard said several students asked to speak to counselors. One even stepped forward before the presentation was done.

“Ms. Lyons' story was full of pain and passion and touched us all to our very core,” Haggard wrote. “Her journey is a lonely journey that so many kids are experiencing and it's a journey that Ms. Lyons has had the courage to share for the good of others.”

Haggard encouraged other school leaders to provide her a chance to speak in their own communities.

“Many of our children are at risk in the very place they should feel the safest, their homes,” Haggard wrote. “Worst of all, they have no idea how to deal with the abuse. Ms. Lyons' message provides the guidance and insight to help our kids deal with this worst of crimes.”

Lyons believes there is only way to stop this crime against children that most people want to think is just not possible.

“We have to find a way to bring it into the light,” Lyons said. “We have to provide children with a chance to make it stop.”

On Tuesday, Lyons will go to Helena in hopes of finding a champion for that cause.

She will spend the day meeting with state legislators with the hope of convincing at least one to carry a bill that Lyons is certain will change the lives of children destined to cross paths with sexual predators.

In her hand, she'll carry a copy of Erin's Law.

Named for a childhood sexual assault survivor -- author, speaker and activist Erin Merryn -- the law requires all public schools to implement a prevention-orientated child sexual abuse program that teaches kids that they're not the ones who are doing something wrong.

The grades K-12 curriculum teaches age-appropriate techniques that help children recognize child sexual abuse and encourages them to reach out to a trusted adult to make it stop.

Montana is one of six states in the country that doesn't have something like Erin's Law in place to protect its children from sexual abuse.

There are 26 states that have already implemented the law. Another 17 are working through the process.

Sarah Grande of Rocker believes that had that program been implemented in Montana, her daughter may have been spared the abuse she suffered at the hands of a Hamilton man.

“That's not something that you think is going to happen to your child,” Grande said. “My daughter told me later that the schools teach you seven ways of saying no to drugs. Why don't they teach how to get help when this happens to you?

“She told me if I would have known, I would have talked to someone the first time it happened,” Grande said. “Children don't know what to do. They have zero life experience in trying to deal with a situation like that.”

The girl's abuser, Justin Gale Walker of Hamilton, was sentenced to prison in November 2015.

Grande's daughter, Elianah, turned 11 this past November.

She – like Lyons – has decided that she won't be silent about what happened to her. If she gets the chance, Grande said her daughter will stand right alongside Lyons when it comes time to testify in favor of Erin's Law.

Grande said the choice of stepping forward was entirely her daughter's.

“I would have stopped when he went to jail,” she said. “I thought at that point, it was pretty much done for us. We were all emotionally exhausted.”

But Elianah learned about Lyons' efforts to bring this crime out of the shadows.

“She saw her standing up for people who can't stand up for themselves,” Grande said. “She wanted to be part of that.”

She has already spoken before a legislative committee. Her efforts have earned her an invitation to an ambassador leadership program that will be held in July at Harvard.

“She wants to become a judge,” Grande said. “There is something in her that I believe will change a lot of things in this world…Elianah means ‘Gift from God.'”

Grande saw the impact that Elianah's testimony had on the legislative committee.

“When you're an adult, that innocence of childhood is gone,” Grande said. “People have a hard time seeing you as a child. Elianah knows that she can make a difference if given the chance. She's told me that if I ever tell anyone no, that she was going to be upset with me. She wants that choice to be hers.”

Lyons hopes that she and Elianah will be given the chance to tell to their stories to the Legislature while talking about the need for Erin's Law.

Kierstin Schmitt of Emma's House Children's Advocacy Center knows the chances for children to fully recover from the trauma caused by sexual abuse can be hastened by early disclosures.

“We feel like there are a lot of children who come here who express the feeling that if someone had talked to them, they would have disclosed what happened to them sooner,” Schmitt said. “They would have been able to get help sooner.”

There is science that shows that adverse childhood experiences of abuse or neglect can lead to very serious health and emotional impacts later in a person's life.

“Childhood sexual abuse has been a taboo subject for a very long time,” Schmitt said. “It's not spoken about in public very often. If we can just open up that dialogue and get these kids some help early on, there's a better chance of recovery and breaking this cycle.”

Lyons has played a key role in taking that first step of breaking down those doors.

“She speaks clearly about her experience and the direct impacts that it's had on her life,” Schmitt said. “She is passionate and poised and truly embodies the experience of a sexually abused child who has risen up to become a survivor.”

State Attorney General Tim Fox called Lyons his hero on a radio program recently.

“Sexual abuse is an atrocity that is far too common in this day and age,” Fox said, in a statement. “It's an abhorrent crime under any circumstance, but is even worse when it involves children.

“Combating sexual abuse is a top priority for the Montana Department of Justice, and the work of individuals like Tara is an invaluable component to the larger effort of preventing kids from enduring such horrendous circumstances,” he said. “Tara should be commended for the work she does.”



'He almost beat me': One man's triumph after falling victim to child sex abuser

by Ava Benny-Morrison

As Jason Gustavs sat in a psychiatric ward for the umpteenth time, the teenager penned a letter to his parents.

He explained why his adolescence had been marred by the erratic and withdrawn behaviour that had repeatedly landed him in mental health facilities and police cells.

He revealed he had been sexually abused by a man who lived only 500 metres from their family home. That man was Andre Hendricks, a South African-born aspiring photographer who posed as a talent scout to lure young men to his Cronulla unit, coaxing them with cannabis and alcohol.

On the back of the letter Mr Gustavs then wrote a suicide note before trying to take his own life.

Speaking to the 28-year-old now, it is hard to fathom how this determined, passionate but clearly affected man felt that his abuser had triumphed over him.

"You know, he almost beat me," he said, seated at the dining table of his parents' Cronulla home.

In December, Hendricks, who was employed as a support officer at a Hurstville boys school before his arrest, was found guilty of abusing Mr Gustavs and another boy between 2002 and 2005.

Mr Gustavs asked that Fairfax Media identify him, contrary to the usual practice of not disclosing the identity of child sexual abuse victims.

It is one of the steps he is taking to break the taboo around child sexual abuse experiences and to encourage others to come forward.

While Hendricks was convicted on 10 child sex offences committed against two people, police believe there may be other victims.

Hendricks' trial in the Sydney District Court heard how he would drive around Cronulla with teenage boys listening to rap music before taking them back to his unit to drink and smoke.

For some boys, Hendricks took their photographs. For one victim, he put on a pornographic video before subjecting him to sexual assault.

When Miranda detectives raided his unit in 2015, they found dozens of photographs of teenage boys, dating back 15 years.

Hendricks claimed in his evidence during his trial that his two victims made up the allegations he sexually assaulted them as minors. He argued he had consensual sex with them when they were over 16.

Mr Gustavs was 13 when a friend introduced him to Hendricks, who was then 30.

After a few hours drinking at Hendricks' place and listening to music, Mr Gustavs accepted Hendricks' offer to stay and "sober up".

He woke up not long after to find Hendricks sexually assaulting him.

"I got up and ran out of there," said Mr Gustavs, now an operations assistant at a Sydney hospital.

"I got home and then I started receiving calls on my mobile from a private number. I answered the first one and I heard his voice and that's when all the threats started happening."

Mr Gustavs said Hendricks threatened to kill his family, rape his sisters and torture his father if he told about what happened.

He was compelled to return to Hendricks' home, fearing what would happen to his loving and supportive family.

It was at this point that the life of this intelligent, athletic 13-year-old, who was top of his class, started to unravel.

"That put me into a catatonic state," he explained.

"My mouth and my lips all dried up, I couldn't remember how to brush my teeth, I couldn't communicate, I couldn't go to school.

"I think I spent close to three years in a psych ward."

He remained tight-lipped about the abuse, spiralling deeper into mental instability and depending more on cannabis as a means to escape.

Over the next decade he was forced to co-exist in the same community as his abuser. Mr Gustavs would cross Hendricks at the shopping centre, field his grooming phone calls and cringe when he saw him walking with another young boy in Cronulla.

A doctor diagnosed Mr Gustavs with bipolar disorder at 14 and it was assumed he was yet another teenager suffering drug-induced psychosis.

He dropped out of school in year 10 and was charged with drug supply at 18.

A few days after another psychiatric ward admission, he committed an armed robbery. His parents were at pains to understand what had caused their son's life to change so dramatically.

At one point his father, Stephen, who remains Mr Gustavs' best mate, asked his son: "has someone gotten to you?"

It was only after someone confided in him about a similar experience that Mr Gustavs, at 21, opened up about his abuse.

"I always had blamed myself before then thinking well, I was 13 and bulletproof, and why did I keep going back?" he said.

"The good years of my life were taken from me. I still feel like that."

After many turbulent years, 2016 marked Mr Gustavs' best 12 months yet. The Sharks took out the NRL premiership, he married the "woman of his dreams" and was served justice on December 20 when Hendricks was found guilty.

Anyone with further information is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.


United Kingdom

Rise in reports of child abuse and neglect to NSPCC helpline

The charity warns vulnerable children are at greater risk in December because they do not have the safety net of going to school.

by Sky News

Newly released figures show there were 1,129 calls from people concerned about neglected children in December 2015 - a 60% increase compared with December 2011.

Reports of child sexual abuse increased by 54% over the same period, while reports about emotional abuse were up by 44%.

According to the NSPCC, vulnerable children are often at a heightened risk of abuse in December because they do not have the safety net of the school environment during the Christmas break.

The charity is urging the public to look out for signs of neglect in children - such as if they frequently appear to be poorly clothed and dirty, or if they try to steal food.

Children who are being abused may have physical injuries, appear to be more withdrawn than usual or may be frightened of certain adults.

The NSPCC has also released transcripts of two of the calls it received to its helpline.

One caller made contact to raise concerns about the wellbeing of children who lived nearby, and said: "The mother is holding parties around the house all the time with male strangers in and out of the family home.

"Sometimes I can smell drugs from the house and I know the children are inside.

"The children are always dirty and look undernourished. I'm really worried for them and I feel helpless."

Another person expressed concern about a young girl she knew who had said "worrying things" about what was happening when she stayed with a male relative.

That caller said: "I think she might be being sexually abused. She recently told me about a game they play at bedtime where her and the adult male get under the covers and that it's their little secret.

"She has become much more withdrawn in the last year and I wonder if this is the reason. I have tried to raise the concern with family members, but they tell me to mind my own business."

The chief executive of the NSPCC, Peter Wanless, said: "It's deeply worrying that we are seeing an increase in reports about abuse, but it's positive that people are vigilant and reporting any concerns they might have about the welfare of a child rather than standing by."


United Kingdom

Child abuse in sport and the progress made towards eradicating it

Child protection expert Celia Brackenridge says UK sport was beset by a culture of ignorance and denial until the 1990s but it now sets the gold standard

by David Conn

In a neatly maintained archive of papers held in the library at Brunel University, the pioneering campaigner for action to prevent sexual abuse in sport Prof Celia Brackenridge compiled a catalogue of horrific cases that came to court in the 1990s. Included in the files is a note on the Channel 4 Dispatches programme that in 1997 exposed several instances of abuse in football.

Tragically the Brackenridge archive comprises reports of convictions for serious and sustained sexual abuse across many sports at a time, so recent, when there was no dedicated child protection safeguarding, nor even basic checking of coaches for criminal records, as British sports have in place today. Some abusers who were finally convicted, usually after victims came forward years later as adults, had committed crimes for decades. Convictions in football included Jim Torbett of the Celtic boys club where Alan Brazil, later a Scotland international and now a radio presenter, was one of the victims and witnesses. There were cases of abuse, reported here and in Canada, the US, Australia and Germany, in athletics, gymnastics, sailing, karate, squash, diving and – most notoriously at the time – swimming.

It was the 1995 conviction and 17-year prison sentence for offences including rape and indecent assault handed down to Paul Hickson, who had been coach to the GB swimming team at the 1984 and 1988 Olympics, which generated most media coverage and finally prompted sports to make child protection a priority. It is shocking now, after the harrowing experiences recalled by former footballers in recent weeks, with the Metropolitan police becoming the 22nd force to launch an investigation into historical allegations, to look back at how little was in place. The lawyer Malcolm Johnson of the firm BL Claims, a specialist in abuse cases, explains that sport was not included in child welfare laws that applied to local authority education and care settings, and says of the decades up to reforms of the late 1990s: “In short, anyone could have unrestricted access to young people in intimate settings; systems to identify potential abusers were rudimentary.”

In that vast sporting landscape, which was in hindsight terrifyingly open to abusers, the FA's own inquiry, led by Clive Sheldon QC, will examine how the FA itself, and professional and amateur football clubs who owed the primary duty of care to their young players, behaved and responded to concerns. Given that Chelsea required a confidentiality clause to prevent their former player Gary Johnson from talking about the abuse he suffered, as part of the £50,000 settlement agreed only last year, it seems highly probable that the authorities will be found to have been deficient. The lament of the former Charlton Athletic player Russell Davy, that he did not receive even an acknowledgment from the FA of a letter he wrote to its Lancaster Gate HQ, addressed “to whom it may concern”, warning about the abuser Eddie Heath, grimly replicates the FA's inaction over letters from supporters in the 1980s warning of crushing at Hillsborough. This was a governing body that hosted an FA Cup semi-final in 1989, after prior crushes and warnings, at which 96 people were killed.

Brackenridge, who is seriously ill with leukaemia, has written extensively about a culture of ignorance, denial, ridicule of complainants, “minimisation and obfuscation” which too often characterised the response to allegations of sexual abuse from sporting authorities who believed they were providing a virtuous service to society. Yet over recent weeks, as the former players have come forward, historical abusers and scandals have been serially exposed and the victims' suffering heard as never before, Brackenridge has found herself frustrated that the scale of progress since the 1990s has not been sufficiently acknowledged.

“In the 1990s awareness of child protection needs was low, political will was lacking and expertise related to sport was virtually zero, but it was not just football; these cases will be found in every sport,” Brackenridge told the Guardian. “In 2001 the NSPCC formed the Child Protection in Sport Unit (CPSU), and excellent work has been done, although we can never say the problem has been eradicated. I am definitely not an apologist for the FA but I would argue that for the child protection work they do now, they are the leading sports governing body in the world.”

Even the experience in 2003, when her review of the early years of the FA's child protection work was stopped because of cuts at the organisation, was not the failure it has been painted, she says. In her book, Spoilsports, she said there had been “demonstrable improvement in the impact of child protection in the game” and that two years from the end of the research project, child protection was growing, 53,000 people had been Criminal Record Bureau-checked and more than 140,000 attended child protection training.

The foundation of the CPSU, which developed mandatory safeguarding structures for all the UK's main sports, was a reaction to the scandals and convictions of the 1990s. After Hickson's conviction in January 1996, the governing bodies of swimming, diving, athletics and gymnastics met at the then Sports Council, since renamed Sport England, with the NSPCC and the National Coaching Foundation (NCF), to discuss the need for regulatory child protection in sport.

Sue Ravenlaw, who worked for the NCF, moved to the FA in 2000 to work on implementing child protection procedures and is now head of equality and safeguarding at the organisation, which is responsible overall for millions of people who play football. The Premier and Football Leagues have their own safeguarding policies and procedures for their academies and centres of excellence, working to similar agreed standards developed at the same time.

In response to the revelations by so many former footballers at all levels of the game alleging historical abuse, the FA said last week that 99% of its 7,814 grassroots clubs, covering 62,238 teams, had responded to a deadline to renew their safeguarding policies and commitment. Those that had failed to do so, which did not mean they were failing to abide by their policies, were nevertheless suspended from football until they comply.

Ravenlaw says that Tony Pickerin, the former head of the FA's national school at Lilleshall, became “alarmed” in the 1990s at the criminal cases of abuse being exposed in the courts and initiated the development of proper procedures. Pickerin was made head of child protection and equity at the FA largely because as a teacher and head of the school, he had experience of legally required safeguarding.

“People realised that sport was providing massive access to children with no safeguarding structure in place,” Ravenlaw explained. “Everybody was shocked and realised this abusive behaviour had to be addressed.”

