National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse

child abuse trauma prevention, intervention & recovery

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NAASCA Daily Digest
EDITOR'S NOTE: Every day we bring you news articles, opinion pieces, crime stories and official information from government web sites. These are highlights, and constitute the tip of the iceberg .. a small percentage of the daily information available to those who are interested in the issues of child abuse, trauma and recovery. Stay aware. Every extra set of "eyes and ears" and every voice makes a big difference.
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Today's NAASCA news:

May 26
, 2017

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Michigan

Berrien County educators charged for failing to report child abuse

by WNDU

Four school employees in Berrien County have each been charged with two counts of failing to report child abuse.

In August 2016, the then 12-year-old boy was found by a railroad worker after he was reported missing. At the time, the boy was found to weigh about 47 pounds, and he was dehydrated and exceptionally skinny.

The child told police his father and stepmother kept him from eating, and he said he "was tired [of] being treated like a dog, and he didn't think he would reach his 13th birthday.”

The boy's father, Aaron Zemke, and stepmother, Alicia Zemke, were sentenced to 20 to 80 years after pleading no contest to child abuse 1st Degree.

Prosecutors announced Friday that employees at Three Oaks Elementary School noticed the boy's condition as far back as 2014.

Principal Heidi Clark, Guidance Counselor Matt Cook, Special Education Teacher and Teacher Sherrie Bender are also facing charges.

They are set to appear in court for pretrial conferences during the week of June 5.

Full news release from the Berrien County Prosecutor:

On the morning of August 11, 2016, a 12 year old boy was found near railroad tracks in Galien Township by a railroad worker. The boy lived nearby and had been reported missing the evening before.

Police took custody of the boy and placed him with the Department of Health and Human Services. As a result, the boy was examined by a physician who reported the boy weighed 47 pounds (substantially below the 5th percentile of boys his age in weight and height), was bruised, dehydrated and exceptionally skinny. Further, the physician found a cut lip, old cigarette burns and each rib was observable and well defined.

When interviewed the child told police his father and step-mother kept him from eating. He ran away because he “was tired being treated like a dog and he didn't think he would reach his 13th birthday.” The physician confirmed that his condition was serious and life threatening.

An investigation led to child abuse, torture and other felony charges against his father, Aaron Zemke, and step-mother, Alicia Zemke. Earlier this year, both pled no contest to Child Abuse 1st Degree and each received a prison sentence of 20 to 80 years.

Through the course of the investigation and court process it was discovered the boy's condition was noticed by school personnel at Three Oaks Elementary School as much as two years prior to his running away in August of 2016.

Michigan's Child Protection Law (MCL 722.621, et. seq.; found here: https://www.michigan.gov/documents/DHS-PUB-0003_167609_7.pdf ) requires certain individuals to report information to the Department of Health and Human Services if child abuse is suspected.

More specifically, pertinent parts of the law indicate the following:

• “Child abuse” means harm or threatened harm to a child's health or welfare that occurs through non-accidental physical or mental injury, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, or maltreatment, by a parent, a legal guardian, or any other person responsible for the child's health or welfare…

• “Child neglect” means harm or threatened harm to a child's health or welfare by a parent, legal guardian, or any other person responsible for the child's health or welfare that occurs through negligent treatment, including the failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, or medical care; or, placing a child at an unreasonable risk to the child's health or welfare by failure of the parent, legal guardian, or other person responsible for the child's health or welfare to intervene to eliminate that risk when that person is able to do so and has, or should have, knowledge of the risk.

• An individual who has reasonable cause to suspect child abuse or neglect shall make an immediate report, by telephone (855-444-3911) to the Department of Health and Human Services. Those individuals who must report under this act are a physician, dentist, physician's assistant, registered dental hygienist, medical examiner, nurse, a person licensed to provide emergency medical care, audiologist, psychologist, marriage and family therapist, licensed professional counselor, social worker, licensed master's social worker, licensed bachelor's social worker, registered social service technician, social service technician, a person employed in a professional capacity in any office of the friend of the court, school administrator, school counselor or teacher, law enforcement officer, member of the clergy, or regulated child care provider.

• A notification to the person in charge of a hospital, agency, or school does not relieve the member of the staff of the hospital, agency or school of the obligation of reporting to the Department of Health and Human Services as required.

• And finally, a person who is required by this act to report an instance of suspected child abuse or neglect and who knowingly fails to do so is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 93 days or a fine of not more than $500.00, or both.

