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Better safe than sorry has rather been my motto for most of my almost six decades in this world.  It is definitely my steadfast position when it comes to one of the driving forces in my life, children's advocacy.  I've been active in children's advocacy for about 25 years now.  Whether I'm working on a case for a CASA file, interviewing a survivor, or researching and drafting pleadings for litigation arising from child abuse, I always go to my fallback position, better safe than sorry.   Perhaps that is why in the "real" world, when someone who knows me has a question or concern on the topic of child abuse, they frequently come to me with it.  Often, the person with the question is a friend or associate who also does work in the field but sometimes it is a friend who has seen or heard something that rings warning bells.

I will disclose up front, I suspect that theme stuck with me because when I was routinely being abused, I attempted in my timid, naive, seven-year-old shy little girl way to tell someone what was happening.  The person I tried to confide in did not believe in better safe than sorry and the issue got blown off.  As a consequence, I did not even attempt to tell anyone else and the abuse continued.

When my phone rang several nights ago and it was a close relative, I was delighted at the thought of a pleasant chat with someone I love.  She immediately got to the point and I realized it would be one of "those" conversations.

"My friend, Lisa, has a little girl that I have talked about.  Well, little Sharon said something that was odd.  I don't know what to think and her Mom doesn't know what to do."  "Okay, tell me about it."

Little Sharon's parents are in the middle of a divorce.  Red flag there, because accusations can be tossed about that may or may not have credence and emotions are running high, but better safe than sorry so we'll keep an open mind.

Little Sharon has been visiting her paternal grandparents, because Mom is trying hard to continue to give her a semblance of normalcy.  That's a good thing, usually, especially since Dad has been pretty much an absent parent while he deals with some issues of his own, including substance abuse.  I admit, a part of me wondered if/why Dad was self-medicating, but I left that alone for the moment.

It was time for Little Sharon to go visit with her grandparents again.  Lately, she hadn't seemed so eager to visit, but this time Sharon begged not to go.  When Mom got curious, little Sharon got tearful and ultimately admitted that she was afraid to go.  Mom was taken aback and pressed a bit to learn why, thinking there was some misunderstanding that she might clear up so Sharon could enjoy her visit.  Finally, "I didn't brush my teeth right, so Grandpa got mad."  Okay, right here, this can go a couple of different ways.  People get frustrated and angry, that's not necessarily a cause for concern, in and of itself.  It's what people do when they get angry that may cause the concern.  It's probably safer to inquire further as to what followed.  Sharon next told Mom that Grandpa threw her on the bed and hit her.  

Mom called and tried to talk to Grandpa to ask what happened, but Grandpa was quite angry that she even asked, defensive right off the bat.  He then complained that no matter how hard he tried, Sharon just would not brush her teeth the right way and he had to teach her a lesson. Angry and blustering, he wouldn't speak further and hung up.

Mom was very upset, concerned, and unsure what to do.  She knew something had to be done but she was struggling with a wide range of emotions and potential responses.  The more Sharon spoke, the more concerned Mom became, especially when Sharon told her that this type of thing had happened before.  

Firmly a believer in "better safe than sorry,"  I said it needed to be investigated and promptly, before Sharon returned to that house.  If it proved to be a misunderstanding, it could be worked out.  If it proved to be factual, Sharon should not be put at risk.  If Grandpa was struggling and needed help, it could be arranged.  If it proved to be a lie, then Sharon needed help with whatever emotional difficulties she was having that would lead her to lie.  No matter what, the truth needed to be revealed here.  Since Mom had an attorney helping her with the divorce, I suggested she call that attorney when his office opened in the morning.  He could help Mom report to the appropriate agency in that jurisdiction, start an investigation and get the facts.  

