Boy, 8, died protecting sister, 7, from his mom's child-molester ex, grandmother says
by Fox News
The grandmother of an 8-year-old boy who police said was beaten to death by this mother's ex-boyfriend told Fox 40 that the boy died protecting his sister from his mother's child-molester ex-boyfriend.
Deandre Chaney Jr., 23, attacked Dante Daniels with a hammer and lighter fluid, Fox 40 reported, citing a criminal complaint. Chaney, a reported violent two-strike felon and sex offender, beat Dante in the early morning hours of Sept. 1, while performing a lewd act on his 7-year-old sister, authorities said. The boy died six days later.
Authorities said Chaney, at one point, turned the hammer and knife on the girl and the mother, who was reportedly out at the time of the incident. Brown told Fox 40 that the 7-year-old girl is fine, but will likely never see out of her left eye again.
“Trying to save his sister from this child molester,” Monique Brown, the boy's grandmother said. “And that's why he was beat the worst.”
Brown called her grandson a hero. She said the boy was beaten with a hammer “down to his spine.”
“They couldn't save his brain,” she said.
Dante never made it to his second day of third grade at Oakridge Elementary in South Sacramento, the report said.
Chaney was arraigned on murder, attempted murder and charged with lewd acts with a child under 14.
Pope's sex abuse advisers also look into children of priests
by Nicole Winfield
Pope Francis' committee of advisers on protecting children from sexually abusive priests is expanding its workload to include the needs and rights of children fathered by Roman Catholic priests.
Committee members told The Associated Press on Sunday that a working group is looking into developing guidelines that can be used by dioceses around the world to ensure that children born to priests are adequately cared for.
"It's a horrendous problem in many cultures, and it's not something that is readily talked about," commission member Dr. Krysten Winter-Green said.
Indeed, the church has tried to keep such children secret for centuries, because of the scandal of priests breaking their vows of celibacy. But it has gained visibility after Irish bishops published guidelines earlier this year that focused on ensuring the wellbeing of the child and the mother, who often suffer psychological problems from the stigma and silence imposed on them by the church.
The Irish guidelines were believed to represent the first comprehensive public policy by a national bishops' conference on the issue. They have already become a model of sorts: The Union of Superiors General — an umbrella group of male religious orders — has sent the Irish guidelines to their members to apply, and the International Union of Superiors General, the female umbrella group, is expected to endorse them at a November assembly, said Vincent Doyle, a lead campaigner on the issue.
Commission member Bill Kilgallon briefed Francis on the decision of the working group to take up the issue of priests' children during an audience last week.
Kilgallon told the AP that the issue falls squarely under the broad mandate of the commission, which is officially known as the "Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors" and has as its mission the aim of promoting and protecting the dignity of minors and vulnerable adults.
"If someone fathers a child, they have a responsibility to that child, end of story," Kilgallon said.
The issue has been placed on the church's agenda in large part due to a campaign by Doyle, an Irish psychotherapist who discovered late in life that his father was a priest. With the backing of the archbishop of Dublin, Doyle launched Coping International, an online self-help resource to help eliminate the stigma he and others like him have faced, and educate them and the church about the emotional and psychological problems that some children suffer. They can include depression, anxiety and other mental health issues, as well as social isolation and financial hardship.
The plight of priests' children was also the subject of a recent series in The Boston Globe.
The number of children known to be fathered by Catholic priests isn't known, but there are about 450,000 Catholic priests in the world and the Catholic Church forbids artificial contraception and abortion.
Doyle said Sunday he was pleased the issue was now on the agenda of the pope's advisory commission, and said there is a very real connection between the children of priests and victims of sexual abuse: He said many of the mothers in question were raped as girls or teens by priests, and are therefore themselves victims of sexual abuse.
"It's not always 'The Thorn Birds,'" Doyle said of the classic story of young woman's love for the family priest. "More often than not, there's rape and pedophilia involved."
36 People Arrested in Alleged Sex-Trafficking Ring in Compton
by the Los Angeles Times
A prostitution ring shut down in Compton included several child and adult victims of human trafficking, authorities said.
A raid by law enforcement officers on Wednesday resulted in 36 arrests, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff 's Department.
Three children were released to the care of the Department of Children and Family Services, officials said. Investigators also identified five women as victims of human trafficking; these individuals accepted what authorities described as “ongoing services.”
The tally of those arrested included four women on suspicion of soliciting undercover deputies for sex acts, and 13 women on suspicion of loitering for the purposes of prostitution. Each of the women was offered services from the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking.
Recording of child sexual abuse haunts already reeling victims: research
by Jim Bronskill
OTTAWA — Victims of childhood sexual abuse often suffer great distress over the fact video or pictures of the crimes are circulating in cyberspace — adding to the pain they already experience, says a new report.
The existence of images that may still be possessed by the abuser or publicly available for others to see has "an enormously negative impact" on victims, says the report by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, a national charity that fights child exploitation.
"The impact can persist into adulthood and may significantly reduce the ability of survivors to cope with day-to-day stressors, maintain healthy relationships, and reach their full potential."
The report draws on the experiences of 150 child sex-abuse victims from Canada, the United States and several European countries who filled out an extensive survey to help researchers better understand what they're facing as adults.
Almost 70 per cent of those who took part worried about being recognized by someone because of the recording of their child sexual abuse. One in every five reported being identified by a person who had seen their abuse imagery.
"It's not something that will ever go away. Being the adult I am now, my photos are still out there, as long as the internet exists my photos will always be out there," one respondent told the researchers. "Sites will be taken down but new ones are somehow being put back up. ... There is no way I can finally be done with this abuse."
The report recommends considering global adoption of a centre-developed tool known as Project Arachnid, an automatic web crawler that detects images and videos based on digital fingerprints of illegal content. The tool has already identified tens of thousands of online images of child sexual abuse.
When such material is identified, a notice is sent to the hosting internet provider to request immediate removal.
"We need other countries to be aware of it, that this is available," said Lianna McDonald, the child protection centre's executive director.
The researchers found almost half of the respondents were victims of organized sexual abuse, assaulted by multiple offenders. In such scenarios, the main offenders were often parents or extended family members.
Many victims did not tell anyone about the abuse until they were an adult. Very few first told someone at school, a place where children spend much of their time. Many said no one ever asked them directly if they had been abused.
As a result, the report recommends improving education and training on child sexual abuse among professionals, such as teachers and doctors, to help them recognize signs and respond appropriately.
The centre's report also recommends:
— Strengthening co-ordination and communication between organizations that deal with victims of child abuse and online exploitation, including schools, child welfare, hotlines, therapists, police, industry, child-serving organizations and advocacy centres;
— Developing comprehensive remedies to recognize the rights and needs of victims whose abuse was recorded, such as knowledgeable therapists, means of financial compensation and opportunities to have their voices heard within the criminal justice system.
Report shows number of child abuse cases across Fresno County remains the same
by Sontaya Rose
Doctors at Valley Children's Hospital are seeing an increase in the number of children coming into the hospital for child abuse.
Despite several high-profile child death cases in the Central Valley this year, Child Protective Services says they are seeing numbers that are consistent with prior years.
More calls are coming in for caseworkers to investigate or look into suspected abuse. However, actual cases that are substantiated remains the same.
More than ever before, the public and concerned citizens are calling in with tips and concerns about suspected child abuse, according to the Deputy Director of Child Welfare in Fresno County.
"We're seeing more calls coming in, and I think part of it is the type of reporting that we're doing and just the community awareness," Tricia Gonzalez said. "We have an amazing community that cares about kids."
Nowadays it's more than mandated reporters at schools or daycares to pick up the phone. It's neighbors, family members and others who are asking for inquiries.
Even though abuse isn't always detected. This year, doctors have treated more abused kids than last at Valley Children's hospital. Cases are slightly up for 2017, according to Dr. Philip Hyden who oversees the child abuse prevention and treatment center.
Many of the concerning cases for social workers in hospitals and child welfare workers are related to substance abuse.
"Our biggest challenge is methamphetamine," he said. "That continues to be a big factor in our cases. We are also seeing mental health concerns."
Neglect is the number one problem seen by local CPS social workers. Valley Children's hospital doctors classify many of these cases as "failure to thrive."
But some tragic and severe cases of physical abuse have recently ended in death. Two children were killed as a result of suspected child abuse in Fresno County and Tulare County. In Merced County last week, a five-year-old was rushed to the hospital with a brain bleed. Both parents were arrested for assaulting the child.
The report numbers are staggering about 50,000 calls are made alone to the Fresno County CPS office each year. Of those, 9,000 are investigated.
Fresno Police officers and Fresno County deputies also reported similar caseloads from last year to this year. In addition, Merced County and Tulare County also provided statistics that reflect no significant child abuse trend.
Child abuse affects brain wiring
Impaired neural connections may explain profound and long-lasting effects of traumatic experiences during childhood
Source: McGill University
For the first time, researchers have been able to see changes in the neural structures in specific areas of the brains of people who suffered severe abuse as children. Difficulties associated with severe childhood abuse include increased risks of psychiatric disorders such as depression, as well as high levels of impulsivity, aggressivity, anxiety, more frequent substance abuse, and suicide.
Crucial insulation for nerve fibres builds up during first two decades of life
For the optimal function and organization of the brain, electrical signals used by neurons may need to travel over long distances to communicate with cells in other regions. The longer axons of this kind are generally covered by a fatty coating called myelin. Myelin sheaths protect the axons and help them to conduct electrical signals more efficiently. Myelin builds up progressively (in a process known as myelination) mainly during childhood, and then continue to mature until early adulthood.
Earlier studies had shown significant abnormalities in the white matter in the brains of people who had experienced child abuse. (White matter is mostly made up of billions of myelinated nerve fibres stacked together.) But, because these observations were made by looking at the brains of living people using MRI, it was impossible to gain a clear picture of the white matter cells and molecules that were affected.
To gain a clearer picture of the microscopic changes which occur in the brains of adults who have experienced child abuse, and thanks to the availability of brain samples from the Douglas-Bell Canada Brain Bank (where, as well as the brain matter itself there is a lot of information about the lives of their donors) the researchers were able to compare post-mortem brain samples from three different groups of adults: people who had committed suicide who suffered from depression and had a history of severe childhood abuse (27 individuals); people with depression who had committed suicide but who had no history of being abused as children (25 individuals); and brain tissue from a third group of people who had neither psychiatric illnesses nor a history of child abuse (26 people).
Impaired neural connectivity may affect the regulation of emotions
The researchers discovered that the thickness of the myelin coating of a significant proportion of the nerve fibres was reduced ONLY in the brains of those who had suffered from child abuse. They also found underlying molecular alterations that selectively affect the cells that are responsible for myelin generation and maintenance. Finally, they found increases in the diameters of some of the largest axons among only this group and they speculate that together, these changes may alter functional coupling between the cingulate cortex and subcortical structures such as the amygdala and nucleus accumbens (areas of the brain linked respectively to emotional regulation and to reward and satisfaction) and contribute to altered emotional processing in people who have been abused during childhood.
The researchers conclude that adversity in early life may lastingly disrupt a range of neural functions in the anterior cingulate cortex. And while they don't yet know where in the brain and when during development, and how, at a molecular level these effects are sufficient to have an impact on the regulation of emotions and attachment, they are now planning to explore this in further research.
121,000 reported cases of child abuse, neglect in NC: 600 reported cases in McDowell
from the McDowell News
Early data shows there were over 121,000 investigated cases of child abuse and neglect in North Carolina during fiscal year July 2016 through June 2017. State law requires individuals or institutions suspecting child abuse or neglect to report cases to the Division of Social Services (DSS) for investigation.
