| Today's NAASCA news:
December 22, 2014
$1M grant for hospitals to study child abuse injuries
by Anne Saker
Astounding as this number is, more than 30,000 Ohio children suffer abuse every year, and in many instances, it starts in the first months of life. That's when abusers often inflict seemingly minor injuries that can get explained away.
To study this phenomenon, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and the five other big children's hospitals in Ohio have just received a $1 million grant from the state.
Attorney General Mike DeWine unveiled the research money at a news conference in Columbus Friday. "By studying these injuries in children from zero to six months, we hope to detect patterns early in order to help prevent, diagnose, care and treat abused children," he said.
"Sentinel" injuries are tells, like small bruises or oral injuries, that something possibly is wrong with a child's environment. There isn't much research on sentinel injuries, but a 2013 study in the journal Pediatrics reported that one hospital examined nearly 200 abused children and found that almost one in three children has an earlier injury that a health care worker documented but did not give consider significant at the time.
The $1 million goes to the Ohio Children's Hospital Association. Participating in the collaborative three-year study with Cincinnati Children's will be Akron Children's Hospital, Dayton Children's Hospital, Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, ProMedica Toledo Children's Hospital and UH/Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland. Nationwide is the lead facility.
The money, DeWine's office noted, came from lawsuit settlement funds.
The study will seek a baseline frequency of missed sentinel injuries, develop and share interventions to reduce the likelihood of missing such an injury and measure the impact of intervention at the sighting of a sentinel injury. The first year of the study will collect data from the six main hospitals; the second year will gather information from regional hospitals that care for children, and the third year will include data from large primary-care pediatric practices.
The ‘Queen of Cyberporn' and Her Town's Industry of Child Abuse
by Kristen Schweizer and Clarissa Batino
Along the narrow roads leading into the Philippine village of Ibabao, billboards highlight traditional crafts such as baking cassava cakes, rope making, and sea-shell jewelry. There's no mention of a less salubrious trade that has swept the area in recent years: child porn.
The area has developed a reputation as a global center of the sexual exploitation of children largely due to Eileen Ontong, authorities say. For at least seven years, Ontong -- dubbed “the Queen of Cyberporn” by local media -- abused children on demand in front of a webcam for cash delivered via international wire transfer services, according to Philippine and U.S. police.
Investigators say as many as 35 children, some as young as five, passed through the door of Ontong's concrete and plywood home, adorned with a crucifix and a picture of Jesus, and into a makeshift cyber-den. There, they were molested, had sex with each other, or exposed themselves in front of a camera. It didn't take long for neighbors to offer their children for shows and set up similar operations at home, police say.
“This became a cottage industry in the area because they all saw Eileen Ontong making money,” said Abdul Jamal Dimaporo, an agent with the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation, the country's equivalent of the FBI. “It's easier to earn a living doing this than working. They don't think what they are doing is wrong.”
Police estimate Ontong netted about $200,000 over the years: Snapshots of naked children retailed for $50, nudity in front of the webcam cost $100, and a live sex show among children ran as high as $500. The children, or their parents, got $10-$18 per show. Members of Ontong's extended family participated from age 11. Her husband, Wilfredo, served as a watchman, police say.
The Ontongs today are being held 15 miles (24 kilometers) from their home, in the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center, a hilltop prison designed for 1,400 inmates that houses 2,200. Charged with child pornography, child abuse and violating the country's human trafficking law, the Ontongs face life imprisonment, according to the Philippine NBI. They have pleaded not guilty, the NBI says. Their defense lawyer didn't respond to numerous phone calls and text messages.
Cat and Mouse
Away from the sandy beaches and blue waters that woo tourists to the Philippines, children have long been exploited in the sex trade. These days, though, instead of working as underage prostitutes on street corners or in hotels and discos, children from poor families in remote slums are being used for sex shows via online video calling services.
“When the money flows easily through the Internet, there are new ways to exploit children,” said Mark Clookie, a former head of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service who oversees investigations at the International Justice Mission, a non-profit group that is helping prosecute the Ontongs.
About four years ago, Philippine police say they began receiving reports about online child porn streamed live from the Philippines to customers worldwide. Since then, underage sex shows have become the country's No. 1 cybercrime. Though a 2009 law requires Philippine Internet access providers to install software that can detect images and streams of pornography, those rules are often ignored because companies deem it too expensive to comply, said Ronald Aguto, head of the NBI's cybercrime unit.
“It's a cat and mouse kind of thing,” Aguto said. “Our Internet providers are mandated to be law enforcers, but it's a big business and a lot of people are involved.”
Until 2006, Eileen Ontong, now 36, worked at a factory that made electronic equipment in the neighboring city of Lapu Lapu. Wilfredo, now 38, had a motorized rickshaw that he used to ferry tourists around resort areas, according to Wilfredo's mother, Nenita Ontong, a slight woman of 56 who lives in a small stucco house with pink curtains and an air-conditioner -- relative luxury in the warren of tumbledown shacks. Eileen and Wilfredo's place, next door, was more humble.
