The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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May 5, 2014

Lewisburg event promotes child abuse awareness

LEWISBURG — After weeks spent studying the horrors of child abuse, students in Professor Randall “Adam” Martin’s criminal justice course at New River Community and Technical College decided to throw open the semester’s final class session to the public.

“In our class we learned how important awareness (of child abuse) is, and we wanted to share this,” said Tyler Manspile, one of the students in Martin’s CRMJ 290: Child Abuse course.

That final class took the form of a panel discussion and question-and-answer session led by members of the Greenbrier County Multi-Disciplinary Investigative Team (MDIT), a group that includes representatives from law enforcement, the court system, Child Protective Services (CPS), the Family Refuge Center and the Child and Youth Advocacy Center (CYAC).

Martin assured those attending the discussion in the New River auditorium that child abuse, including sexual abuse, “is happening in our community.”

As the Greenbrier County Sheriff’s Department’s lead child abuse investigator until about three years ago, Martin said, “Nothing is mind-boggling to me anymore.”

Martin’s successor in that post at the sheriff’s office, Detective Cpl. Roger Baker, said a child abuse investigation takes a minimum of a year to 18 months to complete, measuring it from the initial call reporting suspected abuse to conviction and sentencing of the abuser.

Tammie Smith, an investigator with CPS, said that her agency swiftly responds to every report alleging child abuse, adhering to a timetable that specifies deadlines by which each step of the process must conclude.

“We have very, very strict guidelines,” Smith said, noting that CPS’s civil case against an abuser proceeds on a parallel path within the same time frame as the criminal case does.

Baker said the court system dictates much of the pace of any case’s resolution, with everything from defense strategies to plea agreements influencing the timing. He said some people become frustrated with how long a case can drag on, expecting it to wrap up neatly “like it does on TV.”

“There is no such thing as an ‘average case,’” interjected CYAC program coordinator Roger W. Lockridge Sr., who served as the panel’s moderator.

Asked by a teacher in the audience what signs of possible abuse she should be on the alert for with her students, Smith mentioned behavioral changes or visible bruising, and encouraged the teacher to take photos of any bruises, ask neutral (non-leading) questions and document the time and circumstances in conjunction with filing a report.

Other signs of possible abuse or neglect the panelists cited included unusual clothing choices, lack of cleanliness and sudden changes in achievement.

Lockridge, who is an abuse survivor, said he became an “A” student in response to his troubled home life, grimly applying himself to his studies as a way of ignoring the chaos swirling around him.

He also advised the teacher, “Don’t make promises you can’t keep. You can’t guarantee their safety. You can’t guarantee action. You can only let them know that you care.”

Teachers are “mandated reporters” of suspected child abuse, as are law enforcement officers, medical professionals, clergy and therapists, panelist Mary Treece, a veteran of more than 25 years with CPS, pointed out. She said CPS keeps the identities of those who report child abuse strictly confidential, although at times the accused abuser can figure out who turned him or her in by thinking through the circumstances.

Although MDIT members may at times disagree on certain details of the process, the group has a common goal, Treece said.

“We all work for the same thing — to save these children,” she said.

Trudy Laurenson, one of the founders of both the Family Refuge Center and the CYAC, added, “Not everybody can do (this type of work), but if you can do it, you ought to do it.”

Martin said of the panelists and their colleagues, “These are miraculous people and they do miraculous work,” as he exhorted his students to consider following in their footsteps when choosing a career.

 

Statistics collected and compiled by the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System show that the youngest children are the most vulnerable to maltreatment. In federal fiscal year 2011, more than 27 percent of all victims reported by the states were younger than age 3, while another 20 percent were in the 3- to 5-year age group.

Victimization of girls occurred at a slightly higher rate than that of boys during the 2011 reporting period.

Four-fifths of victims were neglected, 17.6 percent were physically abused and 9.1 percent were sexually abused.

More than 80 percent of all victims were maltreated by a parent, either acting alone or with someone else, with maltreatment by the mother acting alone occurring at a rate nearly double that of the father acting alone.

West Virginia reported 4,139 substantiated victims of abuse in 2011. More than half were victims of neglect, and slightly over one-third suffered physical abuse. Sixteen of those children died as the result of maltreatment.

According to the report, this state’s Child Protective Services responded to allegations concerning 33,816 children in 2011; at the time, West Virginia’s total child population was 384,794.

— E-mail: talvey@register-herald.com

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