It is alleged that Heidi Clark, of Three Oaks, Three Oaks Elementary School principal; Matt Cook, of St. Joseph, Three Oaks Elementary School guidance counsellor; Diane Balling, of Michigan City, Indiana, Three Oaks Elementary School special education teacher; and Sherrie Bender, of Sawyer, Three Oaks Elementary School teacher; all had information, much of which was shared between them, that falls directly into the definitions noted above in relation to the boy's weight, aggressive behavior in obtaining food, and physical well-being over an extended period of time.

While in December of 2015 the Department of Health and Human Services was involved in investigating this situation, it is alleged there were several months before that no report was made by the four named above; and then subsequent to the DHHS investigation, there were observations made by the same four causing continued concern for the boy's health with no report to the Department. Thus, each is charged with two counts of Failing to Report Suspected Child Abuse or Neglect. Count 1 is for a time period during 2015 and count 2 for a period during 2016. All counts are 93 day misdemeanors.

Pre-trial conferences for the four are set for the week of June 5 in St. Joseph.

The Berrien County Sheriff's Department conducted the investigation.

The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

From River Valley School District Superintendent William J. Kearney:

On May 18, 2017, River Valley School District was notified by the Berrien County prosecutor that four staff members were being charged with misdemeanors around the issue of failing to report suspected child abuse. The failure to report charges focus on the case of a former student and are alleged to have occurred in 2015 and 2016.

“While our records indicate that child abuse was reported by a district staff member in this case, we are awaiting further information from the prosecutor's office,” stated Will Kearney, River Valley Public Schools Superintendent. “We have and will continue to cooperate fully with any criminal investigation.”

District officials confirmed that a District employee did in fact report suspected abuse in December of 2015. The district was subsequently notified by the state in February of 2016 that the evidence from their investigation did not support the concern and thus no action was being taken.

“We have a school policy that puts the needs of our children and community first. The policy is consistent with the law and every teacher and school administrator is informed of the policy and procedures annually,” noted Superintendent Kearney. “We expect every staff member to report suspected abuse immediately.”

The four staff members were expected to be arraigned on the misdemeanor charges of failure to report, over the course of the week of May 22, 2017. The district notified the staff members of the impending charges, provided them with additional copies of the school policy on reporting suspected abuse, and noted that the district would wait to see the outcomes and facts, prior to considering whether disciplinary action should be taken.

“While this is difficult, we will remain focused on our educational mission as well as celebrating the many outstanding accomplishments of the students and staff at River Valley this past year,” said Kearney.

http://www.wndu.com/content/news/Berrien-County-educators--424593933.html

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Michigan

School district responds to allegations it failed to report child abuse

by Emily Monacelli

THREE OAKS, MI -- Employees at a Michigan elementary school charged with failing to notify authorities about a student's suspected child abuse did notify authorities in December 2015, the districts superintendent said.

Will Kearney, River Valley Public Schools superintendent, said he was notified May 18 that four staff members from Three Oaks Elementary School were being charged with failing to report the suspected child abuse of a 12-year-old former student. Kearney said school records indicate a staff member did report the abuse in December 2015 and was told by the state in February 2016 that no action would be taken because they didn't find enough evidence.

Kearney said his district will fully cooperate with the investigation. He said he will "wait to see the outcomes and facts prior to considering whether disciplinary action should be taken."

Three Oaks Elementary School Principal Heidi Clark, of Three Oaks, guidance counselor Matt Cook, of St. Joseph, special education teacher Diane Balling of Michigan City, Ind. and elementary school teacher Sherrie Bender, of Sawyer, have each been charged with two counts of failing to report suspected child abuse or neglect. The first count is for 2015 and the second count is for 2016.

Prosecutors allege the four educators had information, much of it shared among them, about suspected child abuse of a Three Oaks Elementary School student. The four educators allegedly had information involving "the boy's weight, aggressive behavior in obtaining food, and physical well-being over an extended period of time," Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic said.

The boy was found trying to run away the morning of Aug. 11, 2016, the morning after he had been reported missing. A doctor reported the boy weighed 47 pounds, was bruised, dehydrated and "exceptionally skinny," with each rib observable and well defined, according Sepic. The boy had a cut lip and old cigarette burns on his body, and overall his condition was life-threatening.

"When interviewed, the child told police his father and step-mother kept him from eating," Sepic said in a press release. "He ran away because he 'was tired of being treated like a dog and he didn't think he would reach his 13th birthday.'"

The boy's father, Aaron Zemke, and step-mother, Alicia Zemke, since have pleaded no contest to first-degree child abuse. Both are serving prison sentences of 20 to 80 years.

Read Kearney's entire statement below:

On May 18, 2017, River Valley School District was notified by the Berrien County prosecutor that four staff members were being charged with misdemeanors around the issue of failing to report suspected child abuse. The failure to report charges focus on the case of a former student and are alleged to have occurred in 2015 and 2016.