Last night, my phone rang again.  After Sharon's interview with a social worker, Mom was told that there was even more.  Sharon confided that Grandpa had been touching her inappropriately and it appeared that he may have been molesting her for some time. As the investigation began, there were some heated exchanges and a potential threat was made.  A subsequent search of the house by authorities also uncovered several firearms, which have been removed and protective orders are now in place.  The investigation continues.   It also turns out that Dad's siblings cut off all contact with their father when they became adults.  Yes, that gives rise to other suspicion.

The good news is that Sharon is safe and, happily, was able to visit with her Dad.  Dad has been in treatment for his substance issue and is making progress so this was a really good next step, especially at a time when Sharon especially needs two parents who love her, are present, and supportive.  Little Sharon has a long road ahead of her as this moves through the system.   Sharon is beginning with counseling soon to help her get through what is to come.  Mom is thinking about some counseling for herself too.  I hope she follows through with that.

So here I am,  back to "better safe than sorry."  When in doubt, when suspicious, punt to someone in a position to get to the facts.  If your suspicions were wrong, be grateful.  If your suspicions were correct, be grateful that vulnerable little person will get the help and protection that is needed and deserved.  

A couple of links that may be of interest: Info on the  signs of abuse, prevention programs, good stuff
A great place to volunteer
More Info
Agency Resources
Listed by State

Did you know:

    More than 740,000 children and youth are treated in hospital emergency departments as a result of violence each year—that’s more than 84 every hour.

    The total lifetime cost of child maltreatment is $124 billion each year.

    More than 3 million reports of child maltreatment are received by state and local agencies each year—that’s nearly 6 reports every minute.

Per CDC website with additional info

Originally posted to RoCali on Sat Feb 02, 2013 at 11:52 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thank you for tackling a topic that is a minefield (15+ / 0-)

    because of the very nature of the problem.  Health professionals and other professionals need to be very vigilant for abuse, as I have seen estimates that in the 50s and 60s as few as 10% of possible cases were reported.

    At the same time there is the problem of overzealous investigators whose sloppy work made spurious investigations a front page item.  It is also frustrating that partners engaged in divorces may also use such charges as a weapon against each other or that people with axes to grind file false reports.  These occurrences should not obscure the fact that children are being abused and the abuse still appears to be underreported.

    (small note here about shield laws: most states seem to have absolute shield laws so that people reporting child abuse can do so with complete impunity and complete anonymity.  A false report traumatizes the entire family, not just the individual accused and can stigmatize a family unfairly.  I wish shield laws would offer some sort of exception for those cases where malice on the part of the reporting party is clearly demonstrated.  These false reports that are fewer than 5% or 10% of all cases give the impression that all reports are false, much as the Duke Lacrosse Players case damaged the reporting of rape across the country)

  •  Thank you for the diary. (9+ / 0-)

    I, too, have been been on all sides of the child abuse issue, and it is not an easy one.  But the child comes first.  Adults have more tools to cope with life.  Children are mostly defenseless.  

    "The light which puts out our sight is darkness to us." Thoreau

    by NancyWH on Sat Feb 02, 2013 at 12:22:33 PM PST

    •  Children and the Elderly, yes (7+ / 0-)

      mostly defenseless.  The history of child abuse is sordid, ugly, and it just continues.  Of course, until the mid 1950's, and the invention of X-rays, battered child syndrome wasn't even recognized.  At the end of the late 19th century, the first official report of child abuse had to be made to the ASPCA.  In the 1960's, when teachers molested kids, we didn't talk about, they were just transferred.  Overall, we have made some limited headway. We just need to make much more progress on this.

       I'd really love to see more education and  prevention work going on, instead of crisis management after the event, but there's never the money to do it in any effective fashion.  Sigh.  

      You are my brother, my sister.

      by RoCali on Sat Feb 02, 2013 at 12:33:20 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Being a Casa (9+ / 0-)

    for people who would like a volunteer opportunity and want to work with children.

    The kids need you!

    It is hard for a social worker these days. The ones I work with have an average of half an hour per week per child. With so little time it is very easy for them to miss things and not end up with all the facts because they simply don't have time to investigate.

