The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

July 9, 2013

Women’s caucus focuses on child abuse, neglect

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON — In her career as a middle school counselor, Delegate Linda Phillips learned of many a depressing account of a child mired in an environment of neglect or outright abuse that manifested itself in many ugly forms, at times so poignant that discussing it was out of the question.

Phillips suspects there were far more instances of such mean-spirited maltreatment than some students were willing to share.

Adding fuel to the fires of abuse has come word that some prosecutors cannot go to the mat with the guilty in a courtroom because of a loophole in state law, Phillips said Monday.

And for that reason, and a host of others, Phillips wants a special committee organized for this year’s interims to examine child abuse and neglect, as well as possible expansion of the Crimes Against Children Unit of the State Police.

As the study progresses, provided new Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, extends his blessings on forming the proposed panel, Phillips says the 21 members of the Women’s Caucus — the force behind the study — hope to ride with a state trooper to see what a day in their life comprises.

“Evidently, there is a loophole in our statute, particularly with neglect,” Phillips, D-Wyoming, said.

“The perpetrator is kind of falling through the cracks. And the prosecutors are having a hard time deciding exactly what is neglect. Was it really neglect, or was it just a lackadaisical parenting type of thing?”

Phillips said the Women’s Caucus then decided it perhaps wants to further work on the Crimes Against Children Unit, one that not only investigates abuse and neglect, but the matter of sexual predators preying on minors via the Internet.

“We would like to have more officers in that Crimes Against Children Unit,” she said.

“And that’s going to be a domino effect. We’re going to have to try to recruit more officers to do our regular patrols. They just need more manpower. With the crimes that they deal with, obviously it takes a special kind of person to do that. They get burned out. It’s a hard task to deal with that day after day in a variety of cases.”

Perhaps, she suggested, a rotation could be devised so that officers in the special unit could be assigned other duties after five years in that special unit.

Phillips says the women don’t want the issues taken up by the established Committee on Children and Other Issues, because it is concerned with the entire gamut, and a new one the caucus has in mind that would be focused on abuse, neglect and crimes against children.

Often, in her erstwhile role as a middle school counselor, Phillips had to notify the Department of Health and Human Resources of a troubled youngster in a bad home environment.

“I knew they were abused,” the delegate said.

“I would fish for information that they might tell me but they were just so protective of whoever that was and would not share with me. As they got into high school, they did. So, maybe I just planted the seed that, ‘yes, it’s OK to talk about it.’ I’ve seen so many of these children. I don’t know that I’ve seen the really bad cases, but I may have and just not realized it.”

Phillips says the caucus wants the special panel to only delve into the targeted issues for this year’s interims with an eye toward potential corrective legislation in 2014.

As for another project in mind, Phillips said the idea is for all 21 women in the House to take one day and accompany troopers on their rounds, except in matters where an arrest is to be made.

If real trouble is imminent, such as the violent standoff last weekend in Nicholas County, she said the participating officers wouldn’t take the delegates with them.

“I’m assuming if that happened, they would probably say, ‘I’m dropping you off at this packette. I’ll call someone else to pick you up. You’re not going with us.’”

Phillips emphasized the Women’s Caucus is a bipartisan one.

“We work very well together,” she said.

“If there’s an issue, it doesn’t matter if it’s Democrat or Republican. We work very well on this.”

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