“The high number of children impacted by neglect or abuse indicates too many families are struggling and under severe stress,” said Rebecca Starnes, vice president of Children's Home Society of North Carolina. “Abuse and neglect can be the product of a number of issues facing families, including poverty, working multiple jobs to make ends meet, high levels of stress, unrealistic expectations of children, mental health challenges, or substance abuse.”
In McDowell alone, there were 600 reported cases of abuse in neglect in the 2016-17 year, with over 75 percent founded to be true and put into case management services.
“The majority of our reports have been methamphetamine-related,” said McDowell Department of Social Services Director Lisa Sprouse. “Just last week, we received multiple reports of babies being born in McDowell County that tested positive for polysubstance abuse.”
When asked about the uptick in referrals across the state, Sprouse says that the biggest contributor has been substance abuse.
“I looked at those numbers and they don't include foster care, but foster care has greatly increased due to the rise of opioid addictions and, primarily here in this county, methamphetamine addiction,” said Sprouse. “In the month of July in this agency alone, we placed 18 children in foster care, probably 80 percent of those due to substance abuse from parents, and right now it is IV drug use.”
DSS staff investigates and assesses all suspected cases of child abuse and neglect; diagnoses the problem with the family; provides in-home services to help keep families together; coordinates community and agency services; or, petitions the court for removal of the child from the home, if necessary.
To treat instances like these and other child-related cases, McDowell DSS has a collaborative relationship with a number of organizations like the McDowell Sheriff's Office, the county school system, Lily's Place – the local subsidiary of Southmountain Children and Family Services – Freedom Life Ministries, and equine and agricultural therapy at Hope 29:11 for older children not living with their biological parents, as well as local events like this Sunday's Unity Service at East Middle School and Child Abuse Prevention Month in April.
“We try to utilize conventional collaborations as well as unconventional,” said Sprouse. “Sometimes in this day and time, the conventional methods with going to an office for mental health services is not really what works for our families, so we try to meet them where we are and provide services that can help them from point A to point B and help them make their family whole again and allow their children to come home.”
For more information on McDowell DSS' Children and Family Services, visit http://www.mcdowellcountyncdss.org/children-family-services
What will it take to end child sexual abuse in India?
by Prita Jha
In 2012 new legislation was passed to protect children against sexual abuse. But the gap between the law and ground realities remains large.
It is only in the last decade or so that the Indian state has acknowledged that child sexual abuse is an issue which requires government intervention. In 2007, a landmark survey (the first and last of its kind) revealed rampant physical and sexual abuse across 13 states. It interviewed 12,447 children; 53% had suffered some kind of sexual violence and around one in five said they had suffered serious sexual assault.
The most worrying statistic was that 70% of children had not disclosed the abuse to anyone, confused about what to say, afraid of their abuser, or afraid that they would not be supported but blamed. Most children said they knew their abuser who was often a neighbour, relative or friend. When they did disclose abuse, many were told to keep quiet, or were blamed for the abuse. Too many caregivers took no action, even denying the disclosure of abuse.
Active engagement with children, parents, teachers and schools is needed to counter such deafening silence, and create an environment that enables children to speak out. I lead an organisation called Peace and Equality Cell (PEC) which has worked with more than 150 survivors of child sexual abuse in the last four years. We have observed that poverty adds an additional layer of vulnerability when parents are too poor to afford suitable childcare and the child is assaulted whilst both parents are out working.
The story of one mother and five-year old daughter, who live in an urban slum in Ahmedabad, reflects some of the challenges of these cases. Savitri routinely left Joshila with other children in an area where a loose arrangement of neighbours and parents were supposed to note if something went amiss. One day, Joshila's 16-year-old cousin Mohan took her to his home, which was familiar to her. He experimented on her, carrying out anal and vaginal rape.
The assault led to a raging battle between Savitri (who wanted Mohan prosecuted for “spoiling her daughter's life”) and Joshila's paternal grandmother, who was also Mohan's maternal grandmother, Ammaji (who wanted the whole thing hushed up to save the family's honour and, of course, to save her grandson from criminal proceedings).
Where family and community ties are very strong, sexual assault may or may not be reported to the police depending on a number of factors, the most important of these being the relative power of the perpetrator's family and community versus that of the survivor.
The 2012 Protection of Children against Sexual Offences Act ( POCSO ) sought to take into account some of these ground realities to ensure that perpetrators were brought to justice. Among other things it requires ‘child-friendly' procedures and infrastructure to ensure that children are not re-victimised and re-traumatised whilst navigating the criminal justice system.
But there is a huge gap between the law and its implementation.
POCSO provides for a trained child welfare officer to act in the child's ‘best interest'. It says children should not have to travel to police stations but that their statements should be taken by police officers at their home or at another location where the child feels comfortable, in the presence of trusted adults.
Police must ensure there is no face-to-face confrontation between the child and the alleged perpetrator and that the child's identity is kept confidential at all times unless directed otherwise by the court. Police are supposed to provide the survivor with information about counselling, legal aid and compensation. They must ensure that medical examinations happen as soon as possible, and within 24 hours of being informed of abuse.
Although police have gradually become aware of POCSO and the number of individuals charged with offences has increased, particularly in Gujarat, the transformation of police stations to into child-friendly places has a long way to go. I have yet to see a station furnished, for example, with toys or magazines.
There is also a scarcity of private space in police stations. One 16-year-old survivor told me she was traumatised when she had to give her statement to a male police officer in a room where three other male police officers were present even though they were busy with other duties. Her parents were not allowed to sit with her to give her the moral support she needed.
Recently, I was present at a police station where PEC was assisting two survivors in a POSCO case. The two 12 and 15 year old girls were at the station for more than six hours, exhausted, hungry and thirsty. The were not offered a meal until around midnight. The recording of the older girl's statement was interrupted several times and she was even moved from one room to another as her statement was being taken.
Shockingly, police officers allowed a face-to-face confrontation between the survivors and the alleged perpetrator, saying this was necessary to assess whether the girls were telling the truth. The whole concept of preventing secondary trauma and re-victimisation of children has not really sunk into police psyche.
In Gujarat, most courts have common waiting areas and toilets which enhance the risk of confrontation between the accused, the survivor, and their families. This contravenes the 2012 law which says the child should not be exposed to the accused whilst testifying.
It also enables the accused's supporters to attempt an illegal settlement of the case, a common practice known as samadhan or ‘compromise'. In these cases, witnesses may turn hostile, denying original testimonies of abuse. As their evidence is usually essential to prosecutions, the perpetrator goes scot-free.
Two years ago, in one village, the sexual assault of a girl with a learning disability was hushed up as the boy came from a powerful family. It was only after a PEC volunteer spoke to the village sarpanch (head) – and reminded him that the new law makes reporting of sexual offences mandatory, and non-reporting an imprisonable offence – that he reported it.
At this point, the girl's mother Leelaben was offered money by the accused' family to settle the case. PEC worked hard to convince her not to accept it (she was concerned about her daughter's marriage prospects, and felt that the money would help her arrange a marriage). In this case, timely disbursement of compensation via the courts played a key role in preventing an illegal settlement.
POCSO has had the unintended consequence of criminalising consensual, adolescent sexual activity. Any sexual activity of children under 18 years is caught within the remit of this law, and approximately one third of POCSO cases are in this consensual category involving adolescent sexuality rather than child sexual abuse.
One proposal to address this is to lower the age of consent from 18 to 16. But as girls between 15-18 are most at risk of abuse, this could make things worse; already, proving consent in a trial is a vexed issue.
There have also been cases of parents of adolescent girls who disapprove of their romantic relationships using POSCO against their boyfriends. They can register a kidnapping case and make a claim of penetrative sexual assault which carries a mandatory minimum seven-year sentence. The girl may then be forced into marriage with a man considered suitable by the family.
Despite laws against child marriage , about 50% of Indian women between 20-24 years old were married before they turned 18 . Marital rape is not criminal in India if the bride is 15 or older. This is presently being challenged by a NGO called Independent Thought, in the Supreme Court as being unconstitutional and against the state's child policy.
What explains the gap between POSCO on paper and in practice? An entrenched culture of silence and victim blaming leads to low levels of disclosure. When disclosure happens, families struggle with shame and dishonour. Too often, public institutions fail to provide safe, supportive and enabling environments that survivors need to take on an arduous battle for justice.
Radical social transformation combined with a deep understanding of the child-friendly ethos of POCSO (as opposed to the adversarial norms of the Indian criminal justice system) has to be embedded within the psyche of the police, lawyers and judges. Courts should also be given discretion, and guidelines, at the sentencing stage to take into account factors such as age differences, inequalities between the victim and the perpetrator, the seriousness of the offence and its impact on the survivor.
Message From A Bullied Child
by Brian-Paul Welsh
Reading the story published in The Sunday Gleaner of September 17 about the young lady who attempted suicide to escape the daily torment of unkind children at her school, brought back so many bad memories of my own time as a student in high school.
Like that young lady, for a long time I was ruthlessly harassed, labelled, teased, and even physically assaulted by a group of boys who seemingly took pleasure in making my every waking moment a horror story. The emotional trauma of that period in my life is only now beginning to dissipate almost two decades later, and the hurt and feelings of betrayal caused by some school administrators and their lack of foresight and empathy have left deep emotional scars that are still painful, even as an adult.
Every year when the new term begins, we read stories of children (and even young adults) who are terrified to return to their institutions of learning because they feel unsafe. Mental, emotional and physical abuse are not just things that take place within the home environment, and very often they transcend those spaces and find refuge in educational institutions, the place where we spend most of our waking hours anyway. These cycles of hostility often escalate because for some reason, we believe our culture of violence is endemic, and a rough school environment is par for the course to surviving adulthood in Jamaica.
As a nation, we have habitually turned a blind eye to the serious abuses taking place in our school system, and because so many administrators lack the emotional intelligence or the moral fortitude to intervene, they sit back comforted by the attitude that 'boys will be boys', or 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger'.
Because of this, so many of our youth struggle with post-traumatic stress well into adulthood, making them maladjusted, angry or withdrawn. As one of the young people who was targeted and endured years of daily torture, I am here to definitively state that more must be done, starting with a recognition that teasing, bullying, abuse, and intolerance of difference is not permissible.
Must end bullying
We scorn and ridicule those who are honest enough with themselves to say they cannot manage the torment, and we then dismiss those who find a way out of hell as weaklings because they weren't strong enough to endure the pain.
The hurt that so many of our children face at school, whether from unkind and unbalanced peers, or callous and emotionally obtuse administrators, must end. Collectively as a society, we must recognise the damage we are doing to ourselves by allowing it to continue unabated.
This change in our attitude towards all forms of interpersonal violence in the school environment must come not merely with the annual lip service we hear from the school principals, who themselves are often complicit with the creation and maintenance of the culture of intolerance in their schools; not from the education ministry and its empty soliloquies decrying activities in schools that it regularly perpetuates within its own walls; and not even from pastors and guidance counsellors, who often behave as though the torment of teenagers is just recompense for their iniquitous inclinations; but sincerely, because Jamaica can never become the place of choice to live, work and raise families if our children do not want to go to school for fear that they will not make it out alive.
As a child who was mercilessly teased, tormented, laughed at, pushed, shoved, gossiped about, labelled and mistreated by peers, and even some of the authority figures I went to for protection, I can say, without hesitation, that as a country, we misunderstand the importance of creating safe and wholesome environments in which all of us can thrive.
