We have to trust police and DCS to use the information well.
The baby had a cut lip and bruises on the face and an ear, reports the Indianapolis Star about the sad case of 7-month-old Jayden Noel of Shelbyville. The emergency room doctor initially suspected abuse but eventually believed the mother’s story – her boyfriend had thrown a toy into the crib without realizing the child was in it – so he did not report his suspicions to police or the Department of Child Services. Six months later, Jayden Noel was dead, another victim of child abuse who had fallen through the cracks.
It has long been argued that DCS is not always as diligent or thorough as it could be in investigating abuse and neglect reports. Investigations by the Star itself have documented numerous lapses by the department. But this incident illustrates a much broader problem: People do not always report their suspicions, even when there is strong evidence and they are in a position to see it. The reality is, the Star notes in its Jayden Noel coverage, that “even in this time of rising awareness of the responsibility to report child abuse, many suspected cases of abuse and neglect go unreported.”
Many Hoosiers – maybe even most – aren’t aware of how broad Indiana’s law is. Anyone suspecting abuse or neglect – not just those who work with or are responsible for children, but anyone – is required to report their suspicion to police or DCS. Sometimes there are selfish reasons for failing to report, such as protecting some person or institution’s reputation – Penn State comes to mind. Sometimes people just don’t want to get involved. Sometimes they talk themselves out of their suspicions or, as in the case of the Shelbyville doctor, let someone else do it.
Certainly there is a chance people can go too far in casting suspicion where none is warranted. There have been some well-documented cases of people whose lives were ruined by false accusations. But we have to weigh the chance of speaking up and being wrong against the consequences of being right and staying silent.
Sometimes, we have no better choice than to trust the people put into authority with the responsibility to find the truth. We must believe the police and DCS will be diligent and use our suspicions to investigate and discover where there is and is not abuse and neglect.
“People need to follow the law and err on the side of the child,” said James M. Hmurovich, a former Indiana child-welfare official now serving as president and CEO of Prevent Child Abuse America. “It is an adult’s responsibility to keep a child safe.”