While the media can fairly be accused of largely under-reporting the stream of cases including those raised by Dispatches, and not campaigning coherently for child protection in sport until a few weeks ago, in fact governing bodies, the NSPCC and Sport England did respond to the 1990s scandals and for 15 years have been radically improving their approach. The CPSU, formed after a taskforce led by the NSPCC and Sport England, requires all sports that qualify for grant funding to adhere to national child protection standards. Brackenridge says that this “financial lever” was, perhaps sadly, “a major turning point in securing compliance”.

One of the most gaping flaws in the legal framework previously, that criminal record checks were not widely available except for schools and other local-authority-run institutions, did not fully change until late 2003, when the FA had to apply for eligibility to run checks, Ravenlaw said. Brackenridge's research team was given access to analyse 132 cases of investigations run by Pickerin's department at Lilleshall between April 1999 and August 2002 and found that 16 involved people operating in youth football who had, or were alleged to have, a record of sex or violent offending. The cases included 14 of alleged sexual abuse, only 10.6% of the total; alleged physical, emotional abuse and bullying accounted for the largest proportion, almost 60% of cases. The research found that of the 132 cases 38 led to a criminal or social services investigation, with seven resulting in criminal convictions, while six led to dismissal from football.

Ravenlaw cautions against any idea that a criminal records check constitutes child protection, explaining that it is now a basic first requirement and safeguards only against people who have previously offended.

“If you understand child sexual offending and abuse of power, the number of people with a conviction is tiny compared to those who pose a risk of harm,” she explained. “The most important element for us is the education programme, building a culture about safeguarding, making football more child-centred, listening to children, being more aware of signs and indicators that might mean there is a problem.”

She points to the nationwide upgrading of youth football from the free-for-all that existed up to the 1990s; all FA-affiliated clubs are now required to have criminal records checks run on their coaches and adopt the recommended safeguarding policies. At charter standard clubs, in which 80% of youth football is now played, coaches have to be qualified to at least level one, which includes safeguarding and ongoing education. Every county FA has a designated safeguarding officer to be responsible for education and overseeing the implementation and working of child protection across a region.

The Premier League has been emphasising that it has embedded safeguarding in its academy structures, which take large numbers of children in for training from the age of seven, a system that followed the FA's charter for quality report in 1997. Although concerns are regularly raised that the academy system professionalises football far too young and that the rejection rate and aftercare for young people from academies is unacceptable, in terms of child protection, the Premier League clubs have followed the CPSU standards for more than a decade. Clubs must employ a full-time head of safeguarding, an academy safeguarding officer and community safeguarding officer, and a board member must also be responsible. The Football League's policies and practices are similar, including ongoing education and training.

“Training for clubs identifies that all disclosures of abuse or concerns about people who may pose a risk of harm to children must be referred to the appropriate statutory agencies and to the FA,” a Football League spokesman said. “Clubs have a responsibility to deal with low-level, poor-practice issues brought to their attention.”

The leagues and FA acknowledge this cannot mean they have excluded sexual or other abuse from a sport played by 1.8m people every week but they have, undeniably, overhauled child protection since 2001 and do take it very seriously. In 2011 the NSPCC ran a major survey of young people's experience in sport which found that, although the majority found it a positive experience, 75% had suffered emotional abuse, 29% sexual harassment, 24% physical abuse and 3% sexual abuse. Brackenridge's colleague at Brunel, Daniel Rhind, led a team that researched 652 safeguarding cases being run by 41 sports in 2011. It found that 134 of the cases, almost 21%, involved alleged physical abuse, while 124 cases, 19%, concerned accusations of sexual abuse, defined as “enticing or forcing a child to engage in sexual activity”. Almost half the cases concerned behaviour by people outside sport, which led Rhind to conclude that sport can be a healthy environment in which young people may confide in adults about issues they are confronting in their daily lives. Rhind did, though, highlight difficulties governing bodies have in pursuing cases, with some lacking the resources and expertise, and said there was “a significant training need”.

He and Brackenridge emphasise that the fact there are cases being pursued is an encouraging sign and they caution against sports believing they can eradicate abuse or abusers.

“When you put safeguarding in place, the number of cases goes up and I see that as reassuring,” Rhind said. “There are paedophiles in society, they are often very manipulative; they have to win the trust and almost groom the sport itself, the club, parents, before they can get to children. No system is perfect but the aim is to catch people early in the process and deal with it.”

Worldwide, Rhind said, the FA is seen as a leading sports governing body for child protection and the system put in place since the CPSU was formed in 2001 as a “gold standard” model other countries can follow. International standards for safeguarding in sport, developed for Unicef, largely follow this English model, Rhind said, for many countries in the world that still have nothing in place. That prompts the terrifying thought that the horrendous experiences of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s now being recalled by traumatised former footballers in England are being suffered by young people in sport right now, in many countries all over the world.



Alert Uber driver saves girl from alleged sex traffickers

by Fox 40 Sacramento

Elk Grove, Calif., police are crediting Uber driver Keith Avila for helping rescue a girl out of sex trafficking -- a girl he gave a ride to in his car, along with her two suspected female pimps on Monday night.

"They started like talking, like saying everything that was going on. Like what they're doing, child sex trafficking," Avila said.

Avila says he had just picked up the two women and a 16-year-old girl from Sacramento and brought them to the Holiday Inn in Elk Grove, where the two women allegedly pimped the girl out to a man for sex.

Minutes after dropping them off at the hotel, he called police for help.

"Police arrived fast. They don't play. They do not play. Not when you're doing child sex trafficking," he said.

Police arrested the two women, Destiny Pettway and Maria Westly, for various charges relating to pimping and pandering.

Avila says it was the conversation between the adult women and the girl who tipped him off to the alleged crime that was about to go down.

"'You're gonna hug them, you're gonna pat them down, make sure they don't have no weapons. You ask him, "Do you have any weapons?" And then ask for the donations. Say "Do you have my donation?" Get the donation first. And then before you go in and do anything, get the donation first.'"

And all the while, Avila says the victim was obviously just a kid.

"I looked at her in the eyes. She had this face of innocence, and like insecure," he said.



An eavesdropping Uber driver saved his 16-year-old passenger from her pimps, police say

by Avi Selk

(Video on site)

Uber driver Keith Avila picked up a passenger who looked like a 12-year-old girl in a short skirt on Monday night. That was the first sign that something was off, he would say later.

Two women got into his car with the girl outside a house in Sacramento. Halfway to their destination — a Holiday Inn in Elk Grove, Calif. — they asked Avila to turn up the music, he said.

Then the women turned to the girl. Avila listened in.

“They were describing what they were going to do when they get there: ‘Check for guns. Get the money before you start touching up on the guy,'” Avila said on Facebook Live minutes after he dropped off the passengers, then called police to report the women whom he suspected of prostituting the child.

The girl was 16, not 12, Elk Grove police told local news outlets. But Avila's suspicions were right, they said. The teen was being sold for sex at the Holiday Inn, and her eavesdropping Uber driver had saved her.

A 34-year-old husband, father and quinceañera photographer by day, Avila had started driving for Uber just a few weeks earlier, the Daily Beast reported. Monday's fare made him an instant celebrity.

“The police is just right there; look at that!” Avila said in the Facebook video, as blue lights flashed in his rear windshield.

Outside, in the hotel parking lot, police were arresting Destiny Pettway, 25, and Maria Westley, 31, on charges of pimping and threatening a minor.

“I told police, ‘If you don't come, I'm going to go in there myself and take pictures of these guys,'” Avila said on Facebook. “That's not a good life, to be under the control of another human being for the purpose of sex trafficking.”

He said he even gave police the hotel room number after overhearing the girl call her john, “probably some douche-bag pervert,” he said.

Police said they caught Disney Vang, 20, in the hotel and “determined that [he] had been involved in unlawful sexual activity with the victim.” Vang was arrested and charged.

“What Keith did is incredible,” an Uber spokeswoman told The Washington Post in a statement. “We appreciate his quick response and professionalism in a difficult situation.”

Avila broadcast from the arrest scene for 10 minutes on Monday, until an officer beckoned him out of his car to help pick the suspected pimps out of a lineup. His video has been viewed more than 185,000 times since then, and the photographer-turned-Uber driver has become a public hero.

“He could have said nothing and gone on his way and collected his fare,” Elk Grove police spokesman Christopher Trim told Fox affiliate KTXL. “And that 16-year-old victim would have been victimized by who knows how many different people.”

The girl — apparently a runaway — was taken “to an alternative housing location,” according to the authorities.

“She was reunited with her family,” Avila told the Daily Beast. “I felt kind of good about that.”

In 2010, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's president told Congress that at least 100,000 American children, mostly runaways, were prostituted each year — although The Washington Post's Fact Checker found scant evidence to support that figure.

Whatever the exact number of victims, prostitution has long concerned American leaders.

In a 2012 speech, President Obama said such human trafficking “ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity.”

“When a little girl is sold by her impoverished family — girls my daughters' age — runs away from home, or is lured by the false promises of a better life, and then imprisoned in a brothel and tortured if she resists, that's slavery,” Obama said. “It is barbaric, and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world.”

And yet, the president noted, it “also goes on right here .. The teenage girl, beaten, forced to walk the streets. This should not be happening in the United States of America.”

Last year, at a news conference to discuss a federal anti-trafficking initiative, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch noted that “human traffickers prey on some of the most vulnerable members of our society to exploit them for labor, for sex and for servitude of all kinds. Their crimes, appropriately described as modern-day slavery, have no place in a nation that has overcome the scourge of slavery.”



Push coming for mandatory sexual abuse awareness training in Iowa schools

Erin's Law to be proposed, again, in 2017 legislative session

by Makala Tendall

Some Iowa children might not know how to recognize an inappropriate physical touch. A few Iowa groups and legislators are looking to change that.

For the second year, Rep. Greg Heartsill, R-Chariton, and the Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking are looking to draft and pass a bill that would make it mandatory for Iowa's public school educators and students to undergo sexual abuse awareness training.

The bill, which didn't make it past the education committee last year, is based off Erin's Law, an organization founded by childhood sexual abuse survivor and activist Erin Merryn. The law, itself requires that all public schools implement a prevention-oriented child sexual abuse program that teaches:

l All students age-appropriate techniques to recognize child sexual abuse and tell a trusted adult.

l School personnel about child sexual abuse.

l Parents or guardians the warning signs of child sexual abuse and how to find resources to help children overcome abuse.

The bill was first passed in Merryn's home state of Illinois, and similar laws have since been passed in 26 states.


In Iowa, school districts have the choice whether students go through sexual abuse awareness training.

Many schools have “good touch, bad touch” training when a trained educator goes into a classroom and talks to students about how to recognize a “good touch,” such as a hug, handshake or pat on the back, versus a “bad touch” that leaves a child feeling uncomfortable, threatened, embarrassed or confused.

The Cedar Rapids Community School District contracts with St. Lukes Child Protection Center to have students undergo sexual abuse training three times between kindergarten and fifth-grade, said Marcia Hughes, community relations supervisor for the district.

The Child Protection Center's Safetouch program teaches children to recognize and say ‘no' to bad or confusing touches, understand where their private areas are and to use the correct names of private parts so they don't feel uncomfortable telling a trusted adult about inappropriate touches.

George Belitsos, director of the Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking, said making the training mandatory for all public schools ensures all students are aware.

“A lot of schools don't have that program,” Belitsos said. “It would empower young people to know what is right behavior and what is wrong behavior. When someone is exploiting them, it gives them an avenue to disclose. It's important because young people who are being exploited frequently feel guilt.”

Heartsill said Erin's law would give kids an opportunity to prevent or disclose abuse.

“A lot of kids who go to school know to stop, drop and roll and say no to drugs,” Heartsill said. “They know very little where to turn if they're abused or molested.”

Ruth Buckels, who is involved in the Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking and works at Youth and Shelter Services in Ames, also backs a future bill.

“We want school staff trained to be an askable adult,” Buckels said. “Sometimes the kids don't feel comfortable during the presentation to stick their hands up. Kids need to know whatever their swimming suit covers is private to them. They have the right to their own body. If anybody other than their pediatrician with their permission tries to touch them, who do they tell?”


Heartsill said one of the main reasons the bill died last session is because educators are wary of adding mandatory training initiatives without receiving additional state funds. He said he now knows of a new federal funding possibility that would appease educators' concerns.

In December 2015, three U.S. senators passed a bill that would provide federal funding to schools for sexual abuse training. Schools must apply for the funding.

Buckels said parents are also often reluctant for children to undergo training about sexual abuse. While she said it would be ideal for parents to teach kids about the topic, Buckels — a foster parent to six children who had previously been victims of sex trafficking — said she knows some remain unprotected.

“Even foster parents, we're told that's not our role,” Buckels said. “We're not to discuss sexual issues or sexual touching because that's the job of the therapist or another social worker. We can't say, ‘Did you know that nobody gets to touch your body without your permission?'

“If you're in an unsafe situation and the person you're supposed to be telling, you can't reach maybe because you're too young or you don't have a phone or the parent is always standing right there, those youth don't have a voice either.”

Buckels said the training schools implement should be research-based, and parents could be allowed to receive training before kids so they understand that the explanations of sexual abuse are not graphic.

“You can do this so many ways to take the fear out of it,” Buckels said. “I think people get so fearful of the backlash that they stagnate and do nothing. What we're learning is that kids don't have the knowledge to ask the questions.

“We're just trying to find a nonthreatening, non-invasive way to have those kids backed up by somebody else.”



Elementary Teacher and Husband Said They Didn't Think ‘They Did Any Harm' After Child Sex Abuse Was Revealed

by Chris Harris

After learning in August that they were being investigated for the sexual abuse of several teens, a Minnesota elementary school teacher and his husband got a gun from a relative and fled the state. Before Aric Babbitt and Matthew Deyo were found dead days later in Washington, in an apparent murder-suicide, they sent a note back to their families defending themselves, according to newly released police documents.

The letter said the couple knew they would be painted “as monsters” once police made public the details of the evidence recovered from their home, according to an investigative file obtained by PEOPLE. The letter said “they do not believe that they did any harm, nor did they intend any hurt,” according to the documents.

The couple “chose to end their lives ‘rather than losing their lives through the courts, loss of employment, loss of freedom and public humiliation,' ” the documents state.

The newly released records — made available this week after South St. Paul, Minnesota, police concluded their investigation into Babbitt and Deyo — detail a fuller scope of the serial child abuse perpetrated by the couple over more than a year. Citing victim statements, photos and videos and other evidence, police say Babbitt and Deyo sexually abused eight minors, mostly boys.

They provided the victims with alcohol and marijuana before sodomizing them, according to investigators. A search of the couple's residence turned up electronic devices containing numerous images of their victims — all in various states of undress.

“This is a terrible tragedy for everyone involved,” South St. Paul police Cmdr. Phil Oeffling told the Pioneer Press.

Babbitt, 40, was a fourth-grade teacher at Lincoln Center Elementary School in South St. Paul. He Deyo, 36, preyed on children over the course of three years, taking them to Minneapolis hotels and a private cabin for sexual encounters, according to the police investigation.

The documents show how the couple had a hidden camera concealed within an alarm clock in their home, which secretly recorded their abuse. Other videos discovered by authorities show the couple's victims showering.

Detectives also recovered messages between Babbitt and Deyo indicating the couple planned some of the sexual assaults — and groomed the victims.

“Should I be expecting a scantily clad 40 yo and [redacted] to give me some hugs and kisses this weekend?,” Deyo asked in one message, according to the documents. “I just want to be able to hug and snuggle [redacted] for a couple mins without [redacted] feeling awkward.”

Babbitt responded, “You just need to grab him and make [redacted] sit on your lap every once in awhile. Also, if [redacted] all snuggled up on the couch or bed or something you just have to snuggle up next to [redacted].”

“Make sure the alarm clock ends up somewhere good,” Deyo wrote in another message, according to the documents.

Aric Babbitt

A police investigation was opened into Babbitt and Deyo on Aug. 14, when a 16-year-old boy and his parents came forward about the abuse. The couple fled Minnesota two days later — after police searched their home and informed them of the sexual abuse allegations.

Before heading for Washington, they told a relative they were going camping and asked to borrow his gun, according to the documents.

A week later — on Aug. 25 — the couple was found dead on Lopez Island in Washington after Deyo's parents received the suicide note from the couple, postmarked Aug. 21.