We have become so accustomed to living in a war zone that we feel our schools are there to prepare us for life in our own battlefield and not to prepare us for the world in which Jamaica is but a (very) small part.
Those with the means to insulate their children from these hostile environments needn't fret that their offspring might be kicked, stabbed, or psychologically damaged, while administrators giggle among themselves.
To all the children struggling with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, don't let them prevail. Find your inner strength and persevere. Find someone trustworthy to talk to, write poems, play music, dance, sing, act silly, do the things you enjoy and that make you happy.
Years from now, you will see those who torment you for what they really are: weak, insecure, and jealous of your strength, which is why they try so hard to bury it.
Punishment in child deaths often less severe than for killing adults
by Greg Barnes
The Observer's investigation into NC's child welfare system finds that many of the parents or caregivers accused of killing a child got short sentences or no prison time at all.
Malissa Yates couldn't explain to her doctor how her 21-month-old son William had broken his collarbone. The little boy also was “guarding his abdomen,” someone noted on his medical record.
Ten days later, a 911 call came from an apartment in Fayetteville.
“Please help my baby. Oh, my God. Oh, my God,” Yates is heard screaming. “He's only 1! He's only 1!”
William Derrick Yates was dead.
An autopsy found signs of severe beatings on the head, chest and abdomen. The toddler had suffered brain hemorrhaging, a broken rib and lacerations to his liver and pancreas. And, the report said, William had been beaten on at least two other recent occasions.
Cumberland County social workers had Malissa Yates on their radar for at least two months before the child died on July 31, 2010. DSS had contacted Yates because she filed a domestic violence protective order. But the social workers failed to gather information to determine whether the toddler or his 4-year-old brother were in danger, despite the domestic violence allegations and Yates' criminal record — which included assault, drugs and firearms charges.
Several months after the child died, investigators charged Yates with first-degree murder and felony child abuse. She faced the possibility of life in prison. Two years later, she accepted a plea: involuntary manslaughter and felony intentional child abuse, for which she served two years and three months in prison.
This case illustrates what The Fayetteville Observer found repeatedly in its investigation into child deaths in North Carolina: Punishment is often less severe than it is for killing an adult.
Of 120 child deaths that the Observer examined, including William Yates, authorities ruled 31 as homicides or other unlawful killings. Three child deaths resulted in life sentences for the parent or caregiver; other sentences were short or had no prison time.
The Observer found failures in the state's child welfare system that included missed signs of abuse or neglect by social workers, medical professionals, law enforcement and others. The state has fallen woefully behind in reviewing child deaths, which is meant to help prevent future mistakes.
Child advocates say state leaders need to do more to prevent abuse from happening in the first place. But for many of the children already lost, justice can be elusive because of the nature of child abuse cases.
Peter Strickland, a Moore County prosecutor, says the parent or guardian is often the only witness to the death. In many cases, the children who died had several caregivers, making it difficult to prove who was at fault. Weapons are rarely involved.
“You just kind of have to use the physical evidence and diagnose the cause of death. It's not always easy to prove,” Strickland said.
There is also the emotional component. Often, the accused did not intend to kill the child, and prosecutors are reluctant to seek harsh punishment, said Tom Vitaglione, a senior fellow at NC Child, an advocacy and policy group based in Raleigh.
“There's great empathy and sympathy for that, so they don't want to go any further, unless it is a clear case,” Vitaglione said.
The result, in many cases, are plea agreements with lesser charges, such as involuntary manslaughter.
The Moore County case of Rylan Ott is a prime example.
Authorities took 1-year-old Rylan from his mother's custody in October 2015 after she had a drunken fight with her boyfriend that involved a gun and drugs. The mother, Samantha Nacole Bryant, tried to kick police and threatened to commit suicide, an arrest report shows.
Bryant was placed briefly in a hospital's psychiatric ward. A month later, she again threatened to kill herself after failing to regain custody of Rylan and his teenage sister.
Yet despite those and other red flags, a judge returned Rylan to his mother, saying the Moore County Department of Social Services had demonstrated that minimum safe standards had been met. Four months later, in April 2016, Rylan died when he wandered away from his home near Carthage and drowned in a pond.
The case cost the DSS director his job and led to reforms in the department, including more child welfare caseworkers. It also spurred action in the General Assembly with adoption of Rylan's Law, which requires more scrutiny before reuniting foster children with their families.
Bryant was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced in June to 19 to 32 months in prison, with credit for 14 months of time served. She could be released before the end of this year.
Strickland had fought for a minimum sentence of four years.
“She didn't intend for the child to get hurt, she just was inattentive,” he said. “Even with her history, she just let the child wander off. That's what made that case difficult. It was unintentional, but it met the elements of child abuse because of her history.”
Strickland was a prosecutor in another case involving the death of a child. In 2008, Jamie Bullard was charged with murdering his 7-month-old son, Jacy Henderson-Bullard. An autopsy report said Jacy was hit so hard that his skull fractured.
But the medical examiner concluded that the fracture happened about a week before Jacy was examined at the hospital. Because the infant had many caregivers in that time, prosecutors would have a hard time pursuing a first-degree murder conviction, despite conflicting accounts of how the injury happened.
Bullard, 19 at the time, accepted a plea deal of involuntary manslaughter and was released after about two years.
Strickland said people get more up in arms over a case of animal abuse than they do over a child dying.
The Observer's analysis of 120 child deaths was based on public records from the State Child Fatality Review Team. When a child dies from suspected abuse or neglect, a team comprised of local and state professionals will investigate the circumstances. In all the cases, the county department of social services had been in contact with the family within a year prior to the death. The teams look for anything that could have been done to better protect the child.
The Observer examined review team reports completed from 2011 to 2016. The Child Fatality Review Team has fallen so far behind because of understaffing that it occasionally has taken up to five years for it to review a death. There's a backlog of 112 more child deaths that have yet to be reviewed.
In addition to revealing failures by social service workers and others to recognize or look for risks to children's lives, the review team reports document the criminal punishments, if any, for caregivers.
Charlene Workman of Mecklenburg County was convicted of killing her 9-month-old stepson, Kaleb Lowery, who died of a drug overdose. The medical examiner wrote, “It is highly unlikely that this represents an accidental ingestion.” Workman was sentenced in 2014 to three years of supervised probation.
Sandy Etheridge of Pitt County was accused of killing her 5-month-old son, Dakota, who died of head trauma. Etheridge was charged with murder but pleaded guilty in July 2012 to manslaughter and was sentenced to eight years in prison. She was released in 2016.
Amanda Gayle Reed of Onslow County smoked marijuana and popped prescription antidepressants before babysitting 19-month-old Sadie Gates in October 2010, Jacksonville police say. The girl wandered away from Reed's home and drowned in a drainage ditch. Onslow County prosecutors charged Reed with manslaughter; she pleaded guilty to a lesser offense and got three years of probation. A year later, while still on probation, Reed's own daughter drowned in the family's swimming pool. Her charges included involuntary manslaughter. Reed was found guilty of negligent child abuse and contributing to the delinquency of a child. She was ordered to spend 75 days in jail, but a judge later overturned the conviction, saying prosecutors overemphasized Sadie's death at the second trial.
In Rowan County, a medical examiner ruled the cause of 2-month-old Jy'hime Bacon's death as “undetermined.” Authorities said the child suffocated and charged his mother, Latoyia Niccole Myers, with second-degree murder. She pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter and was released from jail for the 2.5 years she served awaiting trial.
Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West, a board member of the National District Attorneys Association, echoed the reasons that other prosecutors give for the difficulties in punishing suspected child abusers.
Child abuse cases of all types — not just when a child dies — can be difficult to prosecute, West said.
Most criminal cases come with a motive, such as money or relationship problems, West said. With child abuse, the motive is not always apparent. Typically, there are no witnesses, and the victim is unable to communicate effectively, if at all, he said.
Kimberly Overton oversees training of prosecutors involved in child abuse cases for the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys. She said juries can make prosecutions difficult, too.
“People don't want to believe that parents would hurt their kids,” Overton said. “That's a difficult thing for juries to understand.”
Prosecution of child abusers has been an issue for years. An advocacy group now known as N.C. Child studied the state's 23 child homicides in 1998. In those cases, five people were never charged, three received probation, three received sentences of less than two years, and two received sentences of five to 10 years.
“While studies indicate that about 20 percent of all felony charges are reduced from the original charge, 41 percent of the felony charges were reduced in the child abuse homicide cases that occurred in 1998,” according to the study, released in 2005. “The problem is that, when prosecutors feel they have little chance of obtaining a murder conviction, the only available charge is involuntary manslaughter, which results in a light sentence.”
Recognizing the problem, the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys began a program in 2005 designed to provide DA offices with more training in effective ways to prosecute child abuse. The conference added a child abuse resource prosecutor to its staff.
Although there are no statistics to show that child abusers are now receiving harsher punishments, Overton said the program is making a difference.
North Carolina is doing a better job than most states, she said, largely because of better training, improved forensic interviewing of children and more collaboration among health care providers, medical examiners and law enforcement.
When the state's Child Fatality Review Team eventually catches up and examines the backlogged 112 child deaths that have occurred in more recent years, it may become clearer whether anything has changed.
Report: More than half of child abuse victims face further trauma as adults
Statistics suggest those who suffered abuse in childhood are more likely to fall victims at the hands of partners or relatives as adults
by the Belfast Telegraph
More than half of adults who were abused as children go on to experience domestic abuse later in life, according to official analysis.
Statistics suggest those who suffered abuse in childhood are more likely to fall victim at the hands of spouses, partners or relatives as adults.
Findings from the Crime Survey of England and Wales for the year ending March 2016 indicate that around one in five people aged 16 to 59 – around 6.2 million individuals – were abused in some way as a child.
This could involve psychological or physical abuse, sexual assault, or witnessing domestic abuse.
The new report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said: “But the impact of what is often a hidden crime does not always end there. A higher proportion of survivors of child abuse went on to experience domestic abuse in adulthood, compared with those who suffered no childhood abuse.”
The analysis found that of people who suffered abuse as children, 51% had experienced domestic abuse – such as sexual assault, non-sexual abuse or stalking by a partner or family member – since the age of 16. This compared with 13% of those who were abused in childhood but stated that they had not encountered domestic abuse as adults.
Percentages were not specified for respondents who said they did not know, could not remember, or did not wish to answer.
The paper also said:
:: More than one in three (36%) of those who experienced abuse by a family member as a child were abused by a partner as an adult;
:: Women who were survivors of childhood abuse were four times more likely to experience sexual assault after the age of 16 than male survivors (43% compared with 11%);
:: Adult survivors of childhood abuse were more likely to have taken illegal drugs in the last year than those who had not experienced abuse as a child (12% compared with 8%).
Child abuse, neglect strain New Mexico protection program
by Morgan Lee
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico's child protection system is straining to keep pace with an increase in abuse and neglect cases, despite increased public spending, according to a report from state analysts released Tuesday.
The report from the nonpartisan Legislative Finance Committee shows the protective services program for children in state custody has failed to meet seven out of eight performance goals. For the fiscal year ending in June, the program missed benchmarks for reunifying children with parents in under a year, the number of children returning to foster care and the speed of adoptions.
The number of children placed in protective care in New Mexico increased by 6 percent to 2,674 during the one-year period ending in June. The state spends 21 percent more on protective programs for children than it did four years ago.
Children, Youth and Families Department Secretary Monique Jacobson said her agency has been encouraging the public to report child abuse — possibly pushing up case numbers in the process.
