NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Legislation helps, but individuals must take action in preventing child abuse

You’ve seen the billboards around Fort Wayne saying that April is Child Abuse Awareness Month. They were sponsored by Stop Child Abuse and Neglect (SCAN).

If you think child abuse isn’t that big a deal in Indiana, think again. Two Associated Press stories on Wednesday highlight the problem:

* An Indianapolis woman was sentenced to seven years in prison for the 2017 starvation death of her 2-month-old daughter.

* In Anderson, a woman pleaded guilty to neglect in connection with the death of her 23-month-old daughter and was sentenced to 40 years in prison. She was also charged with neglect causing serious injury to her 3-year-old son. Her boyfriend is awaiting trial for murder in the girl’s death (she died from a blow to the head and lacerations to her liver) and neglect causing injury to the boy.

A study by the Department of Health and Human Services Children’s Bureau reports that in 2017 Indiana had the second- highest rate of child abuse cases in the nation — 18.6 children per 1,000.

SCAN believes child abuse and neglect are preventable through education and action. They say it is our duty to be curious, keep our eyes and ears alert and stand up for children who need our help.

According to Indiana Code 31-34-1, abuse is when “the child’s physical or mental health is seriously endangered due to injury by the act or omission of the child’s parent, guardian or custodian.”

Such abuse may be the intentional infliction of or allowing of physical injury or the use of a child for sexual gratification. Neglect is the chronic failure to meet a child’s basic needs for food, clothes, shelter, medical care, education or supervision. Emotional abuse, according to SCAN, is “the chronic attitude or acts of a caretaker which are detrimental to the child’s development of a sound and healthy personality.”

SCAN is partially funded in its fight against child abuse by Indiana’s beleaguered Department of Child Services in Indianapolis, which is facing much-needed reform in the state Legislature.

Legislation to implement key recommendations for improving the DCS was approved 100-0 in January by members of the Indiana House. House Bill 1006 later passed a third reading in the Senate 48-0 and returned to the House last week with no amendments.

The bill came after a complete review of the child protection agency by the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group, following the sudden December 2017 resignation of DCS Director Mary Beth Bonaventura. Bonaventura submitted a resignation letter that accused Gov. Eric Holcomb of starving the agency’s resources to an extent she said “all but ensures children will die.”

Among other things, the measure submitted to the General Assembly changes caseload limits for family case managers and authorizes the DCS to respond to a child in imminent danger of serious bodily harm within two hours, rather than the current one-hour response mandate.

While DCS reform will help in the fight to protect our children, it’s up to all of us to be alert to signs of child abuse, such as physical injuries, lack of needed medical attention, children expecting bad things to happen, lack of parental supervision and frequent absences from school.

Indiana law requires the reporting of suspected child abuse and neglect. Those who fail to report suspected child abuse and neglect could face a Class B misdemeanor charge. People may remain anonymous in reporting abuse and will remain immune from all civil and criminal liability if they make the report in good faith.

To report abuse or neglect, call the Child Protective Services (CPS) hotline, 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-800-5556.

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