In September, the families of Babbitt and Deyo released a joint statement to PEOPLE, saying they were “devastated by the pain and suffering” the couple caused.

Deyo's father, Richard, echoed that when speaking to PEOPLE, saying “We are devastated by the impact on the family of the victims that are affected by their reported actions.” Richard that he didn't want further attention called to either family so as not to distract from the victims. For that reason, he declined to say more.

“Our families want to express the sincere grief and sadness we are feeling for the innocent people affected by the actions of Aric Babbitt and Matthew Deyo,” the families said in their statement, adding, “We pray for the healing of those families involved.”

South St. Paul Schools Superintendent Dave Webb told PEOPLE via email, “As a school district, we strive provide a safe and secure learning environment for our students … This has been very hard on our entire South St. Paul community.”

Webb cited several changes the district had made during the school year, including providing grief and mental health counseling to staff and students and partnering with groups such as the Jacob Wetterling Foundation and local churches.

The district said earlier this month it had completed its own internal investigation into Babbitt's sexual abuse, according to the Pioneer Press . But Webb told the paper the report could not be released as it was being held in “anticipation of a pending civil legal action.” He did not respond to PEOPLE's questions about those comments.

The school district's attorney tells PEOPLE that no suit has been filed but did not comment further.



Kids Ages 4, 5 and 6 Allegedly Locked in Room for Months and May Have Eaten Paint to Survive: Prosecutors

by Johnny Dodd

Prosecutors say three young children in rural Pennsylvania are lucky to be alive after police recently rescued them from a locked room in their home where they'd allegedly been kept for three months — wasting away — with no heat and little food.

“The door to the room was locked from the outside and the paint on the wall was peeled off at the height of the kids,” Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico tells PEOPLE. “We theorize they'd been peeling it off in order to eat it.”

“This is a horrific case that almost led to the death of three children,” Marsico says.

The children — ages 4, 5 and 6 — were taken from the home of Brandi and Joshua Weyant in Halifax Township, Pennsylvania, on Dec. 16 and rushed to a nearby hospital.

Two of the siblings were days away from death, authorities say.

The Weyants are being held in jail on $1 million bail and are charged with aggravated assault, conspiracy, false imprisonment, unlawful restraint and child endangerment.

The couple's court-appointed attorney did not return phone calls from PEOPLE.

All three of the children were severely malnourished, underweight and, according to the court documents, their skin was covered with urine, feces, animal hair and dirt.

“They were allowed to essentially waste away in a locked room without any nourishment while, at the same time, animals in the house were well fed,” says Marsico, who adds that the couple is looking at “years in prison” if convicted of the charges against them.

Authorities first became aware of the situation at the couple's home after a social services worker visited the residence on Dec. 15 to check in on an occupant in the house. Marsico says that when the worker spotted one of the children, they immediately sensed something was wrong and the police were contacted.

Brandi, 38, allegedly blamed the abuse on her husband, according to court documents. She told investigators that no one besides she and Joshua had seen the children since this summer, the documents allege — explaining that “she couldn't leave the house with them ” once they “began to look as they do now.”

Brandi also allegedly told caseworkers that she didn't believe any of the children are “biologically” related to her or her husband, even though they have their last name.

“Police are currently trying to determine who the parents are,” Marsico says.

When questioned by investigators, Joshua, 33, allegedly displayed “no emotion of any kind” after being shown photographs of the malnourished kids, according to the criminal complaint, insisting simply that he “didn't want the children overfed.”

The couple's next court date has yet to be scheduled. It was not immediately clear if they have entered a plea to their charges.

The children, who are now being cared for by a foster parent who is a nurse, were eventually released from the hospital, but one of them had to be rushed back to the facility in order to receive further treatment.

“They still have a way to go medically, physically and who knows what the developmental impacts will be on them,” Marsico says. “They're young kids, but they're old enough to know the hell they were put through.”



20 years later, JonBenet Ramsey murder remains unsolved. Why?

by Nina Agrawal

This week marks 20 years since JonBenet Ramsey, a 6-year-old beauty queen, was brutally murdered in her family's sprawling home in Boulder, Colo.

Among law enforcement, the media and the public, theories abounded as to who the killer or killers were, with suspects ranging from JonBenet's parents to a former substitute teacher living in Thailand. Investigators formed an expert prosecution task force, followed thousands of tips and spent millions of dollars trying to charge and prosecute a suspect. The crime spurred books, TV shows and movies, including several this last fall.

Why has the case remained unsolved? There's no single explanation, though authorities readily acknowledge that early missteps by police hampered the investigation for years. Intense media coverage at the time also played a role, pressuring police to act quickly and sending investigators down ultimately useless paths.

Early on the morning of Dec. 26, 1996, JonBenet's mother, Patsy Ramsey, called police and reported that her daughter was missing and that she had found a ransom note demanding $118,000 in cash.

Hours later, JonBenet's father, John Ramsey, discovered the body of the former “Little Miss Colorado” in a basement room. She had been hit on the head and strangled with a crude garrote. She also showed signs of sexual assault.

Boulder police and prosecutors at the time lacked the manpower and skill for such a case, said Boulder County Dist. Atty. Stan Garnett. The Boulder County district attorney's office hadn't tried a homicide for years. On top of that, relations between the police and prosecutors were poor, limiting their effectiveness.

As a result, a number of irreversible actions took place in the hours, days and months immediately following JonBenet's murder. “Many of those things can't be undone,” Garnett said.

For example, Boulder police Detective Linda Arndt, the first investigator to arrive at the Ramseys' home, initially failed to treat it as a crime scene.

On the morning of Dec. 26 a steady stream of neighbors, friends and police officers walked freely through the house until the afternoon, when John Ramsey, searching without a police escort, discovered JonBenet's body.

Ramsey tore off a strip of duct tape covering her mouth and carried her upstairs. Only then did the police secure the house — but the crime scene had been compromised.

In addition, police didn't formally interview JonBenet's parents until four months after her death. Arndt reportedly gave Patsy Ramsey's lawyer a photocopy of the handwritten ransom note around the same time that Patsy was being asked to provide handwriting samples by other officers.

The Ramseys were also allowed to view police reports and the paintbrush and nylon cord used to garrote their daughter, even though it was not common to share evidence with potential suspects, the New York Times reported in a look back at the case one year later.

A grand jury did not begin its investigation until September 1998, nearly two years after the slaying. After 13 months of work, the jury voted to indict John and Patsy Ramsey for child abuse resulting in her death, but then-Dist. Atty. Alex Hunter didn't believe there was enough evidence to warrant filing charges. The grand jury's indictment was not released until 2013, after a local reporter sued to obtain the document.

Boulder police processed more than 1,500 pieces of evidence and interviewed more than 1,000 people in connection with the case, according to a video statement made by police Chief Greg Testa in September. Still, the evidence has been insufficient and inconclusive.

A crucial piece of evidence was the 2½-page handwritten ransom note that demanded $118,000 — the same amount as John Ramsey's bonus that year as chief executive of computer services company Access Graphics — for the return of JonBenet. Detectives concluded the pad and pen used for the note were taken from the Ramseys' home.

Boulder police hired handwriting experts to compare the note to samples from the girl's parents, and the experts cleared John Ramsey as the author. Though they doubted Patsy Ramsey was the author, they could not definitively eliminate her.

DNA collected from various pieces of evidence, including the underpants JonBenet was wearing at the time of her death, was tested multiple times. The testing led nowhere. In 2008, more sophisticated testing showed DNA on JonBenet's underclothing to be from an unidentified male, leading then-Dist. Atty. Mary Lacy to publicly exonerate John and Patsy Ramsey.

Just as some people still obsess about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, some still study the JonBenet case relentlessly and offer up theories about her killer.

The entire Ramsey family — including JonBenet's brother, Burke was cleared by Lacy's public exoneration in 2008, though some armchair investigators still speculate they may have been involved. The parents insisted on their innocence, and Patsy Ramsey died in 2006 of ovarian cancer.

Lacy and her office also suffered a major embarrassment after spending approximately $30,000 on the arrest, extradition and court appearance of John Mark Karr, an American teacher who confessed to the crime while in Thailand in 2006. DNA tests ruled out any involvement by Karr, and Lacy later dropped the charges.

Several other suspects, including a homeless sex offender and a former college professor who played Santa Claus and had contact with JonBenet days before her death, were investigated early on in the case. But they have not been considered suspects by authorities for many years.

Now police and prosecutors say they will conduct a new round of DNA testing with more sensitive technology than what was previously available. But even with a match, there's still so much to explain about the case, such as the ransom note.

“I don't think the case is entirely a DNA case,” Garnett said. “To be able to put together a coherent theory of prosecution, you're going to have to explain the cause of death, explain the garrote, explain the ransom note, explain the circumstances in which the body was found [and] you're going to have to account for the DNA that was found.”



Scouts' dishonor: Boy Scouts of America blame the victim in cringeworthy legal defense against Sacramento sexual abuse lawsuit

Scout leader in question currently serving six years for child molestation

by John Flynn

A national sex-abuse survivors' network has condemned the Boy Scouts of America for asserting a blame-the-victim strategy in a civil lawsuit unfolding in Sacramento.

An Eagle Scout sued the venerable youth organization in Sacramento Superior Court in October of last year. Identified as John Doe, the plaintiff alleges that Dustin Hedrick, a former assistant scoutmaster for Troop 40 in Redding, sexually abused him on two occasions starting about six years ago when Hedrick was 19 years old and Doe was 13.

The Boy Scouts of America has mounted a defense that claims the plaintiff didn't immediately report the abuse because “at least part of him enjoyed the experience” and that the underage Eagle Scout and Hedrick had a “consensual, clandestine” relationship—even though Hedrick was an adult in a position of authority at the time. Hedrick is currently serving a six-year prison sentence after pleading no contest to committing lewd acts upon a different 13-year-old in 2012.

The Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, which is usually focused on child molestation within the Catholic Church, first called attention to the “immoral, mean-spirited and possibly illegal” framing of the case in a news release last week.

“It's not a relationship. It's a crime,” SNAP board member Melanie Sakoda told SN&R.

“The perpetrator was convicted,” she added. “He was sentenced to prison. The judge was very clear that he abused his position of authority. They are blaming a 13-year-old victim, a vulnerable child, who was away from home and on his own when it happened. It just leaves a bad taste in your mouth when the Boy Scouts resort to this.”

According to the complaint, Hedrick first engaged in sexual acts with Doe and another minor at an August 2010 “celebration” for Hedrick's achievement of the rank of Eagle Scout.

Afterwards, Hedrick maintained contact with Doe over social media for 18 months, the victim alleges. Then, in 2012, they both attended an Order of the Arrow function at Camp Lassen, an event to recognize exemplary scouts and instill “positive youth leadership under the guidance of selected capable adults,” the complaint asserts. While alone with Doe in a sleeping area, Hedrick allegedly sexually assaulted him two nights in a row, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit, which seeks an unspecified amount in damages, also alleges that other Boy Scout officials knew of the abuse, but did little to stop it.

Doe's complaint alleges that in October 2010, Hedrick had sexual contact with another minor Boy Scout in the home of a Boy Scouts leader, identified in the complaint as Amy “Roe.” The complaint says she told Hedrick to stop, but did not inform Doe's parents of Hedrick's propensity to engage minors.

Later, the Camp Lassen Lodge chief, identified as Kristopher “Roe,” caught Hedrick with Doe in a cabin without any other adults, the complaint states. He brought this to the attention of Boy Scout leaders, but no one informed Doe's parents, according to the complaint.

The suit alleges that the Boy Scouts of America is culpable as Hedrick acted as an agent for the organization, which presented him as an “admired, competent and trustworthy Eagle Scout and Assistant Boy Scoutmaster.”

The defense filed a motion claiming that the Boy Scouts organization “lacked control” over Hedrick. That motion was denied for lack of evidence. Still, the Boy Scouts` have sought to distance themselves from Hedrick, with the motion claiming the “local scouting community was shocked” when the allegations came to light.

“This behavior runs counter to everything for which the Boy Scouts of America stands,” said Chuck Brasfeild, scout executive of the Golden Empire Council branch of the Boy Scouts, the organization for which Hedrick volunteered, then was removed from in 2012. The GEC has its headquarters in Sacramento and is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Brasfeild declined to comment directly on the ongoing lawsuit. But his group's defense made the case for a “clandestine, consensual” relationship as Doe has admitted he is also gay. They allege that the plaintiff didn't immediately report the abuse as “at least part of him enjoyed the experience.”

This defense may not be legal as consent cannot be a defense if “the person who commits the sexual battery is an adult who is in a position of authority over the minor,” according to the California Civil Code.

“This young man is going to be working on this probably for the rest of his life,” Sakoda said. “And the [Boy Scouts of America] makes it worse by saying, ‘You're to blame.' I don't see how whether the scout is gay or not has anything to do with what happened to him. He was 13. This is predatory behavior.”

Sakoda fears the organization's framing of the case could discourage other victims from reporting abuse.

Indeed, there's a record of past cover-ups.

In April 2010, the Boy Scouts organization paid $18.5 million to Kerry Lewis for repeated sexual abuse by an assistant scoutmaster. During the case, the judge ordered the release of 1,900 files on suspected sexual abusers within the organization. A Los Angeles Times investigation of the documents and 3,100 case summaries found that the Boy Scouts of America dismissed 5,000 people for suspected sexual abuse between 1947 and 2005. The organization routinely failed to report abusers, allowed repeat offenders to remain active and sought to conceal these crimes from the public, the investigation found.

In tacit acknowledgment of this problem, the Boy Scouts hired child abuse prevention expert Mike Johnson to be their youth protection director in July 2010. Since 1982, he has served various organizations, helped shape laws and conducted hundreds of training sessions devoted to protecting children.

Officially, the Boy Scouts require each volunteer to be screened by the local chartered organization to ensure that he or she is a trustworthy member of the community. The organization also checks for criminal histories and trains volunteers on appropriate behaviors, it says, including mandatory reporting of abuse and the “two-deep” rule, which demands that at least two adults be with scouts at any time.

But the organization also places some of the responsibility for stopping abuse on its scouts, instructing them to “recognize” signs and situations that could lead to molestation, then “resist” and “report” it.

Sakoda stressed that putting the onus on the children isn't the solution.

“The kids aren't responsible for it,” she said. “But I hope those that are in these situations will come forward and get help, despite what the Boy Scouts have been saying. And people who suspect, they need to speak up. Particularly the adults. We're probably never going to be in a situation where there aren't predators. But we can do what we can to minimize the damage that they cause.”



Midlander overcomes painful past to help others

Woman with history of sexual abuse starts support group

by Simone Jasper

For Tina Gillihan, the word Thrive is more than just a name for her local support group. As a survivor of sexual abuse, she wants to be a part of positive change in women's lives.

“I picked ‘Thrive' because I think when you face the truth of abuse, it is freeing,” Gillihan said. “I want women to face that reality and thrive with their lives.”

Gillihan, 44, serves with her husband as a pastor of Oasis Church, which is in the startup phase. She's also making plans to establish a center for young adults in Midland who have aged out of foster care.

Leading a group

Gillihan facilitates the next Thrive session in January at the Midland Rape Crisis and Children's Advocacy Center. The support group for female survivors of sexual assault covers a range of themes, including strength and forgiveness.

“Those topics come up,” Gillihan said. “It's common with victims of abuse to feel those feelings, have questions in those areas.”

Gillihan developed the idea for Thrive when she moved to Midland from the Chicago area four years ago. She had belonged to a support group and saw a need for a similar resource here, she said.

She plans to hold three eight-week sessions in 2017. During weekly discussions, at least one therapist will be available for free counseling.

For Gillihan, a combination of support group sessions and professional help made an impact.

“Very successful support groups are led by a regular person — nobody who's been trained,” Gillihan said. “I have a past of abuse myself. I have overcome it through therapy and help in that area.”

After hearing about Thrive, male survivors of sexual assault have expressed an interest in a support group in Midland.

“We are in need of it,” Gillihan said. “We have people wanting to come. We just need a person willing to facilitate.”