    A CASA has one case and is often the one that knows the most about it. We are also likely to be the only constant through out the long ad frightening process.

    My last little boy went through three foster homes before finding the perfect fit. From the begining there was not much chance he could go home. I was pleased to attend his adoption party last month. My prediction is he will do well and thrive. It feels good to know I had a hand in making that possible

    It is the heart that makes a man rich. He is rich according to what he is not what he has -Henry Ward Beecher

    by PSWaterspirit on Sat Feb 02, 2013 at 12:51:05 PM PST

  •  This is a very clear and concise rule of thumb (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RoCali, MRA NY, revsue, LinSea, grannyboots


    Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

    by a gilas girl on Sat Feb 02, 2013 at 03:08:03 PM PST

  •  It is comforting (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    helpImdrowning, RoCali

    to know that someone cared and someone acted.

  •  My only caveat to this, otherwise, great diary (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RoCali, Mayfly

    is that I have a very right-wing republican roommate who was involved with CASA.  He has regaled me with the great things he has done to help disadvantaged kids.  However, he has also shared that the Family Court took his recommendations with regard to issues affecting children's lives very seriously.  My problem with this is that he is uneducated in psychology or family dynamics, he is super conservative (with all that engenders), and should anyone who is not an expert in this field be making recommendations to the Family Court with regard to child life outcomes?  Particularly given people's personal prejudices, religious values, and the like?  Just a serious, and sincere question.

    "Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." - John F. Kennedy -7.8., -6.6

    by helpImdrowning on Sun Feb 03, 2013 at 01:36:25 AM PST

    •  It is quite true, the court takes (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      a CASA's recommendations very, very seriously; however, they are not the only recommendations submitted and considered.  The experts still submit their recommendations, which are weighted heavily also.  And, there are different types of issues be considered here.

      CASA was originated by a family court judge in, if I remember correctly, Washington, in the 1970s.  Up to that point, the only input the judges received was from the state attorney, representing the state's interest and the child, and the parents' attorney, representing the parents' interest.  What the judge wanted was someone to solely speak for the child's interest.

      Prior to ever being assigned a case, a CASA is put through a training program that covers a wide array of relevant topic materials.  At the end of successful completion of that training, they are sworn in with the court.  A new CASA is assigned a mentor/supervisor with the assignment of cases and their work product is fully reviewed prior to submission.  These supervisors have additional training and educational requirements and are not volunteers, while all CASAs are volunteers.

      A CASA has incredible leeway in gathering information from every institution involved in that particular child's care, school records, etc., in addition to having access to the child and foster home.  A part of their job is to gather all that pertinent information and place it in a report for the court.  At the summation of all the facts, they are to make a recommendation based upon the facts they have presented, in accordance with their opinion off what would be the best outcome for that particular child in that particular situation.  

      The court then takes that report and recommendation into consideration, in addition to the reports from psychologists, social workers, etc.  The CASA's report is given substantial weight, as would be the child's own testimony, but it is definitely not the only submission accepted and reviewed.  A large part of CASA training is that it is pounded into the CASA that they are to represent that child and that child's interests.  They are, after all, the child's advocate.

      Clearly, there is always a possibility that a CASA may going into this with their own agenda, although everyone in the process works hard to filter those out.  But then, that can happen in any system.  We know historically that, upon occasion, other advocates, such as lawyers, have stumbled on these issues themselves.  No system is fool-proof and perfect.  But again, it is up to the judge, as in any case, to evaluate what is presented to them and make the decision, in the best interests of the child, based upon all the evidence, submissions and recommendations.  Judges are aware that people have certain prejudices and generally apply their best efforts at filtering through.

      Since the program has been in effect, it has had wonderful results overall.  I cannot and will not claim that there never had been an error, that would be impossible.  But the CASA program and the people I've worked with within it have been solely dedicated to getting the best possible result for each child.  