"While our records indicate that child abuse was reported by a district staff member in this case, we are awaiting further information from the prosecutor's office," stated Will Kearney, River Valley Public Schools Superintendent. "We have and will continue to cooperate fully with any criminal investigation."

District officials confirmed that a District employee did in fact report suspected abuse in December of 2015. The district was subsequently notified by the state in February of 2016 that the evidence from their investigation did not support the concern and thus no action was being taken.

"We have a school policy that puts the needs of our children and community first. The policy is consistent with the law and every teacher and school administrator is informed of the policy and procedures annually," noted Superintendent Kearney. "We expect every staff member to report suspected abuse immediately."

The four staff members were expected to be arraigned on the misdemeanor charges of failure to report, over the course of the week of May 22, 2017. The district notified the staff members of the impending charges, provided them with additional copies of the school policy on reporting suspected abuse, and noted that the district would wait to see the outcomes and facts, prior to considering whether disciplinary action should be taken.

"While this is difficult, we will remain focused on our educational mission as well as celebrating the many outstanding accomplishments of the students and staff at River Valley this past year," said Kearney.

http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2017/05/michigan_school_district_respo.html

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Georgia

Agencies join forces to stop child abuse at annual Child Abuse Protocol signing

by WRBL

COLUMBUS, Ga. — Several agencies are teaming together to stop those who make children victims of abuse. In Columbus, Judge Gil McBride held a discussion about the annual child abuse program.

Multiple agencies including the District Attorney's Office and the Muscogee County Sheriff's Office were present Thursday. Representatives say, it's events like Thursday that help get justice in child abuse cases.

Dozens of city, county and regional leaders gathered in the Columbus Government Center Thursday afternoon. They all re-signed the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit Child Abuse Protocol. It's something officials do-every year. Julia Slater, the District Attorney for the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit was among those present. She explains what the signing of the protocol means.

“Being able to collaborate with the school district and with health professionals and mental health professionals and the sexual assault center, all of those groups coming together to collaborate on the investigation and prosecution of the case makes it less stressful for the child and also more successful for our cases,” says Julia Slater.

Slater says having the different agencies come together when working a case, helps prevent the child from re-living their traumatic experiences.

“The child can have a single interview, can have a single medical examination and they are giving each other information,” says Slater.

Samantha DeFranks is the Director of the Children's Tree House Child Advocacy Center. That Columbus organization works to give children a safe place to talk about their experiences with abuse. During her presentation, DeFranks talked about one particular case that happened in April 2015.

“The brother walked in on his sister being violently raped,” says Samantha DeFranks.

She says the brother was 11 and the sister was nine at the time. DeFranks says, the man who raped the little girl was the kid's caregiver. She says, he was given a life sentence, plus 50 years.

“We are finding the truth so that we are finding true perpetrators of crimes and being able to hold them responsible,” says Slater.

According to the Georgia Department of Children and Families, there were more than 2,000 child protective service reports in 2015. District Attorney Slater says, it's efforts like following the child abuse protocol that help rectify such situations.

http://wrbl.com/2017/05/25/agencies-join-forces-to-stop-child-abuse-at-annual-child-abuse-protocol-signing/

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Africa

Nigeria: Child Abuse Prevalent in All Nigeria's 36 States - Unicef

by Suzan Edeh

United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, yesterday, said violence against children was prevalent across the 36 states of the country.

Chief of UNICEF Bauchi Field Office, Abdulai Kai Kai, who disclosed at a briefing on the 2017 Children's Day celebration, said: "According to the findings of the 2014 Nigeria Violence Against Children Survey conducted by the National Population Commission with the support of the United States Centre for Disease Control and UNICEF, there is a high prevalence of violence against children in all the states in Nigeria."

According to him, it had been observed that approximately six out of 10 children experienced some form of violence and 50 percent of all children in Nigeria experienced physical violence.

He added that the "survey also noted that one in four girls and one in 10 boys experience sexual violence, while one in six girls and one in five boys experience emotional violence by a parent, caregiver or adult relative.

"So on the occasion of this year's Nigerian Children's Day, all must take action to end violence against children. Violence against children is found to be prevalent in all the states in Nigeria.

"I particularly call on the six states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Jigawa, Plateau and Taraba, which are supported by the UNICEF Nigeria, Bauchi Field Office to take action to end violence against children."

Kai Kai lamented that of the six states under the UNICEF, Bauchi Field Office, only Plateau and Taraba adopted Child Rights Laws despite the passage of the Nigeria Child Rights Act by the National Assembly in 2003.

http://allafrica.com/stories/201705260245.html
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