Gillihan also volunteers at the MRCCAC as a SANE (sexual assault nurse examiner) advocate. Through the program, Gillihan works on a call schedule to accompany people during sexual assault examinations at Midland Memorial Hospital.

“For me, I have something in common with them,” Gillihan said. “I've been in their shoes once. I didn't go to the advocacy center or the emergency room.”

SANE advocates offer support to survivors and tell them about local resources. The volunteers have an essential role, according to Candace Garcia, MRCCAC volunteer coordinator and adult client advocate.

“When anyone goes in for SANE, especially an adult, a lot of times they're alone,” Garcia said. “Even if they come in with a friend, they're in a state of shock. The nurses have their job, and they're trying to do it correctly. The police have their job, and they're trying to do it correctly.”

Last year, 129 sexual assault incidents were reported in Midland County, according to Texas Department of Public Safety data. Gillihan said volunteering as an advocate sometimes takes an emotional toll.

“Hospital on-call is a very hard experience,” Gillihan said. “If I don't do it, who would do it?”

Starting a center

Gillihan's past also inspired her to launch a nonprofit organization in Midland. Gillihan, who has three biological children and two foster children, hopes to start a center for people exiting the foster care system.

Though Gillihan wasn't a foster child, she lacked support as a teenager. Her proposed facility — Basin Dream Center for Orphans — would house young adults while they pursue higher education or vocational training.

“We really want them to be successful,” Gillihan said. “We want to cheer them on. We want to inspire them. I've had trauma in my life. At that age, I didn't have parents who would do that for me.”

The project is still awaiting nonprofit status. Gillihan hopes to use future donations and grants to build or renovate a structure for the center. She and her family members would live in the space to interact with program participants full time.

“I want them to feel like they belong to a family when I have them,” Gillihan said. “Most 18 year olds aren't mature — especially not foster kids with the things they've been through. They still need someone there.”

For eligible Texans transitioning out of foster care, the state offers tuition and fee waivers at state higher education institutions. The state also has a voucher program for those young adults who enter college or vocational programs.

Jeff Gillihan, Tina's husband of 22 years, said people aging out of foster care need guidance to find these resources and steer them away from homelessness, incarceration or substance abuse.

“We want to show them they don't have to settle,” Jeff Gillihan said. “Some do whatever it takes to get a roof over their heads. They're not just going to go to school or work toward a career.”

In the future, Tina Gillihan also hopes to start a respite program for foster care parents. The program — not yet under nonprofit consideration — would allow parents within the system to take breaks while their foster children receive licensed supervision.

“If we could do that, we would have more foster families,” Gillihan said. “People don't do that because they don't have any time for themselves.”

She thinks increased participation would also help keep local foster children in the area. According to Texas Department of Family and Protective Services data from last month, 54.7 percent of children in foster care in Midland County were placed outside of the county.

As Gillihan prepares to embark on the projects, she's received guidance through her family members and Christian faith, according to her husband. He commended her for addressing needs within the community.

“She's chosen to take the junk that's been in her past to use it as fuel to help people,” Jeff Gillihan said.

Thrive support group

Time: 7 – 8 p.m.

Dates: Mondays from Jan. 23 – March 20 (no meeting March 13)

Location: MRCCAC

Contact: Shelly Weeks at 432-682-7273 or

Registration is required for this confidential support group. Other sessions will be held from May through June and September through October.

Volunteer orientation

Time: 6 p.m.

Date: Jan. 19

Location: MRCCAC

Contact: Candace Garcia at 432-682-7273 or

The orientation will provide information about volunteering at the center.

Leading a group

Gillihan facilitates the next Thrive session in January at the Midland Rape Crisis and Children's Advocacy Center. The support group for female survivors of sexual assault covers a range of themes, including strength and forgiveness.

“Those topics come up,” Gillihan said. “It's common with victims of abuse to feel those feelings, have questions in those areas.”

Gillihan developed the idea for Thrive when she moved to Midland from the Chicago area four years ago. She had belonged to a support group and saw a need for a similar resource here, she said.

She plans to hold three eight-week sessions in 2017. During weekly discussions, at least one therapist will be available for free counseling.

For Gillihan, a combination of support group sessions and professional help made an impact.



Little Warriors to host workshops on preventing sexual abuse

by Joseph Ho

Little Warriors will hold two adult education classes in Red Deer next year on how to prevent child sex abuse (CSA). Thanks to a study that concluded this year, the organization can now say that its workshops work indeed.

The Prevent It! program teaches participants how to recognize such abuse, talk about it and what to do when confronted with a child who's experienced it. Since piloting it last year, a study into its efficacy has been conducted by the University of Alberta's psychiatry department.

In August, results were published in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Psychology, with co-authors Erin Martin and Peter Silverstone writing that they “strongly support” the workshop's intentions to increase adults' knowledge, attitudes and behaviours regarding CSA.

The study had 312 participants, rated three times on their behaviours and observations: a baseline before attending Prevent It!, after, plus a follow-up three months later.

Most participants were women between 30 to 39 years old. About one-third were CSA survivors themselves.

Some of the questions they were asked included: the number of times from the previous three months they talked about CSA or healthy sexual development; the number of times they suspected a child was abused and the number of times they took steps to protect a child.

There were “statistically significant improvements.”

The number of subjects looking for evidence of CSA increased from 46% from the baseline survey, to 81% after the follow-up.

More subjects were taking steps to protect children, from 25% to 48% after the follow-up.

Some of those measures included being a responsible role model for other adults. Within an organizational context, steps could include conducting criminal record checks, child welfare checks and monitoring one-on-one time between adults and children.

With this evidence in hand, a spokesperson for Little Warriors said it's time to get people to take Prevent It!

“Now we can say we have the research behind it to say that this workshop works to educate adults to prevent child sexual abuse. So we'll continue approaching organizations, getting the word out that we have this workshop, and that it is impactful,” said Shannon Phelan, communications.

“We would love to get into school districts and youth-serving organizations.”

Little Warriors has its two sessions scheduled for Feb. 25th and April 22nd at the Central Alberta Training Zone.

The workshop runs from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Register online at

There is also an online version that lasts about 90 minutes, Phelan said.

Phelan shares a story of a friend who worked as a dental hygienist, to show why the workshop exists.

She said one day, a young girl climbed into the dental chair and revealed that she had been abused. Phelan said her friend had no idea what to do.

“We educate the adults on what to do should you receive a disclosure. How do you handle that appropriately,” she said.

Her goal is to get as many who work with children, either in a vocational or volunteer role, to take Prevent It! — so that the abuse doesn't happen in the first place.

“Our wish is that no parent has to wonder what to do because their child's been sexually abused,” she said.


North Carolina

Wilmington agency reports slightly higher numbers of child abuse in 2016

by Tess Bargebuhr

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) -- The Carousel Center in Wilmington works to help hundreds of child abuse victims per year. In 2016, Julie Ozier, interviewing and clinical services supervisor, said they saw 250 victims.

Ozier said that's a slight increase from years past, but that it could be due to a higher number of reports. She said that the center has increased communication among an inter-disciplinary team including social services advocates and local law enforcement.

"Due to the fact that our multi-disciplinary team is functioning very well together and so we're making sure that kids are identified and seen for a medical evaluation and interview," Ozier said.

Ozier said that if you're concerned about a child or family, you should report it immediately. She added that it doesn't mean that the family gets in trouble, it could just mean help for those who need it.

"It gets someone out that can talk with the family and can do an assessment," she said. "And see if they need some help, are they under a lot of stress right now, are there some additional services that they need, is this a child that needs some help in being protected?"

If you suspect abuse is taking place, you're asked to contact New Hanover County Department of Social Services, or law enforcement.



US marshals to take WA child abuse accused

by Au. News

A Perth man is expected to be extradited to the US within days to face child abuse charges, but his lawyer fears he could die in a prison for a crime that would only carry a short jail sentence if he were convicted in Australia.

Christopher Donald Lobban, 58, is accused of encouraging his online girlfriend in Florida to send him images of two children, aged 14 and 15, being spanked and whipped.

He was arrested and detained in July 2011 after a raid on his property, and Lobban has now exhausted his legal avenues to appeal the extradition order after his final bid in the High Court failed.

If convicted of the child exploitation charges, Lobban faces a minimum jail term of 25 years, with no possibility of parole, as it was abolished in Florida in 1983.

His lawyer Bernard Collaery said on Thursday that his client had offered to face trial in Australia and had already spent more than five years behind bars, which was longer than the sentence he would have received had he been convicted in Perth.

He described the mandatory prison term as inhumane and said the sheriff in Polk County had publicly stated Lobban would not leave a US jail alive.

Mr Collaery expects Lobban to be handed over to US federal marshals in Sydney on January 2 and questioned the timing during the holiday season when the public was "distracted" by festivities.

He has urged the Australian government to step in and stop the extradition.

"Our relationship with the US is robust enough for Australia to say that we won't extradite people in these circumstances," he told AAP.

The woman, who worked within the prison system in Polk County, was jailed for about 20 years after a plea bargain on charges of aggravated child abuse, lewd or lascivious battery and using a child in a sexual performance.



Wayne County neglect cases more than double since 2013

by Mike Emery

Substantiated cases of child neglect in Wayne County continued to increase dramatically during 2016.

According to online statistics from the Indiana Department of Child Services, Wayne County saw 284 substantiated cases of child neglect during the first 11 months of the year. Even without December's case statistics, that's nearly a 16-percent increase from 2015's total of 245 substantiated cases.

The four-year trend has shown staggering growth in case numbers. During 2013, 112 neglect cases were substantiated, meaning 2016's 11-month total shows a 153-percent increase in three years. When December numbers are reported, the county likely will be close to — or surpass — doubling the 2014 total of 150 substantiated cases, as well.

Through the past 47 months, DCS has substantiated 791 cases of neglect in Wayne County.

The county's increase is not unique in the six-county Region 12 for DCS statistics. Fayette County has seen case growth from 67 cases in 2013 to 150 through the first 11 months of 2016 for a nearly 124-percent difference. Franklin County's cases have increased from 49 in 2013 to 78 this year, although the 2016 number significantly lags behind 2015's total of 103, which doubled the 2013 number. Henry County has experienced an increase from 137 cases in 2013 to 207 so far in 2016, growth of 51 percent.

Rush County has seen 67 cases through 11 months, significantly more than 2013's 49 cases but still trailing 2015's 74 cases. Union County has 29 substantiated cases so far in 2016, which is 93 percent higher than 2013's 15 cases but trails the 35 cases from 2014.

These rising numbers coincide with an increase in heroin-related problems throughout the Region 12 area, the state and the country. First responders are finding parents using and overdosing on heroin and other drugs in the presence of their children.

Wayne County's numbers for sexual abuse and physical abuse cases, however, are more encouraging.

According to DCS, there have been 23 substantiated cases of sexual abuse in Wayne County through November. That number, at this point, continues a three-year trend of lower case numbers. It is 34 percent lower than the 35 substantiated cases from 2013. There were 28 substantiated cases during 2014 and 25 during 2015.

Through November, DCS has recorded 14 substantiated cases of physical abuse in Wayne County. That number is 42 percent lower than the 24 cases from 2015 and slightly below the 15 cases from 2013. There were 22 such cases during 2014.

Because of the rapidly rising neglect case numbers, Wayne County's overall abuse cases continue to rise, nearly doubling since 2013. There were 162 total substantiated cases during 2013 and the 2016 total stood at 321 through November. Each year has shown an increase over the previous year, with 200 cases in 2014 and 294 in 2015.

That makes 977 substantiated cases total the past 47 months.

Neglect cases increase

Substantiated cases of child neglect in Wayne County have more than doubled since 2013, according to Indiana Department of Child Services statistics. Through just 11 months of 2016, the yearly total has already shown a 16-percent increase from the 2015 total. Here are the number of Wayne County cases for the past four years, with the 2016 numbers through November:


2016: 284

2015: 245

2014: 150

2013: 112

Sexual abuse

2016: 23

2015: 25

2014: 28

2013: 35

Physical abuse

2016: 14

2015: 24

2014: 22

2013: 15



Some moms accusing doctor of groping say he violated kids, too

by Johnny Edwards

Speaking little English and lacking immigration papers, they were the perfect prey. But when they found out they weren't alone, one by one the women told police their stories of being sexually degraded by, of all people, their children's pediatrician.

They spoke to Chamblee detectives through translators, accusing Dr. José A. Rios of grabbing them from behind and groping them during appointments, squeezing their breasts as they breast fed their babies and hounding them after hours with lewd phone calls, police records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution show. One woman said he thrust his crotch into her buttocks with her child in the room; another said he called her an illegal alien and threatened her family if she told anyone that he had touched her.

Such stories were enough for officers to slap handcuffs on Rios and for state medical regulators to take his white coat while charges are pending. So far, 33 women have come forward with accounts of abuse as far back as 15 years.

The misdemeanor charges, though, don't reflect all the allegations against the former Children's Healthcare of Atlanta pediatrician, the AJC's review of the case found. Some moms say the doctor didn't just grope and harass them, but also abused their sons and daughters by excessively touching their genitals, under the guise of exams.

Those claims haven't received serious attention from police since the doctor's arrest more than a year ago. Accounts of him groping children are included in four civil lawsuits, raising questions about whether law enforcement authorities have fully scrutinized what took place inside an office overseen by one of the largest pediatric heathcare systems in the country.

“Every time we used to go to Rios,” Blanca Rios-Lopez told the AJC of taking her son to the clinic, “he would always cry and say, ‘No, no, no, I don't want to go.' Even now taking him to his new doctor, he said to me ‘Mom, I just don't want them to touch me because they're going to do the same thing Dr. Rios did.'”

Chamblee police Capt. Ernesto Ford said the department isn't taking Rios' case lightly and would never ignore child abuse. Investigators didn't go down that path, he said, because none of the women overtly accused Rios of molesting their children in their interviews.

“They're more than welcome to bring their kids up here. We'll debrief them and try to determine what happened,” the captain said. “But it sure would have been nice if they'd said it up front.”

But some women did tell the department how Rios touched their children, the AJC found.

Records show Rios-Lopez, who isn't suing the doctor, mentioned excessive genital exams and that she quit taking her children to him because of how he treated them. Maria Becerra-Cedillo told police that the doctor had her 2-year-old daughter spread her legs and looked inside her vagina, Ford confirmed. Another woman gave police a written statement accusing the doctor of groping her son's testicles.

More accounts are on record in DeKalb County State Court. Of the 12 people suing Rios for civil damages, six are unnamed children alleging inappropriate genital exams.

Ford and his detectives have read the lawsuits but say they don't believe there's enough evidence to obtain a warrant, much less a conviction. The case points to an advantage doctors have when accused of sexual misconduct during exams — laypersons, including law enforcement personnel and jurors, often yield to their medical expertise.

“This is a pediatrician doing a medical exam on a child,” Capt. Ford said. “To prove that it was anything other than him doing his job is virtually impossible, short of him doing something that's way out of line. Once again, no one ever made that outcry.”

Dr. Rios' case was among thousands reviewed by the AJC this year in a nationwide investigation of physicians and sex abuse, which found a pattern of doctors targeting those who are voiceless or vulnerable: immigrants, the poor, children, the elderly, sexual abuse survivors, drug addicts, the mentally impaired, and even patients under sedation.

The investigation also found that doctors frequently receive light treatment when abuse is discovered or reported — such as being allowed by state medical boards to return to practice after therapy, receiving probated sentences from justice systems, or not being prosecuted at all. Nationwide, the AJC found that of the 2,400 doctors publicly disciplined for sexual misconduct against patients since 1999, half still have active medical licenses.

Rios, who is free on a $22,500 bond, declined to speak to the AJC for this story, and his attorneys did not return messages. In his filed responses to the lawsuits, Rios denied groping women and said any touching of his patients “would have been standard procedure in a routine health maintenance physical examination” and was done “with the express consent of the child's parent.”

One lawsuit says that Rios touched two brothers' genitals every time they had their annual exams, and their mother thought it was normal until she took one of them to another doctor who didn't touch him there at all. Another mom says the doctor would touch her son's testicles and pull his foreskin during physicals, and once opened her 1-year-old daughter's vagina with two fingers and touched her clitoris.