      CASAs have made recommendations instrumental in getting children appropriate educational settings, medical care, a host of issues, that might typically be lost in the foster care system.  The social workers are simply overwhelmed by a massive caseload and, try as they may, cannot dedicate the time needed to meet the child's needs, in many cases.  

      Remember, the CASA does not make decisions, only recommendations.  Those recommendations are reviewed by an experienced jurist, and weighted against the reports by the professionals.  Often, the CASA's recommendation and, for example, the psychologist's, recommendations are in agreement, truthfully.  If there is a conflict, further scrutiny is applied by the court.

      I understand your concerns, honestly, but frankly, in an imperfect world, CASA is one of the best tools we have to help these kids.  And these kids need all the help they can get.  Things can get pretty bleak and the future for them is not pretty.  About half of these kids are going to end up homeless after they turn 18.  And, if they have a CASA, things were pretty bad for them to begin with.

      There are nowhere near enough CASA volunteers for the incredibly high number of kids in the system, so only the neediest of cases are assigned a CASA.  In my county, we have approximately 150 CASAs and approximately 9,000 kids in the system.  We're so overcrowded, I know of children that had to sleep on sofas in the Department of Social Services while their workers frantically tried to find a placement for them; knowing if they left them in their home, their lives were at risk.

      Foster care, many times, is the lesser of two evils.  Tragically, that epitomizes the entire system and there are no perfect answers.  I only wish there were.  Each and every child deserves a safe, loving, supportive home, but reality in no way approaches that ideal.

      You are my brother, my sister.

      by RoCali on Sun Feb 03, 2013 at 09:14:23 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RoCali, Mayfly

    For helping with the awareness of terrible crimes against children.  
    A question....where does verbal/emotional abuse fall into the continuum?  There are no outward scars or bruises, but the impact is very real and many times, life long, and the damage done appears decades later in apparently unrelated ways. These abuses are very hard to prove, a child's word against an adult's, especially when the adult has the articulation the child doesn't.  And the adult is very well thought of in his/her 'circle', but they're very cruel to a child when they're out of any other adults hearing.
    I know I've heard some things said (to others as well as myself) which would absolutely qualify as cruel, viscous, mean-spirited and abusive, but no one paid the slightest attention, because 'sticks and stones....etc.'.
    What's to be done about that type of abuse?

    I think, therefore I am........................... Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose....AKA Engine Nighthawk - don't even ask!

    by Lilyvt on Sun Feb 03, 2013 at 10:01:19 AM PST

    •  Unfortunately, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      this is an extremely difficult problem, for the reasons you laid out.  Harsh words run on a spectrum from annoying, to hurtful, to damaging of a child's psyche.   Ask any psychologist or social worker and they will freely acknowledge that verbal/emotional abuse is very real, as real as neglect, physical or sexual abuse.  It is also the absolute most difficult type of abuse to prove or act upon, unless it rises to extremely high levels, like psychological torture, and even then, proving it is almost impossible under typical circumstances.

      If the adult is someone you have a relationship with, you can attempt to educate them, but be cautious not to put them on the defensive.  Sometimes, it is a matter of ignorance rather than cruelty, and I mean ignorance as in not educated on the subject matter and unaware of the harm that could occur.  In those cases, education performed in a caring, understanding and compassionate manner has the potential for effecting positive change.

      Unfortunately, in some cases, the verbal and emotional abuse rise out of cruelty.  The individual may derive some personal benefit out of the act, whether to bolster their own inadequate eqo or to gain a sense of control that may otherwise be lacking in their life.  Counseling would be very beneficial in these cases, but that requires a willing participant.  Again, one may attempt to reason with them and educate them, but that may prove more difficult here.  Although one could potentially report to an agency, it is unlikely that any action could be taken.  There are no solid criteria for judging it as abuse nor is there any solid evidence of harm, aside from the fact that we know psychologically speaking that can take a toll.  Frankly, the system is so overwhelmed with children in immediate physical danger, and responses prioritized according to imminent risk of severe injury, these cases, even if provable to a legal standard, would be at the bottom of the list to be addressed.  