"We're asking people to make child abuse their business," she said, noting other factors in New Mexico including an opioid addiction epidemic have influence caseloads.
Jacobson acknowledged improvements in the state's child welfare system are needed, while highlighted progress toward a more stable workforce and an increase in the number of field workers who visit homes to detect maltreatment and determine whether a child may be in danger.
The job turnover rate dropped to 25 percent this year for child protective services workers, down from 34 percent in 2014, Jacobson said.
She cautioned that efforts to reunify mistreated children with parents cannot be rushed or incentivized, and that her agency is working with the court system to streamline adoption procedures. Jacobson noted year-over-year statistical progress in six out of eight evaluation categories for child protective services.
The analysis from the Legislature notes that the state could save tens of millions of dollars in the short run with just a 10 percent reduction in child maltreatment and foster placements.
Generally high evaluation marks were given to the performance of early childhood services including programs that promote high-quality child care.
Adams County child abuse reports continue to rise
by Dustin B. Levy
Data from Adams County Children and Youth Services showed an uptick in child abuse and neglect referrals and investigations in the 2016-2017 fiscal year.
Referrals increased from 2,466 in data collected from July 2015 to June 2016 to 2,815 in the same time period the following year. Data from the department also illustrated that investigations were up to 1,325 after the department conducted 1,142 investigations the year prior.
County officials explained these numbers have steadily increased since changes to the state Child Protective Services Law in Dec. 2014. This law broadened the definitions of abuse and perpetrator and changed the requirements of a mandated reporter.
"I think we're still feeling the effects of that law," said Sarah Finkey, the director of county Children and Youth Services.
Finkey additionally noted that, based on the nature of some referrals, the nationwide heroin epidemic could be playing a role in the increase in reports.
As a result, the department requested about $8.3 million for its budget in the 2017-2018 fiscal year, about an $800,000 increase over funds approved last year, in a budget presentation from Finkey on Aug. 30. The Adams County commissioners approved the county portion of the budget, about $1.5 million, in a unanimous vote.
"As we have an expansion of the definition of abuse and an expansion of the definition of perpetrator, we have more referrals," Finkey said. "When we have more referrals, we need more money."
Finkey also attributed the climbing numbers to more widespread awareness in the community through education and familial conflicts that result in calls to child services.
The county had 39 out-of-home juvenile placements at the time of the presentation, which is "significantly lower" compared to other counties in the state with similar population size, Finkey said.
Another issue which puts a strain on the department's budget is the slow rate at which the state is dealing with its own budget stalemate .
Consequently, county entities that receive funds from the state level are reimbursed at a slower rate.
"If we don't have a state budget, then we can't get funding," Finkey said.
The commissioners and county manager Albert Penksa recognized the difficulties that Finkey's department faces with the uncertainties in Harrisburg.
"It's the challenge we have at hand, but the children's interests are first and foremost," Penksa said.
Agencies battling child abuse want Berkeley County to step up
by Matt Bise
The number of abuse cases handled by local children's centers continues to increase every year, even as those centers wait for funding mentioned months ago by Berkeley County.
Local advocates and nonprofits who work with victims of physical and sexual abuse or neglect against children are often faced with numerous financial challenges and getting grants and donations is a competitive process, made more difficult because of the subject matter.
One local director said there is sometimes a concern when talking about the horrendous abuse with potential givers, saying the acts are so despicable the nonprofits worry it won't be believed, or those hearing it will be too repulsed to continue.
That is why last year five local agencies were happy to respond to Berkeley County Council's efforts to provide funding.
The county set aside $250,000 for charity and it was ready to be doled out. Agencies invited to make a proposal were HALOS, Carolina Youth Development Center, Windwood Farm Home for Children, Callen-Lacey Center for Children, Dee Norton Lowcountry Children's Center and Dorchester Children's Center.
All of the agencies in one way or another play a role in the battle against child abuse, be it a place to live, fostering or counseling. Two of them, Dee Norton Lowcountry Children's Center and Dorchester Children's Center, are on the front lines. They are where a child's long journey to recovery will begin in practically every case.
After the agencies made their pitch to council last year, it seemed it would be a short wait to see what amount they would receive. So far not a penny has been handed out.
“They just started debating that they shouldn't be giving the money away,” said Kim Clifton, executive director at HALOS, an agency that helps with fostering and kinship placements for abused children.
Since then, no more discussion has taken place about funding the services provided to Berkeley County residents.
“It's expected to have some follow up,” Clifton said. “It is strange. You do all this stuff to get the money then it's no longer available.”
Starting the debate on the same evening the proposals were made in October 2016 was District 3 Councilman Ken Gunn, and he has not changed his position.
“My point was I didn't think it was right for the county council to give $250,000 to anyone,” he said.
Gunn said he's sympathetic to the cause, but his obligation is to the county taxpayer. He said he will consider a referendum so the taxpayer can vote on the amount and where it will go.
“I said I had no objection to supporting it, but there are a lot of worthwhile groups out there,” he said. “I mentioned the Salvation Army.”
While the Salvation Army "exists to meet human need wherever, whenever, and however we can," according to its mission statement, it does not provide the service local residents are receiving from specialized agencies.
At this time no group is doing more for abused children in Berkeley County than Dorchester County and the Dorchester Children's Center. The Summerville facility handles, among other things, forensic medical exams, forensic interviews and family counseling.
Some of DCC's numbers show that as off July 2017 the center had 739 cases – and 338 of those are from Berkeley County.
The final tally for 2017 will more than likely look similar to previous years. In 2015 DCC served 1,210 clients; 682, or 57 percent, were from Berkeley County.
In 2014: 1,023 clients were served, 488 of those were from Berkeley. In 2013: 976 served and 428 were Berkeley County residents.
One concern is that Berkeley County isn't paying its fair share for the service it is receiving. District 4 County Councilman Tommy Newell recognized the inequity.
“It was brought to my attention the Dorchester Children's Center has taken care of more children from Berkeley than Dorchester,” he said.
Newell, who also works closely with the Callen-Lacey Center, which provides abused children a place to live, said the money is still there, it just went back into the county's general fund.
“I wanted the $250,000 to go to the Dorchester Children Center and Callen-Lacey then it opened up for everybody,” Newell said. “It was going through a process that ended.”
A troubling end for Dr. Kay Phillips, executive director at Dorchester Children's Center. In addition to grants and donations, DCC also receives money from Dorchester County based on one tax mil, so funding varies year to year. This year her center is slated to get $530,000. Comparatively, in 2015 the cost for treating Berkeley County clients totaled more than $650,000. Each client, regardless of where they are from, costs the center $963.
“We are happy to do it, we want to do it,” Phillips said. “But as the numbers grow and with the counties just growing so fast, especially Berkeley, how are we supposed to keep up with no help?”
Phillips said any amount of money the county gives will be split between DCC and Dee Norton, proportionate to the number of Berkeley residents each sees.
“We're thankful for all the funding we get, what we're asking Berkeley County for is some help,” she said.
Newell said a majority of council agrees the money should be released. He said he expected something to happen soon.
“I am going to take it up again,” he said. “I will put it on the agenda first thing in October.”
Cybertip's 15th anniversary sees new findings on child sexual abuse
by Diana Foxall
A new survey on the internet's role in child sexual abuse was released today by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection (CCCP).
The International Survivors' Survey comes on the fifteenth anniversary of Cybertip.ca, which is operated by the CCCP, and received responses from 150 people who were sexually abused as children.
The results shed new light on the experiences of survivors of abuse, and Michelle DeLaune, Senior Vice President of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, hopes the findings can be used to improve the lives of victims.
“The unique anguish inflicted upon those depicted in child sexual abuse imagery had not been properly explored resulting in a tremendous gap in therapeutic services provided,” DeLaune said. “Now, survivor voices ring loud allowing us to learn from their experiences and better tailor our response.”
All of the survey's respondents said their abuse had been recorded in photos or on video. Of the 150 individuals, 61 per cent said the recordings were shared online, while 38 per cent said they were uncertain whether or not recordings had been posted to the internet.
Over two thirds of the participants said they were concerned about being recognized by someone who had seen recordings of the sexual abuse, and 30 people said they had been identified by someone who had seen images of their abuse.
In the majority of cases detailed by survivors, the abuse began before age four and involved more than one person abusing them.
Lianna McDonald, Executive Director of the CCCP, said in today's internet landscape, there is a strong chance that child sexual abuse is also being recorded and shared online.
The CCCP announced a project attempting to combat the sharing of images from child sexual abuse cases online. Project Arachnid is a bot that detects child sexual abuse recordings so notices can be issued to website providers to encourage their removal.
In addition to the research on how to stop the sexual abuse of children and the subsequent spread of photos and videos online, the survey also aims to forecast how best to help survivors through therapy and obtaining justice in the criminal court system.
Teen tries to poison 11-week-old baby: 'I don't feel bad about it'
by Ashley May
Officials are looking for an Indiana teen who tried to kill an 11-week-old baby.
Sarai Rodriguez-Miranda, then 18, allegedly mixed crushed pills into a bottle of breastmilk intended for her brother's fiancée's baby, The Journal Gazette reports .
“I'm gonna crush up some of these pills since she decided they can stay longer and kill their baby,” Rodriguez-Miranda said in a text message to her boyfriend using a phone she shared with her mother, according to court records. "I put the stuff in a made bottle in the fridge ... Yeah I thought it was funny that I don't have an ounce of guilt.”
Rodriguez-Miranda, who was charged with attempted murder this week, was upset her mother was allowing her brother's family to stay at their Fort Wayne home, the Gazette reports.
The teen's mother discovered the text messages and turned them over to police. The baby was not given the prepared bottles, one was found containing a toxic mix of acetaminophen, caffeine and aspirin — equaling nine Excedrin pills, the Gazette reports. Court documents say the amount was enough to kill an adult.
“Why didn't that baby die dude thats dumb,” Rodriguez-Miranda said later in a text message. "They definitely threw it out ... I hope she dies. I don't feel bad about it."
Authorities believe Rodriguez-Miranda, who has been missing for months, ran away with her boyfriend and was last believed to be in Michigan.
There is a warrant out for her arrest. Her bond is $50,000.
Group aims to prevent sex abuse of children
by Anne M. Mozingo
YORK - Dr. Jeanine Ward continues to work at being comfortable being uncomfortable as she moves forward in her dream to be a voice for child victims of sexual assault.
The York Hospital Emergency Room doctor was in awe last week to witness 11 community members joined together for the first York County Child Sexual Abuse Prevention training to learn how to increase awareness on child sexual abuse.
“To have this group be so supportive made me feel incredibly grateful,” Ward said. “I work in the ER, but I don't see myself as a leader. I'm quiet and shy and this is not easy, but not doing it is worse. To not be a voice for children who don't have a voice is worse.”
On hand for the day-long training was a group of volunteers passionate about educating local youth-serving organizations about prevention, common signs of an abused child and the predictors for a perpetrator. With years of experience in varied fields, the group consisted of: child sexual abuse survivors, a chef, a social worker, a police officer, a gerontology student, a doctor, a retired psych nurse, mothers, an elder abuse advocate, a business owner, an energy engineer, and an interior designer.
“The skills in this room are wide and long,” said Jetta Bernier, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Children, also known as Mass Kids, who conducted the training with Prevention Program Coordinator Marissa Lehrman. “All the ingredients are here. As passionate advocates all you need is the tools to get out and teach the community about child sexual abuse. Our goal is not to impact this one community, but to span out across the county, the state and the country on multiple levels.”
The movement against child sexual abuse starts with the word: “Enough,” Bernier said.
