The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

July 13, 2013

W.Va. Legislature: Panel will study child abuse and neglect

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON — For a variety of reasons, abused and neglected children fear blowing the whistle on their parents.

Retaliation by the guilty, lack of awareness of just what abuse means, or the genuine sense of dread that their names could surface on cell phone texts or social media posts by their peers — all that plays in the silence.

So says Delegate Linda Phillips, D-Wyoming, who has embarked on a six-month crusade to deal with abuse and neglect which she feels is rampant across West Virginia.

“It is, very much,” says Phillips.

“A lot of times, they just don’t tell it. They suffer it and just don’t tell because they’re protecting Mom and Dad. Or, if they tell, they don’t know where they’re going to go. Or, if somebody doesn’t believe them, and sends them back, it’s going to be worse than what it was before they told. There are some big issues with that.”

No small matter is the potential for taunts hurled directly, or indirectly via technology, by their contemporaries.

“Even though the Department of Health and Human Services tries to keep everything confidential, when you move the child out of the school, or out of a family, and the child is no longer in the school, it’s like, where are they?” Phillips said.

“Where did Joe go? That type of thing.”

Before long, word gets around, she said.

“Kids know kids, and they’re going to know,” she said.

Often, the delegate said, the abused or neglected child is so innocent that he or she accepts mistreatment as normal.

“They don’t know that’s not what other kids go through, that this is not normal,” Phillips said.

“Because they think it’s normal for them to get beaten or normal for them to get sexually abused. So, they don’t know, until they might go to somebody else’s home, which is rare, because the parent won’t let them. And then they see that other kid doesn’t get yelled at, or that kid never has bruises on him. They just don’t realize that isn’t a normal thing.”

New Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, gave his blessing to a new panel, known as the Select Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect.

Making up the membership are the 21 women in the House, and the lone female in the Senate — Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants.

There was some good-natured kidding about excluding male lawmakers, but Phillips got a laugh out of it. Besides, she emphasized, the top matter is no laughing matter. When the panel holds its first meeting this month, all the kidding stays at the door.

Since the idea was generated by the Women’s Caucus in the House, membership is limited to them.

Right out of the chute, the panel expects to hear a lengthy report outlined by State Police Lt. Reggie Patterson, spelling out what has been done and what authorities feel needs to be accomplished to protect children.

One matter likely to be taken up is what Phillips sees as a problem with state law in prosecuting cases of child abuse and neglect.

The committee is of six-months duration, with its final meeting set in December. In advance of the 2014 legislative session, Phillips says she expects to see some legislation proposed.

“I think we will have some changes in child neglect,” she said.

Another matter is the lack of manpower within the Department of Public Safety to adequately address issues involving children, the delegate said.

“I know money is tight, but we only have approximately 600 State Police officers now, and that’s just not enough for this state,” Phillips said.

Especially, she said, when only a few troopers specialize in crimes against children, including those involving sexual predators who prey on children via the Internet.

“I’m hoping we will be able to work some way with the governor’s office that we can come up with some money to have another (trooper) class,” Phillips said.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com