      If I personally knew of such a dynamic and had any type of relationship with the individuals involved, I would be inclined to attempt to educate the adult.  Also, I would do what I could to be a positive and supportive person in that child's life.  Children that have at least one such adult in their life, be it a teacher or friend, fare better over the big picture.  It helps them cope better, retain some self-esteem and may diminish some of the long-term effects, making them more likely to succeed as adults and less likely to slip into the self-destructive behaviors that frequently occur in survivors.  Just one stable person assuring them of their value can be a real anchor.

      If verbal/psychological abuse is present, I would keep my eyes open for the possibility of physical abuse as well.  In some cases, escalating verbal abuse is a precursor or is accompanied by physical abuse.  Although verbal abuse does not always graduate to physical abuse, it happens often enough that it is something I would keep an eye out for.  Obviously, should signs of that appear, I would report for investigation.  

      I wish I had some wonderful, clean answer for you, but that does not really exist.  Bruises, cuts, broken bones are more clear cut, but damage to emotional health is too difficult to quantify and verify, much less prove causation.  

      You are my brother, my sister.

      by RoCali on Sun Feb 03, 2013 at 12:25:17 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I know.... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Bruises, cuts, broken bones are more clear cut, but damage to emotional health is too difficult to quantify and verify, much less prove causation.  
        Very much a silent sort of abuse, but damaging all the same.
        And, of course, helping those in imminent physical danger is most important.  It's just so sad to know this other type of abuse exists, and so incredibly frustrating to know not very much can be done about it (except what you've said about the education of the adult....if they're willing).  Cruelty is cruelty and if the abuse is done on that level, not much can be accomplished with education.

        I think, therefore I am........................... Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose....AKA Engine Nighthawk - don't even ask!

        by Lilyvt on Sun Feb 03, 2013 at 12:47:19 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I know, sigh. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Sometimes, it feels like beating your head against a wall; but you keep trying because once in a while, you get to make a difference.  When people asked me why I wanted to do this, since there is no way to stop it all, I said, "if I save just one, I've done something."  It can  be depressing at times.  People do truly horrific things to children. I keep reminding myself that often abuse is generational and continues until we break the chain by saving one and removing that link.  We never feel like what we do is enough, but I just tell myself over and over, if I just save one...

          You are my brother, my sister.

          by RoCali on Sun Feb 03, 2013 at 01:23:10 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Yup.... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            And each one of them is such a special being of such incredible potential.
            I've said it before and I'll say it again....put me in a room full of kids and I'll find something to like about every single one of them.  Can't say the same about a room full of adults.

            I think, therefore I am........................... Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose....AKA Engine Nighthawk - don't even ask!

            by Lilyvt on Sun Feb 03, 2013 at 01:45:51 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  Years ago there was a SpiderMan comic book wherein (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    SpiderMan reveals he was molested as a child and talks to children about how to recognize and report abuse.

    Don't know if it has been updated or if it is still around.

    Fiscal conservative: a Republican ready to spend $5 to save a dime--especially if that dime is helping a non-donor.

    by Mayfly on Sun Feb 03, 2013 at 11:49:50 AM PST

    •  I had not seen that. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I would love to see more education and prevention in this area.  Our current response is more geared to dealing with the aftermath and the harm has already been done.  I'm not so naive as to believe that we can eradicate all abuse, but I do feel we could do much more by way of prevention.  The long-term effects of abuse can be so devastating, sometimes I feel that just treating the wounds afterward is so wholly inadequate, it is frustrating beyond belief.  We can help the survivors live with what has happened to them, heal and move forward, but we cannot undo the hurt that has already been inflicted.  Preventing that harm would be by far the better choice, where possible and it would certainly be far more cost effective, as well as the more humane approach.

      You are my brother, my sister.

      by RoCali on Sun Feb 03, 2013 at 12:36:12 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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