“Enough secrets, enough shame, enough hurt, enough confusion, enough denial, enough child sexual abuse,” she said.
Ward moved to Maine three years ago while working to heal her wounds relating to the sexual abuse she received from her neighbor when she was five in the woods behind her home.
“I was raised in an Irish Catholic home where obeying adults was clearly mandated. Somehow through shame, I buried this experience and over time, while some people self-medicate, I was incessantly working and driven to keep working until I realized where this was all coming from,” Ward said.
Ward has attended conferences on child sexual abuse led by Bernier and was attempting to help create an Enough Abuse Campaign in her hometown, Quincy, Massachusetts, when a training opened up in January of this year in Dedham, Massachusetts. By becoming a trainer, she began to begin her dream of taking action to educate those working with children on Child Sexual Abuse (CSA).
After the training, Ward asked Bernier for help creating a local Enough Abuse Campaign chapter in York, and learned she was already working on legislative issues in Augusta, Maine, with award-winning songwriter Kara DioGuardi, also a survivor of child sexual abuse.
“This synchronistic moment happened and Jetta suggested we all meet and when I asked a friend here at the hospital who she knows might like to get involved, she quickly said York Police Officer Jamie Rooney would be perfect for this effort because of her commitment as a school resource officer to work with children,” Ward said. “And then there we were in February the three of us and Jetta and we didn't even know each of us was a survivor and immediately after we did, we all signed on to help create a local CSA prevention organization.”
And sign on they did. DioGuardi will continue efforts on the legislative front, while Rooney, who is now Jamie Robie, and Ward are going to lead the community grassroots effort to train trainers and spread the facts on everything from boundary violating behavior by adults to signs that a child may have been a victim of a sexual assault.
The first of the two-part training was held last week and a community-wide meeting is being planned to introduce the trainers to the residents of greater York and child-centered organizations so the trainers can identify organizations interested in scheduling training sessions with their employees. Each trainer has committed to conducting four trainings in the next year to spread awareness on the signs and symptoms of child sexual abuse to end the silent epidemic, Bernier said.
“The definition of child sexual abuse is exploitation of power and trust and is illegal and abusive,” Bernier said. “Sexual activity between two children of significant unequal power or development can be abusive as well.”
The people in a child's circle of trust are more likely to victimize a child, she said. Family members make up more than one third of the perpetrators and 60 percent of reported child sexual abusers are other known and trusted adults to the child. However, statistics show most victims do not report for fear of further victimization, she said, or do so outside the statute of limitations when law enforcement cannot prosecute.
“This problem deeply affects many, many more than the numbers of reported and confirmed cases,” Bernier said.
One in 10 children report having been sexually abused as children, totaling more than 39 million Americans today living as child sexual abuse survivors. In more than 40 percent of the cases, children are sexually abused by other children or teens, Bernier said.
“Child advocacy experts believe 90 percent of sexual abuse cases are never reported, making this what the American Medical Association calls “a silent epidemic in America.”
One volunteer who is savvy in state and national legislative issues relating to being a local business owner was astounded to learn the statistics.
“To think, we have a nation up in arms over the possibility of 22 to 32 million Americans losing their health care in the current legislative debate over health care and we have 39 million survivors of child sexual abuse in this country. We need to get this word out,” said Allyson Cavaretta, newly trained CSA prevention advocate.
Enough Abuse Campaign originally started in Massachusetts in 2003 after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced its first grant program in 2002 to prevent child sexual abuse, in response to the clergy sexual abuse crisis that erupted in Boston the year before.
The CDC challenged communities nationwide to build adult and community responsibility for preventing child sexual abuse. Efforts focused solely on educating children about safety and self-protection were insufficient to address the major public health problem that has resulted from generations of victims not living up to their potential. A 2012 study estimates the annual cost of child sexual abuse on 1.2 million children is $80 billion.
“The lifetime cost to a victim is way more than actual financial costs, which are enormous,” Bernier said. “We don't allow children to drive drunk, we don't allow them to vote until they are 18, yet we are giving kids the responsibility to protect themselves from cunning perpetrators. We aim to shed light on this epidemic.”
The CDC was awarded a five-year $1.2 million grant in 2002 for the six collaborating organizations named the Massachusetts Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Partnership, Bernier said, paving the way for Ms. Foundation for Women to fund efforts for seven years until 2012 of the Enough Abuse Campaign, a community mobilization and citizen education effort that is now operating in nine states, including this new effort in Maine.
Massachusetts Citizens for Children, also known as MassKids, has been the lead agency for this campaign, taking it across the country to California, Nevada, North Dakota, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and now Maine. Visit www.masskids.org to learn more.
County child neglect cases up 48 percent
by James Sprague
After being in single digits for June and July, Fayette County saw its number of substantiated child neglect cases skyrocket again last month.
The Indiana Department of Child Services earlier this month released its statistics for August regarding child neglect, child physical abuse and child sexual abuse for the six-county DCS Region 12, with Fayette County seeing its figures rise 48 percent between July and August.
Child neglect, as defined by the state of Indiana, is when a “child's physical or mental condition is seriously impaired or seriously endangered as a result of the parent, guardian, or custodian being unable, refusing, or neglecting to supply the child with necessary food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, or supervision.”
Many local and area officials have previously chalked up the situation with child neglect as a direct correlation of the ongoing issue of substance abuse throughout the state and nation.
For the month of August, Fayette County had 17 substantiated cases of child neglect, up from 9 in July. August's figures mark the highest monthly number of substantiated child neglect cases, so far this year, for the county.
August also saw Fayette County with one substantiated case of child sexual abuse, bringing its total year-to-date to three such cases. The county has already had six substantiated cases of child physical abuse through the first eight months of the year, a number which tops the county's 2016 total of five child physical abuse cases.
Currently, after eight months of 2017, the county has 87 substantiated cases of child neglect, putting it on pace for 130 – a figure which would be roughly 19 percent lower than the county's all-time record high number of 160 such cases in 2016.
The other area counties in DCS Region 12 to have double-digit child neglect numbers in August were Wayne, with 32 cases; Franklin, with 20 cases; and Henry, with 13 cases. The 20 such cases in August for Franklin County were also a high mark so far this year for that county.
Overall, in August, the state of Indiana had 2,402 substantiated cases of child neglect, up from 2,031 substantiated cases in July; 136 substantiated cases of child physical abuse, up from 119 in July; and 220 substantiated cases of child sexual abuse, down from July's total of 249.
If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, call Indiana's Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-800-5556. It is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. You can report abuse and neglect anonymously.
How young is too young to leave children home alone?
by Mackenzie Ryan
One of the tough calls parents make is when to leave their children home alone.
“It's one of the hardest things,” said Amy McCoy, spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Human Services. “When is my child ready?”
The question emerged after a Johnston mother was arrested Thursday for leaving her four children unsupervised while she traveled to Germany, a trip expected to last nearly two weeks.
Erin Lee Macke, 30, is charged with child endangerment . Two of her children are 12, and the others are ages 6 and 7.
Details of the case are unclear. A Johnston police report only states that officers were dispatched to investigate "children left home alone."
“When you're talking about extended leave, most parents would make arrangements to care for their children,” McCoy said.
She declined to comment on the specifics of the case, but spoke generally to the Register about the more nuanced issue of allowing children to stay by themselves for a few hours or to babysit others.
When is it appropriate — or even lawful — to leave children alone?
When to leave children alone
Advocates for the "free range" parenting approach believe in allowing children greater responsibility in caring for themselves, in some ways a counter-balance to what some deem over-protective parenting in today's society.
But that can intersected with the concern of onlookers, who worry about the dangers of children being alone, prompting them to report unsupervised children to police.
In one high-profile case in Washington, D.C., parents were cleared of child neglect after allowing their 10-year-old and 6-year-old to walk to the park by themselves.
"There's a lot more discussion about childhood freedom. Where it went and how we can get it back," Lenore Skenazy told the Washington Post in 2015 while discussing her blog, FreeRangeKids.com . Skenazy allowed her then 9-year-old to ride the New York subway alone.
In Iowa, there's no set age or time-limit in which children are deemed responsible enough to care for themselves or others, McCoy said.
“Parents have to make judgement calls on when they're able to be alone,” she said.
Considerations might include:
Is the child capable of caring for themselves?
What is the child expected to do if they are home alone in order to care for themselves or others?
Is the child frightened of being alone, especially overnight?
What is the safety plan if something were to go wrong?
Is there an adult the child can turn to in an emergency, such as a neighbor or family member?
Is the child responsible enough to know what to do if an emergency occurs?
“There's a lot of different factors, it's really a case-by-case basis,” McCoy said.
Some Iowa parents allow children more responsibility than onlookers deem appropriate. When DHS is called to investigate, and no neglect or endangerment is found, the family is cleared, McCoy said.
“We have 8-year-olds perfectly capable of being safe for an hour or two after school, but other 8-year-olds would not be able to handle that responsibility if something were to happen," she said.
'One child led to 132': Hawthorn Woods couple finds spiritual rewards in foster care
by Frank S. Abderholden
Susan Vrenios held the baby boy, less than 6 months old, in her arms as the infant cooed and flashed his big heart-melting smile.
Over the span of nearly 30 years as a foster parent, Vrenios has become a pro tending to infants and children in the care of the state. Vrenios and her husband, Tom, so far have touched the lives of 132 kids, including two children the couple adopted into their own family.
"We couldn't keep them all," the 53-year-old Vrenios said with a laugh. "They don't make cars for 132 kids."
For the past 10 years, Vrenios and her husband have worked with UCAN, which is one of 70 social service agencies that work with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services helping at-risk children.
"Foster parents like Vrenios provide stable and nurturing care for youth whose world has been upended by loss, abuse or neglect, and whose families have been unable to safely care for them," according to Derrick Baker, vice president, marketing communications for UCAN.
According to DCFS statistics, as of July there were 13,953 children either in foster or relative care, institutional homes or group homes after being removed for abuse or neglect. DCFS licenses foster homes, and private agencies such as UCAN license their own foster homes.
UCAN is headquartered in Chicago's North Lawndale community, and has other offices around Chicago, along with the one in Vernon Hills, Baker said. UCAN currently has about 170 foster homes, Baker said. About 65 of them are in Lake and McHenry counties, and the agency is always looking for more foster parents, he said.
Foster parents receive a stipend from the state to support the youths in their homes, with the amount varying from $500 to $2,200 depending on the needs of each child, Baker said.
"It's important that you want to take care of children," Nancy Hencier, who is based out of UCAN's Vernon Hills office, said.
Hencier said it takes four to six months to become a licensed foster parent, and candidates must undergo a background check and fingerprinting.
"I'm always looking for foster parents. Once we place one child we need another foster parent," she said.
According to information posted at UCAN's website, the organization began in the 1860s at the start of the Civil War when St. Pauls United Church of Christ decided it would take care of the children of fallen soldiers and in 1869, after a piece of property was donated for a permanent home, the state legislature incorproated the Uhlich Evangelical Lutheran Orphan Asylum.
Today UCAN serves approximately 10,000 at-risk children, youth and families in Illinois. They offer more than 30 programs to either prevent violence, help children aging out of the system deal with independent living, workforce development, support for pregnant teens, youth leadership classes and foster care placement.
The agency trys to help affected youth through their therapeutic youth home and they run a K-12 therapeutic day school. Clinical and counseling services are provided as well as help with regular medical issues.
"Whether it's our adolescent program, specialized foster care or traditional foster care, UCAN has a strong track record. It is not easy work," UCAN President and CEO Zack Schrantz said in a statement about the professional fostering program in Cook, Lake and McHenry counties.