One complaint alleges that when a 13-year-old boy went to the clinic for vaccinations, the doctor had him take off his clothes, then bent him over a table and groped him. “(The child) was traumatized by the experience and does not want to talk about it or visit the doctor again,” the lawsuit said.

The boy's mother had given police a similar account six months before filing her lawsuit. She told a detective in November 2015 that she had been abused by Rios, saying nothing about her son's alleged experience. A month later she came to the station and handed in a written statement about her son, Ford said.

Efforts to interview the six parents suing Rios were unsuccessful, and their attorneys declined to speak to the AJC by phone or email.

Early this year Rios signed an agreement with the Georgia Composite Medical Board not to practice medicine until his criminal case is resolved. Children's Healthcare of Atlanta declined to answer questions for this story about whether it ever received complaints about him, citing “confidentiality obligations.” A spokeswoman said he is no longer employed by Children's, but would not say whether he was fired or resigned.

Police charged the doctor with four sexual battery charges of groping his patients' mothers and one pandering charge of paying a woman $200 to have sex with him. That woman told police he had groped and propositioned her during her children's appointments, and she agreed to the tryst at a hotel because she needed the money, according to a police report.

“I do believe that his victims are strictly female adult women,” Capt. Ford said. “He doesn't strike me, and I don't think we've uncovered anything, that indicates that he has a propensity for molesting children.”

In November 2015, Rios-Lopez told an investigator that the doctor had once touched her breast while she had a child in her lap, and later as she was leaving the office, pulled her toward him and tried to forcibly kiss her face. She added an observation: During appointments, the doctor always examined her children's private parts, which she thought was strange, an investigator's notes show.

Rios-Lopez said that during the four years she took her children to Rios, up until they were about 6- and 8-years-old, she estimates he examined their genitals about three to five times per year.

“I thought, but why does he have to check his penis when I've brought him in because of a pain in his bones? Or for a fever?” Rios-Lopez told the AJC.

She said she quit taking her children to Rios about five years ago.

The AJC does not typically identify alleged victims of sexual abuse without their permission. Rios-Lopez wanted to speak out by name, as did Becerra-Cedillo, who told police that in 2008, the pediatrician grabbed her around the waist and pushed his crotch into her buttocks. She said it happened with her then-2-year-old daughter sitting on the exam table in the room, according to a record of her interview.

Becerra-Cedillo told the AJC that Rios would open her daughter's vagina, without wearing gloves, each time he saw her — about five times over the course of two years.

“I feel like they're ignoring what we've been saying to them,” Becerra-Cedillo, who also isn't suing, said of law enforcement. “Like they're only taking one part and the other part they're covering up.”

Investigator Loc Tran, who interviewed both women, said he couldn't make a fair assessment of the exams since he isn't a doctor, and neither could the mothers. Neither woman complained to the clinic's managers, he said.

The DeKalb County Solicitor-General's Office, which prosecutes misdemeanors, has Rios' case and still hasn't filed a formal accusation to launch the criminal court process. Solicitor-General Sherry Boston, who will become District Attorney next year, said she can't comment on a pending case other than to say “it is a complex matter, involving multiple investigative layers and several alleged victims.”

The clock is ticking on the two-year statute of limitations. Most of the women's accounts of being groped, including both Rios-Lopez' and Becerra-Cedillo's, are too old to be prosecuted.

“We will proceed with the investigation in a diligent and expeditious fashion,” Boston said in a written statement, “to determine what, if any, charges are appropriate based upon our findings.”

While sexual battery is a misdemeanor, a second conviction would be a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Ford said he's hoping Boston will split up the charges, convicting on a single misdemeanor then elevating the remaining counts to felonies.

“I think anybody that looks at it, simply by the sheer number of victims, would quickly realize that this guy needs to be treated as a felon, not as a misdemeanant,” the captain said.

A sexual offense against a child would also be a felony. Former DeKalb DA J. Tom Morgan, now a private attorney who is not involved in Rios' case, said Boston's office would have sent the case to the DA's office by now if alleged child molestation were part of it.

“As a former prosecutor in child sex crimes, I think that would be very hard,” Morgan said. “It's going to be hard to show that a doctor, when he's examining a child and touching their genitalia, was doing it for any other reason than for medical purposes.”

Brenda Bueno, host of the Spanish-language internet radio show “En Hora Buena” on Oxigeno Radio, said she's been in contact recently with four of the six mothers suing Rios. It was Bueno who emboldened the first women to come forward by alluding to the pediatrician during a broadcast. More women came forward after Rios' arrest, when he tried to bolt out a back door of the clinic in the Plaza Fiesta shopping center off Buford Highway.

While many of the women feared being deported if they blew the whistle, in fact coming forward has opened avenues for green cards and naturalization. Immigration attorney Thad Servi said he's working with 18 victims who have asked for law enforcement certification so they can apply for U nonimmigrant status as violent crime victims. Chamblee police have certified four.

But Bueno said the slow-moving cogs of the justice system are wearing some of the women down, and she's worried they could agree to some paltry civil settlement just to have the ordeal be over. Bueno said they told her they've been instructed by their legal team to discuss the case with no one, not even each other.

“I am concerned,” she said, “that it's just going to be brushed under the rug, he's not going to be punished, and all these women, their courage is going to be for nothing.”

Sometimes, accused doctors never face police

While suspended Children's Healthcare of Atlanta pediatrician José A. Rios faces misdemeanor charges over allegations he groped his patients' mothers, some physicians accused of sexual abuse can avoid police and prosecutors altogether.

That was among the troubling findings from a nationwide investigation into doctors and sex abuse by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this year. The AJC identified several cases where state medical regulators had knowledge of doctors committing criminal acts against patients, yet never turned the information over to law enforcement. In most states, including Georgia, state medical boards can act as gatekeepers if a victim turns to regulators without filing a criminal complaint.

Disciplinary cases might be handled in secret. Doctors might be cleared to practice again after going to recovery centers where they work through their issues through art, yoga or equestrian therapy and other treatment. Or a doctor might be forced to retire and returned to communities through a vaguely-written board order. Doctors may have committed heinous assaults, yet avoid appearing on their state's sexual offender registry.

Only 11 states have a law requiring medical authorities to report to police or prosecutors when they suspect a sexual crime has been committed against an adult, and even in some of those states, the AJC found cases that hadn't been turned over.

To explore the AJC's Doctors & Sex Abuse series, go to

What the lawsuits against Dr. Rios say

Six women accusing Dr. José A. Rios of groping them have filed civil suits in DeKalb County State Court. Four of their lawsuits include allegations that he inappropriately touched children as well.

Rios has responded that he did not grope the women and that any touching of minors was “standard procedure in a routine health maintenance physical examination.” He also said the suits are improper because he lives in Gwinnett County, not DeKalb, and the plaintiffs waited too long to make their claims.

Here is what the lawsuits say:

1 - Mother: “In June 2014, (she) took her teenage son to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. During her son's appointment — and in front of her son — Defendant Rios placed his hand on (her) buttocks and squeezed it. After the appointment, (her) son said ‘mom, I saw what the doctor [Defendant Rios] did.'”

2 - Mother: Rios “slapped (her) buttocks and told her ‘que te vaya bien,'” which means “good luck.” While giving her an eye exam during her son's appointment, Rios “cupped her breast with his hand and squeezed so hard that it hurt for a number of days.”

3 - Mother: Rios “touched (her) shoulders from behind and squeezed her. He then slid his hands down her chest and squeezed her breasts so hard that they hurt. In an earlier visit Defendant Rios had placed his hands on her buttocks.”

Son: “(His mother) asked her adult daughter to take (him) to the Primary Care Center of Chamblee office to get several required vaccinations. During the appointment Defendant Rios asked (him) to take all of his clothes off. Defendant Rios then bent (him) over a table and groped his genitals.”

4 - Mother: “On multiple occasions Defendant Rios hugged her and rocked her back and forth to feel her breasts in front of her children.”

Son: “Up until he was eleven years old, Defendant Rios would touch his testicles and pull his foreskin during his annual physical. After every visit with her son Defendant Rios would put a sticker on (his) chest and squeeze it in an inappropriate way.”

Daughter: “When her daughter was just one year old, Defendant Rios touched her genitals, opened her vagina with two fingers, and touched her clitoris.”

5 - Mother: Rios “hugged (her) hard and ran his hands down her back. As (she) pulled away, Defendant Rios touched both of her breasts with his hands.”

Daughter: “Every time (her mother) took (her) to a check-up with Defendant Rios he would touch (her) genitalia.”

6 - Mother: On one occasion, Rios “cupped and squeezed (her) breasts.” On another, he “took off her blouse and bra and touched her breasts without gloves.” Another time, Rios “rubbed his ear up against (her) head and started making noises as if he was aroused.”

Two sons: “Every time (they) had their annual exams, Defendant Rios touched their genitals … (Their mother) later became concerned when another doctor treated (one of her sons) and did not touch his genitals at all, as Defendant Rios was accustomed to.”


New York

New campaign against depression and drug abuse urges students to ‘Just Tell One'


Ten years. According to Carol Doggett, director of community awareness for the Mental Health Association of Erie County, that's how much time passes before a child seeks help to deal with mental or behavioral health issues such as depression. It's an issue of growing concern in the region, and something she plans to change, through a new public awareness campaign known as “JustTellOne. org.”

Launched in late November, and led by the Mental Health Association of Erie County and the Erie County Council for the Prevention of Alcohol and Substance Abuse, the campaign seeks to reduce the human and financial damage done by depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and suicide among teens and young adults in Western New York's eight counties.

It focuses on reaching at-risk youth ages 14 to 26 living in the Medicaid population in urban and rural communities in the region, teaching them to “just tell one” adult they trust about the struggles they face and get professional help before those struggles become medical emergencies.

“If we want to reduce hospital admissions, we want to help people not get to a point where they're in crisis,” Doggett said.

According to Douglas Hahn, a youth peer mentor with the MHA who pulled himself out of an eight-year bout with depression with help from MHA staff, the campaign will succeed even if only one teen is reached.

“Helping every youth get out of their toughest situation, that would be the dreamshot,” he said. “But realistically, if all this effort only accumulated to just helping one youth find a better spot in their life, I would be OK with that, because that could change the world for that one youth.”

Hahn said that was the case for him, when as a 15-year-old he overcame the depression brought on by parental abuse because a peer mentor took time to listen to him, a troubled kid dealing with the effects of 22 different medications.

“Me and her kind of sat in a corner and we just talked, for like 45 minutes,” he said, explaining that his mentor, Erin, who was 21 at the time, personally identified with his struggles with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“To me, it was really eye-opening to hear from someone else that had the same problems I did, and went through the same things I did, to validate and understand me, and to say it was OK.” Hahn said that conversation was a turning point for him, which gave him the motivation to get serious about life, and work to become a mentor himself.

MHA Executive Director Kenneth Houseknecht said experiences such as Hahn's, where a young mentor connects with a struggling teen, are what will set JustTellOne apart from previous efforts that stigmatized youth and employed scare tactics.

“People don't want ‘This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs,'” he said. “The fulcrum of all of this is the young people. This campaign works as well as our young people are going to make it work, because it really is a peer-to-peer campaign. Having articulate, honest, real young people talk the way that they're talking, that's what's different about this campaign.”

Houseknecht said to further reach teens and young adults, Just- TellOne puts an emphasis on communicating through social media on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, as well as through videos of survivors, and downloadable tool kits that will soon be available in Spanish, Karen, Somali, Burmese, Arabic and Napoli.

According to Doggett, approximately one third of the people living in WNY — or 500,000 in a population of 1.5 million — receive Medicaid.

She said the goal of JustTellOne is to reach every teen and young adult in that group and beyond it, giving them the language and tools to identify and talk to one trusted person about their struggle, and to use a searchable database of services on the campaign's website, if necessary, to get help.

“The website is the hub, and social media is our outreach,” she said.

To learn more about JustTellOne, visit the campaign's website at just

To get help from a referral specialist through the campaign's dedicated call line, dial 245-6581.



Irish child abuse helpline flooded with Christmas Day calls

by RT

An Irish child helpline received more than 1,000 calls on Christmas Day, with children reporting domestic violence and alcohol abuse in their homes.

The Childline service, run by the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC), was staffed by over 60 volunteers on Christmas Day. Children contacted the line through their free phone, web chat, and ‘live' text services.

“For too many children across Ireland, being home at Christmas, is not a place of safety, warmth and happiness. It's a place of fear, loneliness, pain and neglect,” the society said in a statement.

A number of children also contacted the service to report experiencing family difficulties, loneliness, and mental health issues.

Children who experienced the loss of a family member or family break-up earlier in the year can have a particularly difficult time at Christmas, according to the children's support group.

“Christmas should mean safety, warmth and happiness, but for many children that call our Childline service, this isn't the reality,” Grainia Long of the ISPCC said.

“Some children who contacted Childline on Christmas day are experiencing loneliness, loss and domestic violence over this festive period which makes what should be a happy time very difficult for them.”

The problem is far from being just an Irish phenomenon: in the US, more than four children die from abuse every day, and the American Society for the Positive Care of Children says there were 3.6 million child abuse cases reported last year.



Existing Protections Fall Short for America's Mandated Child Abuse Reporters

by Franne Sippel

In 2001, graduate assistant Mike McQueary followed Penn State protocol when, after witnessing retired football coach Jerry Sandusky molesting a boy in a locker room shower, he told Coach Joe Paterno and two other superiors what he saw. As a mandated reporter, McQueary was required by law to report suspected child abuse.

After the story came to light in 2011, McQueary – then assistant football coach – faced brutal retaliation: defamation by Penn State, suspension from his coaching duties, and his contract was not renewed. He told The Inquirer that “his ties to the case have cost him his livelihood, marriage, and career.”

McQueary was awarded millions in a lawsuit against Penn State and an additional $5 million in a whistle-blower suit. His experience is not an isolated event, and the vast majority of mandatory reporters are not made financially whole for the experience. A few examples of bad outcomes for people who performed their legal mandate to report child abuse:

•  Psychologist Jim Singer lost his license to practice.

•  Psychologist Mike Gillum received death threats and lost his job.

•  Carolyn Huff, a licensed nurse psychotherapist has been fighting her Board of Nursing for almost five years for due process.

•  Psychologist Michael Tilus was issued a letter of reprimand, transferred, and his scheduled promotion was rescinded until the New York Times covered his story.

Despite current laws meant to protect mandatory reporters of child abuse, the above is just a small sample of documented cases of retaliation where immunity protections were insufficient.

Recent court cases where mandated reporters have been retaliated against have resulted in two amicus briefs, demonstrating the unity of professional organizations in supporting mandatory reporters.

Schott V. Wenk

The court concluded that a Columbus, Ohio, school administrator, a mandatory reporter who suspected and reported sexual child abuse by the child's father, could be held liable and not protected under the immunity law. The student's parents, who alleged the administrator was retaliating against them due to a dispute over their daughter's Individual Education Plan, sued the administrator. The court ruled that a person who is the subject of a mandatory report (in this case, the father), may bring a legal proceeding against the reporter, alleging retaliation.

Jones v. Wang

G.J., an infant, sustained skull and rib fractures while in his parents' care (the Joneses). The story his mother gave was medically inconsistent with his injuries. Radiologists suspected child abuse, which was consistent with medical literature. Consequently, Dr. Claudia Wang, medical director of UCLA Suspected Child Abuse and Negligence Team, reasonably suspected child abuse at the hands of his parents and believed he would be in further danger if released from the hospital. Dr. Wang reported the suspected abuse and asked a social worker to place a hold on the infant.

The baby was hospitalized for two days for further evaluation and safety. (Dr. Wang recommended hospitalization and his mother agreed, though the majority found a factual dispute about whether the mother's consent was voluntary.) During the infant's stay, the infant had a sitter in his room, wore a tracking bracelet, and could be with his parents. Based upon the child spending two days in the hospital, the parents sued Dr. Wang claiming their child was unreasonably seized. The district court denied Dr. Wang's motion for summary judgment and a divided panel affirmed.

Dr. Wang's recommendation coincided with best practices (which requires hospitalization if necessary to protect an injured child from abuse) and with medical ethics (which only permits patient discharge into a safe environment), but on appeal, the majority found it was a clearly established violation of the law and denied immunity to Dr. Wang. Amici argued that many doctors refuse to consult or report on child abuse cases due to fear of getting sued by parents and urged a strengthening of immunity protections.

