LIMA — Child abuse. Neglect. The words alone are enough to make a heart heavy. However, for 967 children in Allen County, those words became reality last year.
According to Cyndi Scanland, director of intake and investigations at Allen County Children Services, 3,555 referrals and calls came into their office in 2013. Of those, 967 turned into reports where the agency found it appropriate to do a formal assessment. Hundreds of other calls were redirected to other agencies and resources to help with families’ needs.
Scott Ferris, executive director of Allen County Children Services, said, “April is National Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention month, which began in 1983. In addition, April 9 is our third annual ‘Ohio Wears Blue’ day. We want to be able to shine awareness on the problem.”
Donna Dickman, executive director for The Partnership for Violence Free Families, said, “We try and do something big during April to keep in the public’s eye. Our coalition, which is made up of many agencies, works together to see what (events) are going on, and what more can we add. It’s a big month. We really want to drive home the fact that this community is addressing (child abuse).”
Some of April’s other events include: a flag-raising ceremony at noon Tuesday at the Allen County Courthouse to honor the victims of child abuse; a presentation of blue pinwheels at 12:30 p.m. April 7 at Lima Memorial Health System; and a “Spank Out Day” and healthy kids’ day 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 26 at the Lima YMCA. These are just a few of the many awareness events and activities planned for the month. For a complete list, visit www.pvff.org.
According to Ferris, child abuse and neglect reports are up 70 percent from 2008.
He attributes it, in part, to “an economy tanking, stress factors, and bad decisions which lead to other bad decisions.”
Ferris also added that the calls that come in don’t necessarily mean that there is more abuse than before. Perhaps there has been more awareness and resources for people to be able to report the abuse.
Staff at Allen County Children Services take calls around the clock for anyone to report violence or neglect against a child. A person can call 419-227-8590 any time to make an anonymous report.
“We take referrals by phone, in person or by letter. We prefer if people call or come in. We have two full-time screeners who are social workers and are excellent at what they do, “ Ferris explained. In addition, there are other highly trained and educated support staff members who assist when needed.
“A lot of times what’s reported to us is not the problem, it’s a symptom. Neglect might be a symptom of a deeper problem like substance abuse or financial problems,” Ferris said.
Recognizing Allen County families’ desperate need for assistance on different levels, the agency adopted Alternative Response. This program is designed to be a proactive approach to keeping children safe. It helps families solve problems and connects them with community resources.
Scanland said, “In June 2012 we began Alternative Response. We focus on soliciting families as partners. We try to engage families right from the beginning, from the first call to us.”
Jenny Knippen, intake supervisor at Allen County Children Services, said, “It’s more difficult to engage and work with families if they have a negative feeling already.”
Scanland added that once families learn the agency is on their side, negative perceptions tend to change. When they learn about Alternative Response, they are overall cooperative because they understand that we to work with them to help them to keep the family unit together. “Our goal is to maintain kids in their home,” she said.
Scanland said there might be a perception from the public that if a report is made, a child will be taken out of the home — which is not usually the case.
Though the goal is to keep a child in his/her own home, the steps taken to investigate reports are thorough. If the staff at Allen County Children Services feels there is a dangerous threat to a child’s well being, they will do everything necessary to ensure that child’s safety.
The first step will be to help the family get the help they need. If things do not improve, they will look to place the child with family members.
“Foster care is a last resort,” Scanland said. “Our resources have evolved over the years. In addition, we offer parenting classes. There’s no charge for our services.”
Knippen added, “We really can’t tell (parents and guardians) that they can’t spank. We will help them learn new non-violent techniques, though.”
Dickman explained that parents and guardians might have too high of expectations of their children. She said the best thing parents can do is to educate themselves on the mental and social development of their children.
“We can’t expect a toddler to sit for an hour quietly at Walmart. They aren’t supposed to be able to do it,” she said, and added that parents get mad if they don’t behave like “little adults.”
Dickman said, “The largest time of brain development is from ages 3 to 5. Toddlers are testing out the world. They are learning to understand emotions and empathy. You can’t expect a 2-year-old to play nicely. They can’t do it.”
“We need to stop spanking. When anyone is hit, your brain shuts down with learning. IQs are lower in children who are hit,” Dickman said and added, “(Spanking) is also an opportunity for things to get out of control.”
Dickman said that children don’t have the vocal capacity to explain their emotions but will model good behavior.
“Parenting is about consistency, and backing up between both parents. You can’t threaten. If children understand consequences, they will listen at age-appropriate levels,” she said.
Dickman cited a past Ohio media campaign: “Just take a breath.” By this, she explained parents in stressful situations should step back, take a deep breath and put things in perspective. Also, parents should use community resources and supportive services. Visit www.pvff.org for a list of resources.
Ferris and the others suggested everyone should be wary of suspected child abuse in the community.
“If it’s hot out and a child comes to school in long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, it might be an indicator that they are hiding marks,” Ferris said. “It’s natural for kids to get some bruises on legs and arms from playing, but marks that look like burns or are in unusual places like the backs of legs would be suspicious. Sleeping in school and/or school attendance issues are also causes for concerns.”
Knippen concurred that suspicious bruises are definite causes for concern, as well as inconsistent stories between the parent and the child of how an injury may have occurred.
Some people are required to report suspicious events. These “mandated reporters” are professional childcare providers, teachers, clergy members, or anyone who works with children as their job.
Others, such as family members, friends or causal observers in public places are encouraged to also report abuse but will have the choice to remain anonymous. Please call Allen County Children Services to report any violent act or neglect against a child. People are available to answer the phone seven days a week, 24 hours a day at: 419-227-8590. Call 911 if it’s an emergency situation.
“When people see something in public, they tend to turn a blind eye because they don’t know what to do. If there were more by standards who would step in, we could take care of this problem,” Dickman said.
For more information and resources, visit: www.allencsb.com.
Ferris added that he hopes this month people will become more aware of this problem, but will do things to help change it every month of the year, not just in April. Also, he hopes people might simply show appreciation for the many advocates in this community.
“Say ‘thank you’ to those who do this day in and day out,” Ferris said.