"We know that sometimes family dynamics can change with the addition of a new person in the household. Some young people may come with physical, mental health or developmental challenges that a family may not be prepared to handle," added Schrantz, who himself has been a foster parent for nearly seven years.
UCAN staff members provide Vrenios and other foster parents with services and support to direct them in support foster youths while their family works to overcome the circumstances that led to them being placed outside of their homes, Baker said.
On this day, Vrenios is in Vernon Hills because one of the babies she is fostering has an appointment to spend time with a parent. In the meantime, Vrenios, takes the other baby to the doctor for a check up.
Foster parenting seemed to come to Vrenios naturally, she said.
"We had no children of our own, and we felt very blessed by life. We wanted to give back, so we decided to become foster parents, and one child led to 132," Vrenios said.
"My husband and I have also had 12- and 13-years-olds, up to age 18," she added, saying the "reaction to foster care varies widely" from child to child.
"They can be scared or happy and excited. (They) want this new norm, because the old norm was neglect and abuse," she said. "It's very different for every child."
Even newborns babies are traumatized when separated from their biological family, she said.
"It's still considered trauma," she said. "Any baby requires a lot of patience and calm parenting. You feel like you had a part in helping this infant."
With babies, "My focus is largely, 98 percent, just nurturing," Vrenios added.
Vrenios said UCAN is very strong about advocating for the parents, and it is always working in the best interest of the child.
"No parent wants their child in foster care," she said. "That's a safe assumption. As part of the team, you assure the parent that foster family is a temporary home until they can get back on their feet. You work together for the health of their child.
"And then you say goodbye. That's a real hard one. But now there is a healthy, happy child and a family reunited."
Contact with biological parents varies by each case. The agency sets up the visit and foster parents provide a note to the parent telling them how the week went and what is new with their child.
"This agency encourages the contact, but they are realistic," she said.
For one of her babies, the parent, a father, will visit twice a week with his son at the Vernon Hills office.
"That relationship has continued to grow," she said.
"My husband and I see the need and value in there being good foster parents," she added. "When it has been appropriate and with guidance from our UCAN case manager, we have enjoyed our involvement with the birth parents. Often times, it has led to a healthier relationship between child, foster parent and birth parent.
"I feel there is nothing better than helping children for a brighter tomorrow," Vrenios said. "You understand the goal is a mature healthy adult."
From the Department of Justice
Justice Department Invest More Than $47 Million to Combat Human Trafficking and Assist Victims
The U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs (OJP) today announced more than $47 million in funding to combat human trafficking and provide vital services to trafficking victims throughout the United States.
As part of this announcement, Associate Attorney General Rachel L. Brand visited the national headquarters of the International Association of Chiefs of Police this afternoon, where she met with Executive Director Vincent Talucci, Deputy Executive Director Terrence Cunningham, and Director for Programs Domingo Herraiz. While there, she provided notification that the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) had awarded the organization a $1 million grant to support a National Anti-Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance for Law Enforcement Task Force, which supports criminal justice systems efforts to investigate, and prosecute all forms of human trafficking.
“The Department of Justice is committed to protecting the victims of human trafficking,” said Associate Attorney General Brand. “DOJ grants provide training and technical assistance to state and local law governments, law enforcement, and victim service organizations.”
Approximately $31 million of the funds was awarded under nine OJP grant programs. The grants aim to support the criminal justice system's efforts to investigate and prosecute all forms of human trafficking; offer victims services through experienced providers; and seeks to strengthen communities' responses to the sexual exploitation and forced labor of victims by raising community awareness and providing training and technical assistance.
Grants awarded under Fiscal Year 2017 OJP programs include the following:
Specialized Services for Victims of All Forms of Human Trafficking; About $7.5 million to 13 victim service organizations to enhance the quality and quantity of specialized services available to all victims of human trafficking.
Legal Access to Victims of Crime: Innovations in Access to Justice Programs; Approximately $5 million to support an award to Equal Justice Works, which will partner with qualified nonprofit organizations to host attorneys who will provide comprehensive and holistic legal services to survivors of human trafficking and enforce victims' rights.
Improving Outcomes for Child and Youth Victims of Human Trafficking: A Jurisdiction Wide Approach; Nearly $5.2 million to four states to improve jurisdiction-wide coordination and multidisciplinary collaboration to address the trafficking of children and youth.
Comprehensive Services for Victims of All Forms of Human Trafficking; Over $3.6 million to five community agencies under this program with a demonstrated history of serving victims of human trafficking.
Specialized Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance for Service Providers ; $1.7 million to the Freedom Network USA and Futures Without Violence to help victim service providers develop and implement housing and employment practices that better serve victims of human trafficking.
The Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Office for Victims of Crime awarded four grants totaling nearly $3 million to two multidisciplinary human trafficking task forces under the Enhanced Collaborative Model to Combat Human Trafficking Program. This initiative supports task forces made up of victim service providers, law enforcement agencies and prosecutors that implement a victim-centered approach and work collaboratively to identify sex and labor trafficking victims of all ages and sexes; investigate and prosecute trafficking cases at the local, state, tribal and federal levels; and provide a comprehensive array of quality services that address the individualized needs of victims.
The Bureau of Justice Assistance awarded $1 million to the International Association of Chiefs of Police to support National Anti-Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance for Law Enforcement Task Forces. The task forces support efforts to investigate, and prosecute all forms of human trafficking. For a list of OVC and BJA awardees, visit https://go.usa.gov/xRhQ7 .
The National Institute of Justice awarded about $2 million to three research organizations under the Research and Evaluation on Trafficking in Persons program, which funds research and evaluation efforts to understand, prevent and respond to trafficking in persons in the United States. For a list of NIJ awardees, visit https://go.usa.gov/xRh8f .
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) awarded approximately $1.9 million to three mentoring project sites and one training site under the Mentoring for Child Victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Domestic Sex Trafficking Initiative. This program helps organizations develop their capacity to respond to the needs of child victims. For a list of OJJDP awardees, visit https://go.usa.gov/xRhQs .
In addition to the awards, the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) transferred more than $16 million to the Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs to help address the housing needs of human trafficking victims. OVC also dedicated funding of about $100,000 to the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit (HTPU) within the DOJ Civil Rights Division for training and technical assistance. HTPU provides anti-trafficking training and technical assistance to agencies outside of DOJ, and follows several mandates since the passage of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act.
The Office of Justice Programs, headed by Acting Assistant Attorney General Alan R. Hanson, provides federal leadership in developing the nation's capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice and assist victims. OJP has six bureaus and offices: the Bureau of Justice Assistance; the Bureau of Justice Statistics; the National Institute of Justice; the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; the Office for Victims of Crime; and the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking. More information about OJP and its components can be found at www.ojp.gov.
Little Girl Lost: The questions left behind by Brook Stagles death
by Meaghan M. McDermott
At every turn, every safeguard that could or should have protected the life of young Brook Stagles failed her.
Her mother and mother's family were unable to secure custody of the girl in the weeks before her death on Nov. 14, 2016.
Her father's family either didn't notice or turned a blind eye to abuse allegedly going on under the roof of their home on Ablemarle Street in Rochester. And Brook's father, Michael Stagles, either participated in abuse so significant that his 3-year-old daughter was bruised from head to toe, or allowed his girlfriend to inflict such injuries on Brook that the girl ultimately died of complications from a part of her intestines popping like a balloon.
The murder trial of Brook's accused killer, her father's former girlfriend Erica Bell, wrapped up last week and on Friday Monroe County Court Judge Christopher Ciaccio declared her guilty in the beating death of Brook. Bell was charged with second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter in connection with Brook's death.
The nonjury trial outlined a litany of failures and missed opportunities that could have potentially saved Brook's life. One pediatrician testified that a ruptured bowel typically isn't fatal if repaired quickly. But Brook languished for days after her injury, and infection overtook her 37-pound body as her father and Bell failed to get her medical attention. Bystanders who recognized the girl was gravely ill did not take the extra step of getting her a doctor's care themselves.
Especially troubling was testimony during the trial that Monroe County Department of Human Services' Child Protective Services unit had received at least two reports of abuse and neglect perpetrated against Brook just weeks before she died.
Calling Bell “supremely selfish, concerned with her own self-preservation,” Ciaccio convicted the 25-year-old and agreed with the prosecuters' determination that Bell recklessly engaged in conduct creating a grave risk of serious physical injury or death to a person less than 11 years old but also that her further actions demonstrated a “depraved indifference to human life.”
Left unanswered throughout the trial were questions about whether or not CPS intervention could have made a difference.
Local child advocates say the Monroe County agency charged with protecting the most vulnerable children suffers from overwork and understaffing, leading to the possibility that more children like Brook will slip through the system's cracks.
“The attention of the public is only on this when there's a fatality, but I tell you kids are suffering every day,” said John Rabish, spokesman for the Federation of Social Workers, the union representing local Child Protective Services workers.
John Geer, Brook's maternal grandfather, says it is clear that overworked CPS workers were ill-equipped to move with the urgency required in Brook's case. He has launched a nationwide drive to bring attention to the working conditions of child protective workers, who often toil under low pay, heavy caseloads and often bear witness to gruesome, inhumane treatment of children.
Monroe County has not provided any details on Brook's case. Nor has the county responded quickly to a Democrat and Chronicle Freedom of Information request in early August for data regarding Child Protective Services staffing levels, caseload sizes, vacancy rates and starting salaries. The county has also not made available for interviews the officials who oversee the agency.
But an investigation into the circumstances of Brook's death, including attending court proceedings, reviewing documents, as well as interviews with family members and social workers revealed the following:
There was no apparent action taken regarding Brook's custody arrangements following those two reports of alleged abuse and neglect made in October 2016.
Overall, reports of child abuse and maltreatment to the county have increased by 32 percent since 2014 and 14 percent since 2015, while staffing levels have not increased.
Although the 2017 budget included full funding for the Child Protective Services unit, the unit is still short employees: there are currently 22 vacancies on investigation teams and 6 vacancies on management teams.
A state report earlier this year ranks Monroe County as the 54th worst out of 64 counties when it comes to overdue CPS investigations, and 40th worst when it comes to both percentage of workers with more than 15 Child Protective Services investigations and percentage of timely safety assessments.
While child advocacy groups say CPS workers should handle caseloads no larger than 12 per month and the state's Office of Child and Family Services sets a benchmark of 15 cases per month, some workers here have had caseloads in excess of 50 per month.
In her 12 years with the Monroe County District Attorney's Office one thing prosecutor Sara VanStrydonck has learned is that cases similar to Brook's are far from uncommon.
“Certainly the horrific nature and depravity in this case is unique, but there are other kids out there like Brook now,” she said. “They're on Albemarle Street, they're in Spencerport, and they're in Pittsford. Child abuse is something that's real in Monroe County and it's something that happens.”
And Monroe County seems to have a special problem with its Child Protective Services unit, which is supposed to help these vulnerable children.
“Where we stand in our performance, we're lagging behind large counties, small counties, upstate and downstate and metropolitan,” said Rabish. There's no pattern of other counties in the state not doing well, it's a Monroe County problem.”
For its part, county officials have said they have pushed to bring on new classes of workers to fill those vacancies. But a training class of 21 last fall lost at least three candidates and then it takes months for those workers to be able to handle cases on their own.
A class of 15 new workers is slated to come on board in November, but as Rabish noted, won't be able to take cases immediately because they need additional training.