Recognizing the loopholes in reporting immunity, the Secretary of Health and Human Services made recommendations to Congress for strengthening immunity in child maltreatment cases.

Retaliation against mandated reporters takes many forms: defamation, harassment, job loss and loss of parental custody, just to name a few. And it happens for various reasons, including the prevention of lawsuits against government agencies, to protect the image and brand of an institution or person, and because federal oversight of immunity protections is nonexistent.

The results of such retaliation may be devastating. Consider the impact of many mandatory reporters reading about what happened to McQueary. The outcome may be a decrease in child abuse reporting for fear of retaliation, leading to further abuse and deaths.

Since the Penn State scandal, several states have passed laws aimed at punishing mandated reporters who fail to report child abuse, as well as laws that widen the universe of people who are deemed mandated reporters. But few, if any, legislators are pursuing changes to enforce protections for mandatory reporters who report child abuse.

Consequently, since no entity in any state investigates instances of retaliation, mandatory reporters are forced to defend themselves and their reputations, often at a huge personal, financial, and emotional expense. Other than hiring a lawyer, there is nowhere for the mandatory reporter to report retaliation or access guidance, support, or resources.

In 1974, the federal government passed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, or CAPTA, which provided minimum national standards states must meet to qualify for federal funding. To motivate mandatory reporters to report abuse, CAPTA requires all states to have “provisions for immunity from prosecution under State and local laws and regulations for individuals making good faith reports.” All states have granted criminal and civil immunity to mandatory reporters acting in good faith.

However, federal oversight of CAPTA is grossly insufficient. Neither the individual states nor the federal government ensure that immunity laws are followed. This leaves mandatory reporters who are retaliated against with the devastating realization that the laws meant to protect them are meaningless.

Solving this problem means first, we, as a society, have to acknowledge that we have one. Though the media has covered individual cases of retaliation, no one has investigated the issue and connected the dots. No mandatory reporter should have to go through what Mike McQueary experienced for simply adhering to his legal mandate to report child abuse.

Mandatory reporters are the voice for abused and neglected children. Let us do everything we can to allow their voices to be heard.




Child abuse investigation is justified

by The Journal Star

In the last three years, there have been 36 reports of sexual abuse in state licensed facilities and the child welfare system, a chilling accumulation that has rightfully prompted an investigation by the state inspector general for child welfare.

That investigation, according to inspector general Julie Rogers, will determine whether adequate steps are being taken by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services to prevent and respond to abuse of youth in the state's care, including children placed in state-licensed facilities and group homes, youth in foster homes and adopted from the child welfare system.

The abuse cases have been reported to law enforcement and investigated, leading to prosecutions of foster parents and state facility workers for sexual assault or failing to protect a child in their care.

Now Rogers office will investigate the system and how the state protects the chiildren and youth under its care.

"These are horrific, or can be very horrific, situations, and there are numbers to show it's not just once in a great while," she said ."What we're doing right now is looking to see if the system has gaps or if the system can improve to further protect these kids from sexual victimization."

Rogers' investigation will focus on better understanding when and why youth under the protection of the state are being sexually abused and victimized and whether the state has enough safeguards in selecting its caregivers. The investigation, which will include interviews and data analysis, will look at whether the state has enough safeguards in selecting its caregivers.

It has the support of Gov. Pete Ricketts key legislators and, critically, HHS, which has pledged to cooperate with the inquiry and has already been working on improving the system.

Rogers' investigation will focus on better understanding when and why youth under the protection of the state are being sexually abused and victimized and whether the state has enough safeguards in selecting its caregivers. The investigation, which will include interviews and data analysis, will look at whether the state has enough safeguards in selecting its caregivers.

It has the support of Gov. Pete Ricketts key legislators and, critically, HHS, which has pledged to cooperate with the inquiry and has already been working on improving the system.



Child abuse, neglect cases up as shortage of volunteers in foster homes rising

by Brittany Harry

WARRICK CO., IN (WFIE) - The shortage of foster homes in Warrick County is not necessarily because there are fewer foster families, but because of a big rise in abuse and neglect cases in the county.

"These kids are innocent and they deserve the support as they move through this situation, being in the court system. They deserve all of the care and permanency and safety that every child deserves," Warrick County CASA Volunteer Jacy Gowen said.

Warrick County CASA is serving 120 kids, with another 45 on a waiting list. Spanning in age from newborn to 21 years. The sad part is it's a problem that hasn't gotten better, in fact, it has gotten a lot worse, but workers at Warrick County want to bring awareness to the problem.

"Everything is so confidential in these cases and it's held to such a high standard, but we really need to bring awareness that these things are going on, you know there is a need," Warrick CASA Program Director Diane Alexander said.

Warrick County CASA volunteer Jacy Gowen says hearing cases like this, and having kids of her own really hits home.

"It hurts actually. I look at my kids and know that it's almost a lottery, you know where children start out. They don't ask for stable homes, they don't ask for unstable homes. It's just almost the luck of the draw and I just hurt for those kids that don't have that stability that everybody deserves," Volunteer Jacy Gowen said.

That's why they hope you will reach out and volunteer.

If you're interested in becoming a foster parent visit the Indiana Department of Child Services website. Or to volunteer to visit the Warrick County Casa website or call at 812-897-8621.



Bend preschool to open for child abuse victims

by The Associated Press

BEND, Ore. (AP) - A new preschool program that serves victims of child abuse and neglect is set to open in Bend thanks to a $448,000 grant from the Central Oregon Health Council.

The Bend Bulletin reports ( that the money will allow MountainStar Family Relief Nursery to start a program for 22 students who are too young to enter kindergarten. The grant will be distributed over a three-year period.

The organization, one of 32 relief nurseries in the state, aims to prevent child abuse and neglect by providing therapy and other services to child victims of abuse. Its goal for the new preschool is to combine therapeutic services with a preschool curriculum.

MountainStar Executive Director Tim Rusk says this type of program can significantly reduce neglect and abuse.




Don't ignore signs of child abuse

The recent report of investigators finding a 3-year-old child locked in a small wooden box at North Judson is a horrific tale.

On Dec. 14, officers from the Pulaski County Sheriff's Department went to the home after receiving a tip about child abuse. They found a young girl inside a locked plywood box. Also in the box were dead bugs, police said.

Sheriff Jeffrey Richwine said it was the worst case of could abuse he could recall.

In a WNDU TV interview, the grandparents said they heard that a 7-year-old boy, their grandson, would often be locked in his room.

Even more troubling is that nine people face charges, not one or two – as if it was solely a misguided parent perpetrating this crime — but nine people knew about this traumatizing form of punishment.

Of the nine, five were teenagers.

The case is a heartbreaking reminder of the ongoing pandemic of child abuse.

It brings back sad memories of the physically and mentally disabled 15-year-old girl found malnourished and neglected in an Anderson home on Dec. 1, 2014. When she was found, she weighed less than 40 pounds, had apparently suffered some physical abuse and was covered in feces. Authorities believe the girl was locked in the room almost all the time from 2011 to the day she was found.

Her guardians, grandfather Steve Sells and step-grandmother Joetta Sells, have both been sentenced to prison for neglect-related crimes. The young girl's aunt, Crystal Sells, faces a Feb. 21 trial.

Sadly, both incidents in Anderson and North Judson might have been prevented if others recognized the horror of locking a child in a room or box. There are other signs.

These are just a few of the signs that neighbors and relatives can visibly see and report to authorities. They could well be the keys to preventing trauma to the victims.

If you suspect a child is suffering from any type of abuse neglect, report it to Indiana Department of Child Services by calling 800-800-5556.

If you suspect a child is suffering from any type of abuse neglect, report it to Indiana Department of Child Services by calling 800-800-5556.



Japan and Rising Numbers of Child Abuse Cases: Increasing Awareness to Social Ills

by Sawako Uchida and Lee Jay Walker

Child abuse is sadly an international reality that exists in all societies to varying degrees. Of course, some nations have strong pro-active laws and policies in place to provide support. However, other nations are not so focused and in the worse case scenario, some countries are neglecting the rights of children. Therefore, although it is with great sadness that reported cases have now reached just over 103,000 cases in Japan – on the other spectrum it shows that the government and local governments are now more focused on helping the most vulnerable in society.

Statistics are clearly open to many interpretations but certain underlying factors, both positive and negative, are behind the growing rise of reported child abuse cases in Japan. Equally important, the number of cases highlights the need to employ more professional people and support networks in this essential social welfare area. If not, then growing caseloads for individual workers will lead to mistakes and lack of real attention because of overwork. This reality means that the government of Japan must respond to the growing numbers of child abuse cases by strengthening the infrastructure, social networks, making people aware, working with schools and hospitals – and other areas related to safety mechanisms.

In 2011, CNN reported “Figures from Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare show the cases of reported child abuse have quadrupled in 10 years and increased 40 fold in twenty years. In 1990, the ministry recorded 1,101 cases of abuse. In 1999, 11,631… in 2009, the numbers hit an all-time high of 44,211.”

The increasing highs in this period have now reached just over 103,000 cases in 2015. This seems a remarkable figure from the astonishing low figure of 1990. Therefore, obviously, issues related to more pro-active laws by the government and respective local governments are making a major impact.

Welfare officials, the general public, local governments, and the central government, are now more in tune with each other than in the past when neglect didn't set off alarm bells. On top of this, some major horrendous cases of child neglect and the failure of the system led to a new impetus in this area. Given this reality, media coverage of the most severe cases along with campaigns of growing awareness happens to have shifted the balance to a more pro-active approach. However, the road is still full of rocks because so much more needs to be done in order to protect the most vulnerable in society – but, it still must be acknowledged that inroads are being made in comparison with the past.

Figures in 2015 also highlight the extent of psychological abuse because this area accounted for 48,693 cases. Physical abuse of children came second at 28,611 followed by open neglect at 24,438. Another 1,518 reported cases involved child sexual abuse.

However, despite many areas of success in relation to being more pro-active the issue of institutional neglect remains extremely problematic. After all, for the majority of children who become institutionalized then the chances of finding a family home is rare. Therefore, with each institution needing to be judged on merit, it is clear that some are run based on lack of genuine care and where neglect is a reality.

The BBC reports in 2014, “Nearly 90% of 39,000 children in care last year were living in government-run institutions rather than with families, Human Rights Watch said in a report released earlier this year… The rate is the highest among industrialized nations, the report warned, with as few as one in 10 children eventually moving to a family environment through fostering or adoption.”

Turning back to the statistical area then the increasing numbers of child abuse cases being reported is clearly multifaceted. For example, for over two decades the economy remains largely in the doldrums despite some periods of limited growth. Similarly, increasing numbers of people are getting divorced with the knock-on effect being the family breakdown and more poverty for people on a limited income. After all, single parents (mainly single mothers in Japan) get limited support and the cost of raising a child is extremely high (obviously, the majority of single families are among the most loving – but the financial angle and reduced family network are creating a negative vacuum for a minority). Other social ills apply to growing temporary work contracts that are putting added burdens and stresses on families – and the same applies to a declining economic base (child abuse exists in all economic social groups) for many on the economic margins.



Parents can protect children from sex abuse

by Holly Peifer

Child sexual abuse is an unpleasant topic, but one that must be addressed with children, teenagers, parents, teachers and with anyone who works with children.

Recent events in our community have once again brought to light the all-too-often hidden truth about child sexual abuse. Let us not forget, however, that abuse of children is something that happens every day in DeKalb County and everywhere else.

No doubt that when cases come to the forefront regarding a teacher or a coach, it leaves us with an undeniable desire to find the answer to the question, “How could this have happened?”

Child sexual abuse is cloaked in secrecy and perpetuated by offenders who not only groom their victims, but groom the entire community by showing and proving to all around them that they can be trusted.

This is not limited to teachers and coaches. The secrecy, the intimidation and the shame encompass all offenders of sexual abuse. This might be a parent, stepparent or grandparent.

It has nothing to do with gender, race, income or education level. The National Center for Victims of Crime states that one in five girls are victims of child sexual abuse and one in 20 boys are victims.

It also states that children ages 7 to 13 are the most vulnerable for being sexually abused. Let's get a clear picture of that. Statistically speaking, there are about three girls and one boy in every second- through seventh-grade classroom that have been or will be sexually abused. That is the sad and brutal truth of child abuse.

The light at the end of the tunnel is that there are many things that can be done to ensure the safety of children. One of the most important is having open communication with your child about body safety and safe relationships. You can start doing this at a very young age. It is a conversation that should be repeated often. If by the time they are 9, your child rolls their eyes and says, “I know! You have told me this a thousand times!” then you know you have done a good job.

Education also is extremely important in the fight against child abuse. The Children's Advocacy Center ( is the only agency in the DeKalb County that works with law enforcement, the state's attorney's office, child protection, medical providers and trauma counselors to ensure that the trauma of child abuse is lessened as much as possible.

We provide child abuse education to school personnel, parents, child care centers, social service agencies, and anyone working with children. We also provide Erin's Law ( presentations to elementary through high school students in DeKalb County.

Please call Children's Advocacy Center at 815-758-8616 for information on child abuse education presentations or visit Together, we can make a difference.

Family Service Agency of DeKalb County believes everyone deserves the highest quality of life possible. Family Service Agency is composed of four distinct departments: Big Brothers Big Sisters, Center for Counseling, Children's Advocacy Center and Senior Services Center. A host of programs are available through these departments, and all services are provided by experienced professionals.

Family Service Agency's main office is located at 14 Health Services Drive in DeKalb, and Senior Services Center is based at 330 Grove St. in DeKalb. Family Service Agency is a Kishwaukee United Way Agency.

For information about the services at Family Service Agency call 815-758-8616, or visit their website at For information on the Senior Services Center, call 815-758-4718.

Holly Peifer has been director of the Child Advocacy Center of DeKalb County for more than four years. Reach her at


New York


How to save more at-risk children

by Naomi Schaefer Riley

Could Zymere Perkins have been saved? The answer, revealed in a recent 27-page report from the state Office of Children and Family Services, is clearly yes.

There were five investigations into claims of abuse against the boy who died earlier this fall allegedly at the hands of his mother's boyfriend. He had been smacked as many as 20 times in a row in front of witnesses, beaten with a belt, placed under cold showers and denied food if he misbehaved. In addition to bruises and broken bones, he was missing all of his front teeth.

But apparently all his mother had to do was tell the ACS workers that he had fallen — down the stairs, off a scooter, whatever — and they would close the case.

Now it turns out that as many as 10 children died in the 12 weeks before Zymere Perkins, despite each being the subject of at least four abuse or maltreatment complaints.

It doesn't have to be like this. More and more cities are adopting predictive analytics as a powerful tool in determining which children are at the greatest risk for repeated abuse and even death at the hands of the adults in their lives.

Maura Corrigan, a former justice on the Michigan Supreme Court who studies child welfare, told a recent panel at the American Enterprise Institute, “If we were able to mine data in child welfare and intervene with good casework by the mining of that data, perhaps we would reduce the 1,500 to 3,000 deaths from child abuse and neglect in this country each year.”

So why haven't more states and cities — like New York — started using data from past cases in order to inform decisions about current ones? Joette Katz, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, which has started to introduce predictive analytics, told the gathering: “Not surprisingly, predictive tools have been treated with suspicion in the child-welfare area, and you all know who I'm talking about.”

Who is she talking about? For one, she is talking about academics, lawyers and politicians who worry about everyone's favorite topic — disparate impact. It turns out that there are a disproportionate number of racial minorities who are reported to and investigated by child services. So if an algorithm incorporates data about who has been engaged in abuse in the past, it might inadvertently target more black and Hispanic families.

Of course, then the computer wouldn't be any more prejudiced than people who are currently deciding which families are at risk. But there's no evidence that racism is playing a role in the first place. Corrigan says the majority of child-abuse complaints in Michigan are directed at African-Americans.

And she's fairly certain that authorities aren't simply ignoring complaints of white parent abuse. “Our reporting laws are so comprehensive on child abuse and neglect that I don't think there's unreported child abuse going on out there,” she said. “This is poverty related.”

