PINWHEELS IN PENNSYLAVANIA, SHAMEFUL STATISTICS IN INDIANA
To spread awareness during National Child Abuse Prevention Month, officials in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania planted 554 pinwheels on the courthouse lawn, each representing an abused child in the county who had the courage to seek help. Here in Indiana, with our state described as having the second-highest child abuse rate in the nation, the General Assembly is considering a number of new pieces of legislation to help protect children:
- House Bill 1006 requires the department of child services to initiate an assessment no later than two hours after receiving a report of child abuse or neglect.
- House Bill 1247 provides that a child’s school principal or teacher may access confidential records related to a report or investigation of child abuse.
The same ”Child Maltreatment Report” from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that delivered the state’s shameful second-place ranking identified the most common risk factors contributing to child abuse and neglect:
- alcohol abuse
- drug abuse
- financial problems
- domestic violence
In an interview with Fox 59, Governor Holcomb said that Indiana must remain focused on preventing child abuse cases before they happen. With that very thought in mind, Indiana University Northwest (in Gary) will be hosting the 29th Annual Forum on Child Abuse and Neglect next week. The purpose of the Forum: focusing research, services, and policy towards ensuring that abuse and neglect of children never occurs.
It’s not that everyone isn’t trying or that we’re not “on the same page”. From district attorneys to legislators, educators, parents, and police, there is no party that does not want to improve children’s safety. At the Ramey & Hailey law firm, where we are doing our part every day to help victims of sexual assault and abuse, we understand that preventing abuse is no easy task. We know all too well how very, very difficult it is – for parents, for witnesses, for victims – to relive the experiences by talking about them with law enforcement or even with our attorneys.
At the same time, we know that, even as we try as hard as we can to prevent abuse and neglect from happening in the future, we have to help the victims who have already suffered. Sometimes that takes financial compensation to help pay for the psychological and physical therapy it may well take to rebuild victims’ lives. Long-term symptoms may include anxiety and even post-traumatic stress disorder. (Elizabeth Letourneau, who directs the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, calculated that lifetime costs for victims range between $283,000 to over $1 million dollars!)
(When a civil suit is filed against school personnel (teachers or coaches, for example) for child abuse, there is a complex and time-sensitive administrative complaint process; our work as personal injury attorneys is then focused on helping survivors navigate that process.)
Any individual who has reason to believe that a child is a victim of child abuse or neglect MUST make a report to:
- Indiana Department of Child Services at 1-800-5556 (https://www.in.gov/dcs/2372.htm).
It’s important for you to know that a person reporting child abuse or neglect is immune from criminal or civil liability and reports to DCS are confidential. Callers may choose to remain anonymous.
Of all the factors that make eliminating abuse of children in Indiana so difficult a task, one of the most important is unreported incidents. Our function as lawyers, as we see it, is to help reach out to folks who know they need to speak out about what happened to them or to their child. Until every person who “sees something”, “says something”, nothing will stop the abuse from happening over and over again.
We don’t want pretty pinwheels on our courthouse lawn, nor shameful statistics about how we have failed to protect our precious children. We need to speak out. And, in the meantime, as we know at Ramey & Hailey, victims of abuse need affirmation and financial help.