“So there will still be at least 13 vacancies in CPS until a new caseworker class is hired and completes its training, which will be in mid-2018 or later,” he said. “So despite the county's contention that they have been ‘over-hiring' for more than a year now, CPS continues to be in crisis because there are not nearly enough caseworkers on board to do the job.”
Earlier this year, county officials said there were 209 caseworkers assigned to Child Protective Services and 14 vacancies. A review of the county's budget shows the Department of Human Services' overall caseworker staffing, including supervisors and adult protective workers, has been reduced from 361 full-time positions in 2010 to 332 in 2017. At the same time, the number of reports of maltreatment investigated have grown from 7,400 in 2010 to an estimated 9,500 this year.
County workers have been reluctant to go on the record with the details of their working conditions, out of fear of retaliation. But before the County Legislature earlier this year, a number of workers testified about their heavy caseloads and worker burnout. Interns said the conditions were so overwhelming they were reconsidering their career choices.
“There are no easy cases,” said intern Brianna Steward. “The worker has to see each child on the report at least every 30 days and that can include more than one household, and there are 27 action items that have to be done on each case before it can be transferred or closed. Even when you have a semi-easy case with no concerns, you can't close it quickly because you're too busy handling new cases.”
Issues with Monroe County's agency oversight are not new: in 1979, in response to the 1977 beating death of 3-month-old Leilani Berner, an investigation by the District Attorney's Office into the handling of child abuse cases here found child protective workers were underqualified, poorly trained and not properly supported by the Department of Social Services.
In Leilani's case, the public agencies involved in her case recognized she was a possible victim of child abuse, but failed to act quickly enough to prevent her death.
Reforms were made, but workers into the 1980s said it still wasn't enough.
In 2002, a county study determined that each caseworker could adequately handle between six and seven new cases a month, and between 1994 and 2000 investigative teams saw staff turnover at a rate of nearly 25 percent per year.
After the August 2009 death of 14-month-old Ramon Antonio Rodriguez, who died of blunt force trauma to the head, the county's monitoring of the boy's case was called into question by New York state.
The Office of Children and Family Services found his abuse case had been closed six months before he died and a contractor that was supposed to follow up with the family never did. It also found investigations were not being closed within the required 60-day timeframe, and that contractors hired by the county were not entering case progress notes in a timely manner.
A corrective action plan filed by the county in response to Ramon's death promised additional staff training and action against the contractor, but did not address any increase in staffing.
‘Looking at a corpse'
By all accounts Brook Sunny Stagles' life up until August 2016 was fairly stable. She lived with her parents Ashley Geer and Michael Stagles and Michael worked for a home improvement company owned by Ashley's father John Geer.
Geer said he was able to ensure Michael Stagles was supporting his daughter and granddaughter. Ashley, Michael and Brook would come to his home in Irondequoit with some regularity for family picnics and other events. Ashley and Brook were especially close with John's mother, Gail Geer of Greece.
At Erica Bell's trial, Brook's pediatrician Dr. Todd Bingemann testified that the girl was generally healthy, and had made all of her Well Child visits despite her parents being flagged in their files as “high-risk” due to their history of drug use, mental illness and socioeconomic status.
But John Geer said things really began to change after Ashley and Michael broke up in July 2016. Still, as Ashley struggled with her own addiction issues, she and Michael amicably shared custody of Brook, with Gail Geer picking the child up from Stagles' home every Thursday and returning her on Sundays.
John Geer said there was an abrupt shift in mid-August, shortly after Bell — a heroin addict from Spencerport who had been briefly homeless — moved in with Stagles and took over Brook's care. Gail Geer testified that's when she started noticing marks on Brook's body; unexplained bruises and scrapes. She said she became concerned enough to start taking pictures to document the injuries.
Testimony revealed that in October, Michael Stagles called Child Protective Services to report that Brook came back from a visit with her mother with abrasions on her neck. Gail Geer called too, to report the squalid conditions Brook was enduring in the basement of her squalid, debris-strewn Albemarle Street home that police during the trial said was infested with bugs, reeked of gasoline and had a padlock on the refrigerator.
No apparent immediate action was taken regarding either allegation.
A family court hearing to hash out a binding agreement for shared custody between Brook's parents was postponed in late October and a little more than two weeks later, Brook was dead.
She was eight weeks shy of her fourth birthday.
Crime scene photos taken at the hospital the night before she died showed Brook's body was covered in bruises: on her head, her arms, legs, torso, back and groin.
A Rochester Police Department evidence technician who documented the injuries in Brook's hospital room became so overwhelmed in court by viewing the pictures again that she was unable to continue her testimony.
Doctors at Rochester General Hospital, where Michael Stagles carried Brook's lifeless body on Nov. 13, said she looked as though she'd been in a car accident.
“My first thought when I saw her was that I was looking at a corpse,” said Dr. Kevin O'Gara, the pediatric emergency physician who first treated Brook.
Although her heart had stopped and she had stopped breathing, doctors were able to revive Brook long enough for her to be transported to Strong Memorial Hospital for emergency surgery. For well over 24 hours, Brook's ruptured intestine had leaked digestive juices and feces into her abdomen, doctors said.
Her infection was too far gone for Strong's surgeons to make repairs, so they washed out her abdominal cavity and hoped for the best.
She died around 10 a.m. the next morning.
Failure upon failure
Through the eight days of testimony in Erica Bell's trial it became clear cracks in the county's system weren't the only ones that swallowed Brook whole.
There was an emergency room visit on Oct. 31, to treat her for a ruptured eardrum after an alleged fall from a dresser that sparked enough concern that doctors there reported the incident to her pediatrician's office, but didn't contact Child Protective Services.
Bingemann, the pediatrician, testified he didn't report suspected child abuse after Brook's follow-up visit because it seemed reasonable her injuries came from falling off a dresser.
In the weeks before her death, Brook sustained these injuries, as recounted in testimony by Bell: bruises on her arms and legs from tripping over a bicycle in the back yard on Albemarle Street while the two were outside “looking at the moon” just before bedtime; an enormous butterfly-shaped bruise covering the small of Brook's back and buttocks from backing into an end table; a black eye from smacking her face on a faucet while getting a drink of water after brushing her teeth; and an abrasion under her eye from a rough, scratchy washcloth.
On Nov. 12, two days before Brook died, she spent half the day in a car with Bell, Bell's grandmother and then Michael Stagles, driving to North Clinton Avenue for a drug buy, a store in Henrietta so the adults could shop for a party, and then back to Bell's grandmother's house in Spencerport.
During the car ride, Michael Stagles slathered Brook's face with liquid makeup to cover over a black eye. And the girl kept vomiting. Yet Bell's grandmother Deborah Smith of Spencerport — a licensed practical nurse — did not perform any kind of exam on the girl, and did not take her to a doctor. This, despite the fact that Bell had earlier shown her the cavalcade of bruises covering Brook's body and admitted to punching the child in the stomach.
All that afternoon, as Assistant District Attorney VanStrydonck said in her summation, “Brook was literally rotting away from the inside out.”
Smith testified that she kept bringing up the fact that Brook should get medical help, but Bell had shushed her and told her to stop talking about it.
Smith said things might have been different if she had been closer to Brook.
“If she was one of our own, she would have been to a doctor,” she said on the stand. Smith has custody of one of Bell's children, while Bell's mother has custody of the other.
If Brook's sad tale could have had a hero, it would have been Robin Reyome.
Reyome, the mother of Michael Stagles' adolescent son, came to the filthy Albemarle Street home on the morning of Nov. 12 to pick up her own child. She found Brook curled up in a fetal position, coated in vomit, atop a cushionless couch while two strange men slept on the cushions nearby.
In her testimony, Reyome said Brook looked “like death” and resembled the little girl from the horror movie The Ring .
She went to the home's fetid basement to rouse Stagles, demanding he take the girl to the hospital. She even offered to drive and refused to leave until she was assured Brook would get medical attention.
While she did not call 911 or summon an ambulance that morning, Reyome held fast and did not drive away until after watching Bell buckle Brook into a car seat in Smith's car, and being promised they were off to the hospital.
Instead, testimony showed Bell convinced her grandmother that buying heroin was more important, and from there they kicked off their afternoon of visiting drug houses, fast food restaurants and Babies ‘R Us and getting ready for the baby shower.
There were more than 50 people at the baby shower in Ogden that Bell, Smith, Brook and Michael Stagles attended the evening of Nov. 12. There, witnesses testified, the girl was so sick she barely lifted her head from the table, didn't eat and wouldn't play with the other children. One witness said he noticed Brook was pallid and her breathing seemed labored. He was worried enough to go fetch his mother, a registered nurse, to look at the girl, but by the time he went back to look for her, Brook and Michael Stagles had left the party.
But he wasn't worried enough to call 911 and neither he or any other guests thought to mention how sick Brook was to Ogden police officers who came to the party to arrest Bell on an outstanding warrant from drug court.
Other courtroom revelations included how in jailhouse phone calls after her arrest, Bell beseeched Smith to prevent Michael Stagles from taking Brook to a doctor, and that she told her grandmother she'd punched the girl three times.
After learning the girl had died, Bell worried how long she'd be in jail if convicted of killing her.
“How am I supposed to live the rest of my life with this?” she said in the call.
“It's not like I beat her every f-ing day,” Bell said in the phone call to Smith. “How can they prove this is from me? It wasn't me. I hurt her and that's so f-ing wrong, but I don't think I did that.”
On the stand in her own defense, Bell said she was in such fear of physical abuse from Michael Stagles that she lied about having punched Brook to protect him. Michael was the one who hurt the girl, she said.
And, she said, he ordered her to keep the girl away from doctors because he was afraid Child Protective Services would take the girl away.
Other Brooks out there
In 2016, the county's Department of Human Services handled more than 9,500 reports of child abuse and neglect. That's up 12 percent from 2015 and 30 percent from 2014, when there were more than 7,500 such cases.
During the two-week span that VanStrydonck, head of the District Attorney's Child Abuse Unit, was prosecuting Erica Bell, she said there were four other full-time prosecutors in other courtrooms working solely on felony child abuse cases.
“I'm glad people are shocked and outraged by this case,” she said. “People should be shocked and outraged, but this isn't isolated.”
As for the missed opportunities and apparent inaction by those who could have possibly saved Brook in her final days, VanStrydonck said that isn't especially unusual either.
Everyone likes to think they'd be a hero, that they'd be the one to speak out against wrongdoing or injustice, but it's impossible to really know what you'd do in any given situation until it happens, she said.
If anything, she said, she hopes this case can help make people think twice and truly decide to speak out.
“It's like what they say about terrorism, right?” she said. “If you see something, say something.”
Michael Stagles is charged with criminally negligent homicide in connection with his daughter's death and his trial is currently scheduled to begin Nov. 13.
Child abuse online: How sexual predators extort teens
by Holly V. Hays
This is how an online predator sets his trap:
"He messaged me, flirting with me."
"It started out innocent enough, but then it got more and more sexual, and they ended up asking for pictures."
"I know I didn't have to, but I felt obligated to return the favor."
"After I didn't want to continue sending pictures, he threatened to create a Facebook page with my nudes."
Chatting. Flirting. Preying on insecurities.
These excerpts of victim testimonies, detailed in a 2016 Crimes Against Children Research Center study examining more than 1,600 cases of sextortion, shed light on the frightening tactics used by cybercriminals.
A Plainfield girl's similar experience and the federal charges against a California man further illustrate what law enforcement already knows: Sextortion is on the rise because technology has further exposed the vulnerabilities of teenhood.