But it's not just economic conditions that lead to child abuse. There's a higher incidence of single motherhood among racial minorities, and fathers living with children who aren't biologically their own are more likely to engage in abuse.

But these facts won't stop the people who are more concerned with the racial aesthetics of the system. ACLU senior analyst Jay Stanley told PBS that “The worst-case scenario is that the score is just reflecting the prejudices or beliefs of whoever scored the algorithm.”

Actually, the worst-case scenario is that children are beaten to death.

There are others who object to the use of predictive analytics — namely, many of the professionals who work for child services and believe that their expertise is superior to a computer's. But their concerns probably go beyond that. Thanks to these new tools, we can't only figure out which children are most likely to be harmed; we can also figure out which case workers are most likely to have made the wrong decisions. And what public-sector bureaucrat wants that?

Perhaps this sounds familiar. A system that's supposed to help the children but is really turning into a jobs program for adults? Yes, it's our inner-city public schools. And just like low-performing public-school teachers don't want the accountability that comes with teacher evaluations, so many case workers would be pretty unhappy if we tried to inject greater accountability into child services.

In a report issued on Thursday, Comptroller Scott Stringer noted that without reform, the mismanagement of ACS “will continue to prove fatal for an unknown number of children.” Now we know what that reform should look like. There's no time to waste.


United Kingdom

Parents urged to discuss online safety after surge in child sex abuse calls to Childline

Over the past three years, the number of contacts to Childline about online sexual abuse has surged by 250 per cent

by Hayden Smith

A sharp jump in calls to a helpline about online sexual abuse has sparked an appeal for parents to discuss internet safety with children receiving smartphones, games consoles and tablet computers this Christmas.

The NSPCC said there were 3,716 Childline counselling sessions about the issue in 2015/16 – a 24 per cent increase on the 2,994 the previous year.

Over the past three years, the number of contacts to Childline about online sexual abuse has surged by 250 per cent.

The category can include grooming, child sexual exploitation, sexting, being made to perform sex acts on webcam, meeting in person, and viewing distressing sexually explicit content.

Some children contacted Childline because they felt trapped by their situation, because they felt guilty and ashamed, were being blackmailed, or were considering meeting in person.

A 14-year-old girl told the service: “I met this guy through social media and he was really nice. He told me I was beautiful and I felt that I could talk to him about everything.

“He asked me for some topless photos which I didn't think was a big deal, so I sent him a few. But now he's turned really nasty and is threatening to post them online if I don't send him more.

“I'm really worried and embarrassed and I don't know what to do.”

The NSPCC said it is vital that parents talk to their children about being safe online with tablets, smartphones and games consoles.

Peter Wanless, chief executive of the charity, said: “The web can be a fantastic place for children and young people to socialise, explore their interests, and learn, but every parent buying an internet device should be aware that there are risks too and think about installing parental controls.

“In the last year we've seen a staggering rise in online sexual abuse, with many children turning to Childline when the situation has escalated.

“Often groomers will use devious tactics to lure in young people and manipulate them into situations that leave them feeling frightened and ashamed.

“The NSPCC has lots of resources to help parents talk about online issues so that they can help keep a child safe and happy online.”

Minister for digital and culture policy Matt Hancock said: “It is essential to make sure children can enjoy all the benefits of the internet as safely as possible – whether that is for playing games, gathering information or staying in touch with family and friends.”

“As well as teaching children to be aware of online safety in the curriculum, keeping children safe online is a joint effort, and there are a range of simple and practical steps parents can take this Christmas to better protect their children from online risks. This includes using the NSPCC's online resources and the UK Council for Child Internet Safety guide for parents.”

Advice for parents includes exploring sites and apps together with their children, asking about things they might see online which make them feel uncomfortable, and reassuring them that they will not overreact.



What a youth court judge didn't want the media to know

by Wesley Muller

HANCOCK COUNTY -- The situation at a house in the Bayside Park community was “of such an emergency nature,” according to the youth court, that Child Protection Services was ordered in September to forcibly enter the home to try to seize three children who lived there with their parents.

It was a situation Hancock County Youth Court Judge Steve Maggio wanted no one else, especially the media, to know about. Maggio placed a gag order on the parents, Miranda and Matthew Harrington, and everyone else who attended the hearing, prohibiting them from speaking about the case “with anyone to include the media,” the order said.

Only one sentence long, the gag-order language was inserted among other orders in the two-page judgment that resulted from the couple's first hearing in youth court.

“They wouldn't let me say anything,” Miranda Harrington said, referring to the judge and prosecutor. “(They) just asked me questions.”

She recalled the hearing lasted about two hours. During that time, the judge suppressed two of the most fundamental liberties the Harringtons enjoy as American citizens — the First Amendment right to freedom of speech and the 14th Amendment right to raise a family without state interference.

So what kind of severe abuse had the children suffered to prompt such swift action by the youth court?

Apparently none. The judge ordered the children returned to their parents the following week and later closed the case. No abuse or neglect allegations appeared in the emergency removal order, the shelter order or the reunification order.

Constitutional considerations

Maggio's use of a gag order in the Harrington case has raised ethical and constitutional questions. Legal experts and state legislators interviewed said the order appears to violate the First Amendment. Maggio did not return several calls and emails requesting comment.

State Rep. Timmy Ladner said he has begun an investigation into the Harrington case, as well as another youth court case in which Maggio placed someone under a gag order. Ladner sits on the Legislature's investigative committee PEER — Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review.

It's unknown how many gag orders Maggio has issued in child-welfare cases or when they were issued. The Harrington case began in early September, just a few weeks after the Sun Herald published “Fostering Secrets,” a six-part investigation that presented evidence of children taken into custody based on unsubstantiated claims of child abuse, and of children being sexually abused while in foster care.

A case in Jackson County Youth Court made national headlines a few years ago and involved a gag order similar to the one in the Harrington case.

In the Jackson County case, undocumented immigrant Cirila Baltazar Cruz gave birth at Singing River Hospital, and child-welfare workers immediately seized the child and reported Cruz to immigration authorities for deportation. The youth court initiated proceedings to terminate her parental rights, but the Southern Poverty Law Center stepped in to defend her.

The baby was returned to Cruz a year later, and with media attention surrounding the case, the youth court sought to keep it confidential by issuing a gag order, which Cruz challenged in the Mississippi Supreme Court.

In 2013, the Supreme Court overturned the gag order, declaring it an unconstitutional prior restraint on the First Amendment. Prior restraint occurs when government suppresses speech before the speech is uttered.

In reaching its conclusion, the Supreme Court said gag orders are valid only if a court first holds a hearing of the evidence to analyze the necessity and effects of a potential gag order. The court must determine if there is a compelling interest “of the highest order” that would justify a gag order. It must then narrowly tailor the gag order to be the least restrictive possible.

The precedent noted in the Cruz case would apply to the Harrington case, said Ridgeland attorney Kelly Williams, an expert on child-welfare law. This year, Williams became the first attorney in Mississippi to be certified as a child welfare law specialist by the National Association of Counsel for Children.

“While the facts differ a little, the case is clear that due process requires a (gag order) hearing wherein the court goes through a balancing test,” she said. “So if Hancock County is issuing gag orders without a hearing, then, in my opinion, that is error.”

The youth court in the Cruz case justified the gag order to serve the confidentiality of its proceedings and “the best interest of the child.”

However, the Supreme Court found those reasons insufficient to trump the First Amendment.

“We find that there exists no imminent danger to a compelling interest of such magnitude that the restraint on the parties' speech would be warranted,” the Supreme Court said.

CPS' ground zero

The Harringtons said CPS first contacted them after their 5-year-old daughter made a comment at school: The girl allegedly said she babysat her 9-year-old brother.

The couple allowed a caseworker to inspect their home, who told them afterward she didn't believe the 5-year-old's comment was anything to take seriously. Nevertheless, the caseworker told the couple they had to take drug tests before the case could be closed, Miranda Harrington said.

Things took a turn when Miranda, who had a head full of hair extensions, asked the drug-testing facility to take a hair follicle sample from elsewhere on her body. She said the caseworker became frustrated and accused her of disrupting the investigation.

The Harringtons were not under any kind of court order at the time.

When asked why drug screening was necessary, the caseworker told her it was because they lived in the Bayside Park community, Miranda said. Later that night, CPS showed up at their home with the emergency removal order.

Bayside Park has become ground zero for CPS cases in Hancock County. The subdivision west of Waveland is one of the lowest-income communities in the county.

In a 2015 interview, Hancock County Youth Court Judge Elise Deano said an overwhelming majority of child-protection cases come out of Bayside Park.

Matthew Harrington said many residents there have had encounters with CPS.

“They think because you live in Bayside, you must be on drugs,” he said.

Aside from Matthew Harrington testing positive for marijuana on one test, the couple passed each of their drug screens, which included urinalysis, hair follicle and even fingernail clipping tests, according to lab records. The court order named a specific facility to handle the screenings and made the couple personally pay for them, one of which cost more than $200.

The Hancock County Youth Court's aggressive drug-testing policy is unlike any other in the state, and was a point of criticism in a 2015 report from the Legislature's investigative committee.

‘It's just wrong'

State Rep. Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach, said he plans to introduce legislation in January to reform some of the strict confidentiality statutes cloaking youth courts.

Bennett has helped many of his constituents get through similar child-welfare issues. He said the Harrington case fits the profile of every other case he has dealt with.

“I'm not saying this to be offensive, but it's like they go after a certain kind of people,” he said. “It's always lower-income folks who aren't as educated as some of the rest of us.”

He said he thinks the system is targeting residents of lower socioeconomic classes, most of whom don't know their legal rights and cannot afford legal representation. The cases, most of which are considered child neglect, are usually the result of poverty, he said.

He said the gag order in the Harrington case is an example of the system trying to protect itself.

“It's just wrong,” Bennett said. “It's morally wrong, ethically wrong, legally wrong — just wrong on every level.”



Salinas child abuse case a year later: County improvements seen

by Claudia Melendez Salinas

Salinas >> A little more than a month ago, Monterey County Child Protective Services received reports of a possible case of abuse against a 10-month-old child. Social workers asked Salinas police officers to help with the investigation, but when they visited the family, the baby they found appeared to be in fine health.

Three days later, CPS again asked Salinas officers with help in finding the child, police Cmdr. Stan Cooper said. Apparently, word got to them that the baby originally shown to authorities was not the one who was suspected of being abused.

So when family members once again tried to pass another child as the 10-month-old victim, law enforcement officials discovered the ruse and eventually found the young child injured on the legs and upper torso. Four people were arrested and five children were placed in protective custody.

Elliott Robinson, director of the Monterey County Department of Social Services, cannot discuss details of the case for confidentiality reasons. But it easily comes to his mind in the wake of changes that have taken place since a horrific child abuse case that resulted in the deaths of two children and the near death of a third one.

“What I've seen is a very strong effort from our staff … to draw in law enforcement,” Robinson said. “We don't independently make the call for removal to protective, we do so in conjunction with law enforcement. So, it's very important that we work closely and draw in each others' participation to protect at-risk children.”

It's been a year since law enforcement officials discovered the bodies of 6-year-old Shaun Tara and his 3-year-old sister, Delylah, stuffed in containers in a storage unit in Redding. The children, who had been living in Salinas with Tami Huntsman in a crowded one-bedroom apartment, died as result of severe malnourishment and showed signs of ongoing abuse when they were found in December 2015.

Huntsman, 40, is awaiting trial on multiple charges of murder, torture, child abuse and conspiracy. Gonzalo Curiel, Huntsman's 18-year-old partner, is also awaiting trial which, after numerous delays, is expected to be set in January.

Cracks in the system

In the days that followed the grisly discovery, a lot of attention was focused on the Department of Social Services and its handling of the case. Not only had Salinas police officers visited the house twice, but social workers had received multiple reports of suspected abuse and had initiated at least four investigations.

At some point it became obvious that Huntsman was trying to hide the kids: after teachers became concerned with the children's well-being, she stopped sending Shaun and his older sister to school and began home-schooling them. When social workers came around twice to check on the children, they found nobody home. A letter was sent to Huntsman asking her to contact social services, but got no response. A fourth report received by child welfare officials accusing Huntsman of tying the 3-year old to the bed was not followed up because of the department's outmoded reporting system.

The intense scrutiny on the Family and Children's Branch was met with profound changes — all directed at filling the cracks that allowed the Tara children to fall through.

Some of the changes began immediately, said Robinson. Others, like the hiring of five new social workers, took longer to complete.

Protocol changes

The first major change was in the protocol used to verify reports of abuse. In the case of Shaun and Delylah, the last report was considered a duplicate of an earlier one and not followed through. Now, every single call that comes in is investigated, Robinson said.

“Previously, the way we managed the workforce, when calls came in that were clearly not child-abuse related, we didn't necessarily put them through the child-abuse protocol,” he said. “If someone sees a neighbor hit a kid, that's not a child-abuse issue, that's a crime, so we would refer that to law enforcement. Now, everything goes through the emergency response protocol — we want to make sure we do't miss anything.”

The department was already witnessing an increase in calls, and with the new directive to investigate all incidents, the workload also went up. And even though more money was allocated to hire more social workers, the hiring of new personnel took time.

“There's still training to do to make sure we're at full capacity,” said Lori Medina, who took over as director of the Family and Children's Branch in April. “We're stabilizing. We starting to feel that we are catching up with the pace.”

But removing children from potentially dangerous situations is not a decision that can be made by social workers alone, and another crack officials have been attempting to patch is increased coordination with law enforcement agencies.

“You have different parties responsible for different parts. We're responsible for assessing the safety of the child, and if a child needs to be put in foster care, we do the foster care placement,” Robinson said. “Law enforcement investigates a crime. And the district attorney prosecutes.”

No centralized database

How those reports are generated and where they are kept have proved to be a challenge, since there's no centralized database where all three departments can find out, in real time, the background of each family with reports of possible abuse.

“We're not tech-ready yet,” Robinson said. “We hope to be. We each play a key role in the child-abuse effort and right now we can't take the decision alone to remove a child.”

Robinson and his team are also further along in the development of a warrant process. It won't be a “break-and-enter” warrant, where social workers can compel families to open the door. But the warrant will be a legal mandate for families to show up for interviews or present children for inspection by a doctor — something that could not be done in the case of the Tara children.

The changes have taken place while the department also was undergoing significant transformation to comply with new state laws. Authored by Assemblyman Mark Stone, the “Foster Care: Continuum of Care” mandates that children who land in the foster care system do not end up in group homes for an indefinite amount of time and that families who take in children receive support to minimize disruption for them. As a direct result, foster care parents need more training and more families willing to take in foster children are needed.

But these regulations, particularly the ones about group homes, are aimed at helping older children, and it is the youngest ones who are most at risk. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 3 in 4 children who died due to abuse and neglect in 2013 were younger than 3 years old. It's the population that's most at risk.

Overcrowded conditions

These changes, and the assessing of children who could face at-home threats, have to be done in the context of very poor communities already facing a lot of need, Robinson said. In Monterey County, more than 36 percent of children younger than 18 live in overcrowded conditions — a lot higher than California, where 28 percent of children face similar situations.

“I've been asked if the number of children could be a cause of concern,” he said, speaking in general terms but also referring to the fact that there were at least five children younger than 12 living in Huntsman's tiny apartment, along with her 17-year-old companion and possibly another teenager. “Of course it is, but that's not a reason to place a child in foster care. That would bring a lot of issues of social equity and disproportionality if that were a reason to put a child in foster care.”

Taking into consideration overcrowding, income, employment, immigration status and other characteristics of Monterey County's population has been part of designing the “Roadmap to strengthen child well being,” an effort by social services to invite more community organizations to be vigilant about child welfare.

Following the Tara children's case, officials at the Monterey County Office of Education also approved changes aimed at keeping closer tabs on students being home-schooled. Families who want to educate their children at home now must provide proof of legal guardianship, and students have to meet with their teacher at least once a week and receive in-home visits at least once every couple of months. The changes are not just for children's safety, but for their academic achievement, officials said.