"To the victim, the thought of a previously taken photo or video being released to their peers is terrifying," FBI Special Agent Mike Langeman said, "and this fear is what the perpetrator preys on."
A surging cybercrime
"Sextortion is a real crime," U.S. Attorney Josh J. Minkler said during an Aug. 7 news conference announcing the capture of the California man who is suspected of extorting girls online under the name "Brian Kil."
Sextortion is a type of online harassment in which the perpetrator uses nonphysical forms of coercion, such as blackmail, to obtain sexually explicit content from or engage in sex with a victim, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children . The sextortionist will often threaten to make those images public if more images aren't shared.
Reports of sextortion made to the NCMEC CyberTipline surged 90 percent from 2014 to 2015. In the first several months of 2016, according to the latest data available, reports were up 150 percent compared with the same time period in 2014.
From October 2013 to April 2016, the tip line received more than 1,400 reports of sextortion. Of those cases, 78 percent of the victims were female. The average age: 15. The youngest: 8.
Undisputed is the role technology plays.
Social media is the trap.
Perpetrators gain access to a victim's personal information and photos, Langeman said. They hack the account, either by guessing the password or using software to crack the code.
More commonly, he said, they use social engineering — using information about a girl to trick her into providing information or access. In these cases, sextortionists are able to pull from information readily available on social media to get closer to their victims.
"The internet affords the perpetrator a degree of anonymity and a seemingly unlimited access to potential victims from the seclusion of their bedroom," Langeman said. "Social media provides a virtual treasure trove of information on users, especially juveniles, as people are constantly updating their status, tweeting their location and creating snap stories detailing their every like, dislike, hobby, friend, family and school."
Social media is also the environment in which the trap is placed.
Devon Hensel , an assistant research professor of pediatrics focusing in adolescent sexual health at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, said sharing nude photos online may be a digital manifestation of what would otherwise already be occurring among normally developing teens.
Healthy sexuality involves learning how to share and communicate thoughts and preferences, she said. This may be no different.
"Pictures could be shared between partners as a means of communicating what they like and don't like, communicating sexual interests, might be used in lieu of certain sexual activities," Hensel said. "From that perspective, sexting may not be outside of the range of normal developmental phenomena that we see in this age range."
The internet hasn't lowered adolescent inhibitions, she said. It's just changed how they share their desires as they develop.
"Many kids just simply use this as one additional layer of communication when they're learning how to be in a romantic relationship," Hensel said.
Today's young adults have come of age in the digital realm, which shapes their perception of how and with whom they share certain information, she said.
"There's sort of a creation of intimacy and familiarity with people they communicate with in ways that are different from face-to-face communication," she said.
Research suggests that virtual communication tends to come with an expectation of reciprocity; that something shared means something returned, Hensel said. But that intimacy can create a false sense of security. Information on the internet often isn't entirely private, and it doesn't easily disappear. Even Snapchat photos — which are often set to disappear after 10 seconds or less — can be captured and shared.
"It's easy for young people to lose sight of the fact that their personal information may not be private," she said.
Sex abuse and shame
As an FBI victim specialist, Sarah Abdullah provides guidance to victims and their guardians, working alongside agents throughout the investigation to ensure that families have the resources they need to process the incident and move forward.
She sees firsthand the effects a crime like this can have on its victims. They often live in fear of exposure and of threats, she said. Those feelings can last for years. Many contemplate suicide. Some complete it.
"It's absolutely heartbreaking when we come upon something that has occurred in the past but are able to see communications where the victims are begging the perpetrators to leave them alone and making statements that they may kill themselves," she said. "Although we are trying to do something about it now that we are aware, they were completely alone with those feelings at the time."
Few victims reach out to authorities for help.
Less than 20 percent of respondents reported sextortion incidents to the police, according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center study . Respondents who told family or friends were three times as likely to go to police and were more likely to contact authorities in cases where physical harm had been threatened.
But 45 percent of respondents chose not to go to friends or family for help. Primarily, victims said they were too ashamed or embarrassed. Others said they thought they might get into trouble. This, according to the study, feeds into the primary goal of the perpetrator, who is likely driven by malice and the desire to humiliate the victim.
Langeman said that if the victim has never posted or shared a compromising photo and ignores the requests, the perpetrator likely will move on. But once a victim reacts, the perpetrator knows he has found his prey.
"Often times, the perpetrator will blindly make the allegation of possessing compromising pictures of the victim and, based off the reaction of the victim, will adjust behavior from there," he said.
Thwarting the crime
Hensel said it's important for youths who find themselves to be a victim of sextortion to remember that they are not to blame and that they are not alone. For the parents or guardians of those teens, communication is key.
Langeman echoed Hensel's call for open communication. In a perfect world, Langeman said limiting youths' access to social media and locking down their accounts would be the best way to ensure they aren't sharing too much personal information. But beyond that, children need to feel comfortable enough to report the issue to adults — and authorities.
"The earlier we get involved in the process, the better chance we have of identifying the subject and shutting down the demands," he said.
Children still at risk of sexual abuse
by Sky News
It is a mistake to assume Australian children will not continue to be sexually abused in institutions, the chair of the child abuse royal commission says.
Justice Peter McClellan says it is important lasting changes to protect children are implemented and the momentum generated by the royal commission is not lost when the five-year inquiry ends in December.
Tens of thousands of children have been abused in more than 4000 institutions in Australia, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has found.
'We must accept that it has been occurring in every generation,' Justice McClellan says in a speech to be given at an Australia and New Zealand Association of Psychotherapy conference in Sydney on Saturday.
'We know that the risk to children remains today.'
'Although as our institutional structures evolve, and our means of social interaction change, the circumstances of risk may vary, it is a mistake to assume that abuse in institutions will not occur.'
Justice McClellan said there is a need for continuing development of effective government regulation, improvement in institutional governance and increasing community awareness of the problem.
'We have a long way to go before we can confidently say our institutions are safer, children are better protected, and all of the people who have been abused and need help are receiving the treatment and support they need to lead productive lives.'
Justice McClellan said it will be the responsibility of governments and institutions to respond to the royal commission's conclusions and recommendations, noting many initiatives have already been implemented to better protect children and respond to the needs of survivors.
'Although, inevitably, the royal commission has looked at past events it is important that the momentum for change, which has been initiated by the royal commission's work, is not lost and that lasting changes to protect children are implemented.'
Truck drivers trained to spot, report sex trafficking to save young victims
Southfield trucking company trains drivers to report suspicious activity
by Meaghan St. Pierre
SOUTHFIELD, Mich. - The first time Kathleen Eberle watched the training video from Truckers Against Trafficking, she knew she had to do something to help stop human trafficking.
Eberle, the president of NPO Transportation in Southfield, was shaken by what she saw on the video while at a convention.
"You can't listen to this stuff in front of you without saying 'We've got to do something about this.' Simple as that," Eberle said.
She made it mandatory for all her drivers to be trained to spot suspicious behavior and make the call to report it.
"I feel strongly that we are the eyes and the legs and the rubber on the road. If they see something, there are guys out there, they can see when something doesn't look quite right and they have no problem putting themselves out there if you give them the opportunity and the tool to do so," Eberle said.
The training comes from Truckers Against Trafficking, a grassroots organization that educates and empowers truck drivers, their companies and the travel plaza industry to be crime fighters against domestic sex trafficking.
"They are sometimes in the places that pimps will target and exploit in order to sell their victims," said Laura Cyrus, the operations director for Truckers Against Trafficking.
"Truckers may interact with victims of human trafficking at a number of locations, truck stops, travel plazas, rest areas, hotels, motels, city streets, terminals, anywhere, truly, that a trucker may be a trafficker may try to exploit."
Billy Myers, a driver and supervisor for NPO Transportation, knows what to look for to report a problem.
"If the person is young, if they look scared, if they look abused, always looking over their shoulder that tells you that somebody's watching them and something's not right," Myers said. "If you're at a rest area and you see this young lady, female, male come up to you and asking you for a date, you should know something's not right. You know, pick up the phone. I tell my fellow drivers, pick up the phone and call the police. It's always better safe than sorry because you don't know if you're helping a person or if you're not helping a person, but you'll never know unless you do it."
Drivers get trained to recognize signs of trafficking. Then, all they have to do if they see something suspicious is call the National Human Trafficking Hotline to report it. The number is 1-888-3737-888.
Truckers can put stickers on their vehicles with the phone number as well.
For her company, Eberle had drivers program the national hotline into their phones.
"Anytime they believe they see a minor engaged in commercial sex or anytime they believe they see evidence of pimp control regardless of the age or gender of a victim. So you might have a pimp involved in a bartering process or you might a pimp that drops off victims at a location, multiple women or girls get out of a car, anytime there's that kind of indication, we want the driver to think, 'OK, this is a red flag. I need to be paying attention to what's going on, and if I truly believe this looks like human trafficking to call the national hotline number,'" Cyrus said.
"We are the eyes and ears of the highways. we hear stuff, we see stuff before anybody else does," Myers said.
Truckers Against Trafficking started in 2009 and since then calls from truckers to the National Human Trafficking Hotline have led to 525 likely human trafficking cases being identified. The cases involved 972 victims, 315 of which minors.
"We're talking about our children, boys, young girls ages 9 to 15 is the sweet spot, so to speak. We can't let it continue. We're all members of this world and we need to do something about it to make it a better place," Eberle said.
For more information about Truckers Against Trafficking, click here .
Campaign aims to teach hotel staff how to identify sex-trafficking victims
by Ryan Faircloth
Washington County and area law enforcement are looking for a new ally in their efforts to help identify and respond to victims of sex-trafficking.
The “Speak Up” campaign, announced by Washington County and other local law enforcement officials Thursday morning, aims to train workers at local hotels and motels in sex-trafficking identification and response.
“They can't (speak up) and they won't unless we take the initiative to reach out, train our people what to look for and then aggressively go after the perpetrators of this,” said Washington County Sheriff Dan Starry.
The Twin Cities is among 13 U.S. metro areas with the highest incident rates of juvenile sex-trafficking, according to the FBI.
The Speak Up campaign is a partnership between the Washington County attorney's and sheriff's offices, Washington County Public Health and Environment, and law enforcement from Woodbury, Cottage Grove, Oakdale and elsewhere.
“The one thing all of us are smart enough to realize is we do not have the resources to do this alone,” said Oakdale Police Chief Bill Sullivan. “If we combine the resources with these various agencies, we feel that we're going to be a lot more effective.”
Authorities will train hospitality staff to recognize physical and behavioral indicators displayed by traffickers and victims through a mix of video and speaker presentations, said Doug Dyer, environmental program supervisor for Washington County Public Health.
Potential indicators include paying only in cash, checking in with no luggage and uncomfortable body language between the trafficker and victim, Sullivan said.
“Very few, if any, victims actually come forward. We have to find them, we have to be their voice and we have to provide their recovery,” said Imran Ali, Washington County assistant attorney and director of the anti-sex-trafficking unit.
Speak Up is yet another initiative Washington County is using to tackle the problem of sex-trafficking.
The county first announced the formation of a coalition of prosecutors, law enforcement and social workers to combat sex-trafficking in November 2015.
Ali said 28 such arrests have been made in Washington County since 2016, compared with none in 2015.
Additionally, more than 50 victims were recovered in the last year, he said.
Earlier this year, Washington County authorities made arrests in a sex-trafficking operation they say spanned several states.
“Our partnerships have already worked and have resulted in successful prosecutions that have resulted in successful charges,” Ali said.
The Speak Up training will be conducted throughout the rest of the year and on an ongoing basis.