“Without in-person or live visual interaction on a weekly basis, the teaching and learning progress in many cases is minimal and the learning opportunities constrained,” said Nancy Kotowski, superintendent of Monterey County public schools, in an email. “Further, child neglect and abuse that may be occurring can go undetected when a child is not seen frequently. This is particularly true in independent study and other non-classroom based programs.”

Kotowski and her team are researching the possibility of enshrining these changes in California's Education Code, which now requires home-schooled students meet their teachers only twice a month and does not require adults to demonstrate they're the legal guardians of the children they keep at home.

Yet another change inspired by the Tara children was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in September, and it requires that incarcerated parents receive information about options for their children to receive care. Shaun Tara, a cousin of Huntsman's, left his children in her care when he went to prison.

As the first-year anniversary of the tragedy approached, community members began asking again what went wrong and what could have prevented the deaths of the two siblings. Some wanted to know the fate of the surviving child, the 9-year-old girl who was beaten nearly to death and whose presence eventually led authorities to her deceased siblings. Others wanted to know where Shaun and Delylah are buried.

Social services officials can't provide answers. But they say the deaths of the children was traumatic for everyone, and has moved everyone to step up their game.

“A lot has been going on in the department,” Medina said. “The staff has been working very hard, it's embraced improvements and change. I've always been proud of the work they've done, they continue to have a can-do attitude. The death of those children rocked the department, they were devastated. It was really hard.”



CASA: Caring For Kids Caught In The Addiction Crisis

by Aaron Payne

The Ohio Valley's opioid epidemic has effects far beyond the individuals struggling through addiction, with families and children suffering as well. An organization that helps children in abuse cases now sees substance abuse as a leading contributor, and could be overwhelmed by the addiction crisis.

Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children — CASA for short — is a nationwide organization in which community volunteers are designated by judges to serve as the voice for children involved in abuse and neglect cases.

The opioid epidemic has contributed to an increased caseload for courts dealing with abuse and neglect cases. And in West Virginia, CASA programs are struggling to recruit enough volunteers to keep up.

‘It's going to be a lot messier'

Tessa DiTirro moved to the northern panhandle of West Virginia to become a journalist at WTRF-TV.

She had heard of CASA but it wasn't until after working on a story with the local organization that she decided to go through the 30 hours of training to become an advocate.

“I'm still on my first case,” DiTirro told me during a visit in December to the CASA headquarters for Marshall, Ohio, Tyler and Wetzel Counties in Moundsville. “I've been working on it since August.”

This case involves an infant and a young child who investigators determined were neglected due in part to a parent's struggles with addiction.

The aim of any CASA is to remain objective while getting to know both the children and parents.

But objectivity can be difficult, as DiTirro has seen first-hand the emotional effect the case has had on the oldest child.

“It was sad for him on his birthday,” DiTirro said. “His parents couldn't be there. His parents didn't even reach out to him, which really made him sad. But I brought him a little toy and we had a great conversation.“

She is able to remain objective thanks to the extensive training, which teaches advocates to learn about the whole family.

“Sometimes I do like to look at the other members of the family and balance it out,“ she said. “Because if I was just going by my kids, I would love to take them and go play and just have fun. But that's not what it's all about.”

The volunteer coordinator DiTirro works with is Erin Jordan, who started as an intern in January but became one of three paid staff members after graduating from West Liberty University in May.

As advocates for the children, Jordan said objectivity is essential to building parents back up in hopes of reunification.

“Parents don't always deserve their kids, but kids always deserve their parent,” Jordan said. “So, let's not automatically write off the parents.”

Reunification is not always in the best interest of the child, however, and the region's addiction crisis is making it difficult.

CASA programs are more often scanning for cases like DiTirro's where the abuse or neglect can in part be attributed to a parent's addiction to opioids.

“My brain automatically shifts and I know that this case is going to be a lot harder than one where there's not drugs,” Jordan said. “It's going to be a lot messier.”

The epidemic is also leaving CASA programs with limited resources.

A Need for Volunteers

Neglect related to a parent's struggle with addiction is nothing new for CASA. Advocates nationwide have dealt with these cases since the program was founded in the late 70s by a judge in Washington.

But the CASA program DiTirro and Jordan work for has seen its caseload increase significantly due to the opioid epidemic.

“In 2016, we've served 322 children. That's 162 new cases. In 2010, we were serving 50 new kids a year,” Executive Director Susan Harrison said. “We're looking at about 90 percent of the kids on our caseload have drugs as an allegation in that petition.”

CASA encourages a one volunteer to one case ratio. (A case could include more than one child, as DiTirro's does.)

Harrison's organization was working with around 30 volunteers for 2016, as of December. Recruiting enough volunteers to keep up with the caseload has proven to be a challenge.

“When your caseload has doubled and then tripled just in two years, finding those CASA volunteers willing to give the time and energy to these cases is difficult,” Harrison said.

The more experienced volunteers have been put on multiple cases if Harrison believes the children will still be served. Jordan and the other paid staff member are on deck if needed.

The increased caseload stretches funding thin for the 11 CASA programs operating in 31 West Virginia counties.

West Virginia's programs are all nonprofits, most receiving the majority of their budget through the Victims of Crime Act Crime Fund and other grants.

The remainder comes through donations, which, while appreciated, can't quite cover the demand for CASA's service.

“We've grown from 50 kids to 300 kids and my budget has not quadrupled,” Harrison said.

The Mountain State is not alone in facing these problems.

An Unfortunate Opportunity

When directors for 40 CASA programs covering 47 Ohio counties gathered this month at a conference in Columbus it didn't take long for the opioid epidemic to come up.

“You all have been affected,” Doug Stephens, the statewide director who helps coordinate the local programs, said to the group.

The number of children served by Ohio's CASA programs has increased by 872 between 2012 and 2015, according to their data. Projections indicate 2016 will see another increase for a total of 8,500 children served.

Volunteers have not increased as the projections indicate 2,100 will have served this year, six more than in 2012.

“It makes it very difficult to serve all these extra children,” Stephens said. “More importantly, it tempts us to give more cases per volunteer. And that's the complete opposite of what we want to do.”

But Stephens remains optimistic and embraces the challenges presented by the opioid epidemic.

“We have wonderful community volunteers,” he said. “I think there are more out there, they just don't know us. I think the community is always looking for ways to support the children that are put into awful positions. The first step is we have to figure out a way to get more volunteers.”

Lawmakers in Columbus are taking notice.

One state senator has proposed providing $300,000 annually from Ohio's general revenue fund for CASA programs to be distributed based on need created by the opioid epidemic.

With Ohio anticipating a tight budget, that funding is not a sure thing. But CASA programs are pleased with the attention from the statehouse.

“We are fortunate and we do appreciative that we have a number of legislators that support us,” Stephens said.

A regional collaborative being developed in southeast Ohio could provide a new way to help manage resources and boost newer programs..

Athens County CASA, established in the 90s, is most experienced in the region and was approached about leading the younger programs.

“Having the opportunity to share our resources, share our lessons that we've learned, I think will only help those programs and get them a good leg off the ground,” Jenny Stotts, Athens CASA Executive Director said.

Sharing strategies to build up recruiting will be a priority.

Even with decent resources, expanding staff and support from the community, Stotts said even they could use more volunteers.

“I dream of the day that we will have a waiting list of volunteers waiting for a child to serve instead of a waiting for a list of children waiting for a CASA.”

Bluegrass Boost for CASA

Travel to Kentucky and you will hear similar stories from CASA program directors.

The caseload for the 18 programs currently operating across 41 counties has increased over the past few years without a significant increase in recruiting.

State lawmakers took notice recently and appropriated $3 million of state funding over the next two fiscal years for CASA. The move marks the first time CASA with be receiving state funds in 34 years of the organization operating in Kentucky. It also makes it the only such program in the region to receive money directly from their state.

The funding boost will enable CASA to expand with two new programs set to cover five counties at first, with plans to serve three more in the future.

Andrea Bruns with Kentucky's statewide CASA organization does not attribute the increased caseloads entirely to the opioid epidemic. But said they are noticing effects in counties with the highest addiction rates.

A Judge's Testimony

Judges around the Ohio Valley that appoint advocates from CASA programs in their courts are voicing their support.

Judge Robert W. Stewart presides over the Probate and Juvenile courts in Athens County. He has interacted with CASA for over a decade and speaks highly of the program.

“People who raise their hand and are willing to go through the training because they care about the idea of helping abused and neglected children is such a positive,” he said. “It's hard to think of anyone who would be against an organization like CASA.”

Stewart said the program provides practical services to the court systems in which they serve.

Volunteer work from CASA cuts down on court cost significantly each year.

Stewart estimates that volunteer advocates in Athens County put in somewhere around 7,000 hours of work between training, working with families and filing recommendations to the court.

Courts appoint a layperson or attorney as the child's advocate, or guardian ad litem, in counties without CASA programs.

Stewart estimates that hiring a guardian to work 5,000 hours to perform the services of a CASA volunteer would quickly become a burden.

“If I was paying a layperson to be a guardian ad litem, that would be $100,000 at $20 an hour,” he said. “If I was paying an attorney it would be a quarter of a million dollars at $50 an hour.”

Abuse and neglect cases involving substance use disorders are equally challenging for the courts system as they are for CASA, if not more so.

Stewart said with a noticeable increase in opioid-related cases, a trustworthy advocate helps courts keep the focus on the child.

“Having someone who is able to present it from the eyes of the child and look only at the best interest of the child is a very refreshing outlook.”

He encourages counties without CASA programs to do serious research and find out if they could benefit.

Making a Difference

The opioid epidemic creates challenges for CASA programs and volunteers that are not within their control: A lack of timely addiction treatment facilities for parents, a lack of housing and job services and a foster care system in need of more foster families.

But programs across the Ohio Valley will continue to focus on the changes they can make, starting with finding new advocates.

For Tessa DiTirro, balancing her job as a journalist and her work with CASA can be a challenge. She cautions those interested that it is not “light” volunteer work.

“I would say do it, but don't do it if you don't have the passion,” she said.

Volunteers are expected to work an average of 10 hours a month after the initial 30 hours of training plus time for annual training.

DiTirro said the work is rewarding. And to watch the positive impacts on a child who has experience abuse and neglect makes it worthwhile.

“It's fun to hear that he loves to do sports, that he loves math,” DiTirro said. “That's been the really rewarding part.”

More information about CASA programs in your state can be found at


I Never Had a Father Who Believed in Me, But I'm Making Sure My Children Do

by Kaitlin Stanford

I've seen this quote from announcer and coach Jim Valvano floating around the Internet on a few memes lately, and it's made me stop and think every time: “My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person: He believed in me.”

Every time I read those words, I think about my own father. He wasn't around all that much and left when I was young, so he never really took the opportunity to believe in me.

I started seeing a therapist for anxiety and depression a few months ago and naturally, we've discussed my father. During one session, my therapist gave me a workbook, and just a few chapters in it describes the impact that having an absent parent can have on the emotional state of children. Abuse, neglect, and deprivation can all attribute to a child having low self-esteem. These meetings with my therapist have really helped me better understand myself and how my relationship with my father impacted my life. But it has also made me really look differently at the relationship I'm having with my own children.

I'm a father of three, with my oldest being 9, and I can honestly say that I worry a lot about messing them up. I don't want them to be chatting with a therapist someday about me and how I wasn't there, or was too strict, or soft, or whatever. Some days I worry that I'm being too supportive, and other days I worry that I'm not being supportive enough. I wonder if I should be harder on them, perhaps have higher expectations — and other days I wonder if I'm being a little too hard on them, perhaps I need to lighten up.

I think all parents wonder these things, but especially those that came from a broken home. It's a scary feeling to go into parenting without a good example, and sometimes I tell myself at least I'm there. And other days, that feels like that's setting the bar far too low.

I'm not going to try and pretend like I have the answer to being the perfect parent, nor do I believe I could grant that information to you in this post, even if I had it. But what I can say is not having a father around as a child has made me compelled to be a pretty active father myself. And what I've learned is that one of the best things I can do to help promote my children's overall happiness and success is to believe in them.

But ultimately, what does that look like?

Well, in the case of my children, it starts with action. It means listening to my children to show them that what they have to say has value. It means walking a fine line between doing things for them and believing in their ability to do things on their own. It means believing that when they fall down, that they can get back up again. It means cheering them on during a particularly troublesome homework assignment even when you really don't want to because, let's face it, helping children with homework can be as frustrating for us parents as it is for our children.

It means showing up to a soccer game and not getting pissed off about every play, or feeling let down when your child's team doesn't win. Rather, it means cheering them on for their contributions and helping them understand how to be better at their sport in a kind and productive way.

Ultimately, it means knowing in your heart that they can grow up to be happy, productive people, and then granting them enough guidance and enough space to accomplish their own goals.

Believing in your children doesn't mean putting them on a pedestal and overlooking when they act like jerks, do something bone headed, or blow off basic obligations. Ultimately, believing in them means holding them accountable, because you believe they can perform.

Ultimately, it means being there for your children. It means showing up and making an effort to share in their passions.

A lot of this can become complicated when you realize that sometimes you might not like your children's passions. I'm not all that much into soccer, or sports in general, but my son is. He digs it, and I believe in him enough to try and figure it out enough so I can help support him. This doesn't mean that I've learned how to be a soccer hero. I learned enough so that I can engage in a conversation with him about soccer. I can give him advice about the game and sportsmanship, and ultimately, I can tell him that I believe in him, using language that he understands.

But you know what? Those of you that are taking the time to read an article like this are probably already doing most of these things. You are probably patient and loving and caring enough as a parent to read the title of this article and decide to read it, because you know just how important it is to believe in your child. But I think the real key here is telling your children that you believe in them.

Sometimes, in all the actions we do as parents, we forget to tell our children, verbally, that we believe in them. And ultimately, I think that's what Jim Valvano's getting at. Believing in your children is about both actions and words. It's about looking your children in the eyes and saying, “I believe in you,” and then having children look at everything you do for them and know that it's true.



New Ontario law will help unite grandparents with families: advocates

Bill 34 became law Dec. 8

by Dominick Kurek

Scarborough's Wanda Davies is scheduled to see her two grandchildren for the first time in two-and-a-half years on Dec. 30 and says a newly passed Ontario law will help other grandparents isolated from their families do the same.

She was part of a coalition comprised of national Cangrands and international, Florida-based Alienated Grandparents Anonymous that worked with NDP MPP for Algoma-Manitoulin Michael Mantha to get the law passed. Bill 34 to amend the Children's Law Reform Act became law Dec. 8.

The bill amends a law that sets out who may apply to a court for a child custody or access order to now make express reference to grandparents. Previously, grandparents were only recognized in the courts as other persons.

Mantha said the intent of the “others” in the existing law was too vague for the courts, often leaving grandparents unable to fight for access to their grandchildren. He said there are 75,000 to 100,000 grandparents in Ontario who do not get access to their grandchildren. The reasons vary, from marital breakdowns, to monetary disputes between parents and grandparents, and to relationship fallouts between parents and grandparents.

“We are now giving grandparents clout,” Mantha said. “We are now saying the courts need to look at grandparents in a different way, not in a better way, we just have to give them the rightful consideration.”

He stresses that the law doesn't give grandparents automatic access to their grandchildren. They still have to apply through the courts for access.

“The grandparents will have an opportunity to make their case, but the parents will also have an opportunity to make their case and the courts will make their decision in the best interest of the child,” Mantha said.

This latest iteration of the amendment was the seventh attempt by Cangrands in the past 19 years to get such a law passed. Mantha presented the private member's bill the last two times.

The previous six times, the amendment failed to pass because each bill was an emotional plea by the grandparents, said Davies. But, she said the intent was for the best interest of grandchildren, not the grandparents. She said keeping grandchildren from their grandparents is a form of emotional abuse.

“We had to have facts and we had to have empirical evidence why grandparents are the solution, so we went to work,” she said of the latest and successful attempt.

They dug in and researched. The coalition had information from Ontario Public Health, Children's Aid Society and many others about what happens to children emotionally when they are denied access to their grandparents.

Davies said the coalition hopes grandparents to not have to go to court. Instead, she said this law could start dialogue between estranged families before they get to court. It worked in her case.

“We do not want to go to litigation. We do not want to go to court. We want mediators. We want therapists. We want to heal our families, which is our objective. But first we have to get them talking to us,” she said.