“Look at their home,” Nenita Ontong said, gesturing toward a small concrete structure where her son and daughter-in-law lived. “It's not the house of a queen.”
After a friend taught Eileen how to use computers, she began frequenting local Internet cafes that offer private rooms for less than $1 an hour, Nenita said. There, Eileen engaged in chat sessions with foreign men, and she soon earned enough to buy her own computer and a high-speed Internet connection to start working from home. Several times a week, Eileen traveled to money-transfer outlets in Lapu Lapu to pick up funds sent via Western Union (WU) or other services, police say -- anywhere from $30 to $500 at a time.
“I knew Eileen was doing something using the Internet, and I advised her to stop but she ignored me,” said Nenita. “I think some of our neighbors asked Eileen for help” in setting up their own cyberporn operations. She didn't say whether children were involved.
The NBI says it found thousands of images of child pornography on equipment seized from the house: scenes of Eileen Ontong sexually abusing a pre-teen member of her extended family, children having sex, a five-year-old girl exposing herself, young boys performing oral sex on each other.
About 60,000 Filipino children enter the sex trade every year, and perhaps 10,000 of them have worked in online porn, according to the Preda Foundation, which runs a shelter for abused girls. In a country where 25 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, a webcam show can put food on the table or pay for a new roof.
“Of course those who do it will always use poverty as an excuse,” said Adelino Sitoy, mayor of the Cordova Municipality, which includes Ibabao. “What attracts them is easy money. All you have to do is tell your children to undress.”
One child testified in the Ontong case on Dec. 8, and the next hearing is expected in March, according to the International Justice Mission. One girl found at Ontong's house during the arrests has also testified, but the other two children who were there that night fled and can't be located, according to the NBI.
Ibabao sits on Mactan Island in the shadow of the international airport serving the city of Cebu, where flights from points as distant as Singapore, Seoul, and Tokyo disgorge sun-seeking tourists. Many of these end up at hotels such as the Shangri-La, Costabella, and Plantation Bay on Mactan's eastern beaches. Few ever make it to Ibabao.
To reach the settlement of about 8,000 people, you leave behind the resorts, malls and apartment towers near the shore and cross a low bridge spanning the Gabi River. The road narrows to two lanes, and the sedans and SUVs typical of wealthier districts give way to swarms of motorbikes and three-wheeled motorized rickshaws. Colorful posters depicting happy families urge children to cherish and obey their parents.
The area is thick with pawnshops, bakeries, butchers and Internet cafes, many of which double as money-transfer services, with Western Union logos on prominent display. As in villages across the Philippines, women working as nannies in Hong Kong and men constructing skyscrapers in Dubai use these services to send funds back home.
From the barangay office -- the local town hall -- a sharp left onto an unmarked road leads to Sitio Sun-ok, a hardscrabble enclave of tiny homes thrown together from concrete, thin sheets of metal, and plywood. They're separated by dirt pathways, just wide enough for two people, that turn into rivers of mud in the rainy months of June through September. The Ontongs' house lies up one of these lanes, a few steps from a yellow stucco Catholic chapel devoted to the Santo Nino, or Holy Child, that seats about 50 worshipers.
Police say the Ontongs were in the process of renovating their home with money from the business. In the past few years they had added a concrete foundation and replaced tarps that made up the walls with cement blocks and plywood. They hadn't yet fixed broken windows or rebuilt the ceiling of banig -- dried palm-leaf mats -- with something more impermeable.
Other proceeds went toward private school tuition for their daughter. And it wasn't unusual for Eileen to take the family to a mall for lunch or one of the beach resorts for a day in the sun -- sometimes with a “foreign friend” in tow -- Nenita Ontong said.
One of Eileen's foreign friends, at least via the Internet, was David Tallman. The 55-year-old retired U.S. Navy enlisted man, who sent Ontong more than $7,300 over four years, is serving a 12-year sentence in Lexington, Kentucky, after pleading guilty to transportation of child pornography. His lawyer has retired and couldn't be reached for comment.
On Dec. 17, 2012, the USNS Laramie -- Tallman's ship -- pulled into Norfolk, Virginia, after sailing to ports across the Middle East and Africa. Waiting at the dock were four agents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Customs and Border Protection service. Peers in Dallas, investigating a separate case, had alerted the agents that Tallman's name had come up as someone who bought child porn. They boarded the ship and asked to search his computer equipment.
“He just stared at me like a deer in the headlights,” said Paul Wolpert, a Homeland Security agent who questioned Tallman in the ship's staff lounge that day. “He sat in thought for a moment, put his head down, and admitted there would be child pornography on the laptop.”
Wolpert's team seized Tallman's two computers, three external hard drives and iPhone and took them to Homeland Security offices in downtown Norfolk. Forensic investigators found 4,000 child porn images as well as e-mails and Yahoo! Messenger logs in which Tallman had negotiated sex shows using the screen names “Ronin” and “tragic_prelude.” Among those communications were hundreds of messages and chats with Ontong, Wolpert said. Tallman also kept a meticulous folder of receipts from Western Union and credit card companies that detailed his payment for pictures and live shows.
On Feb. 1, 2013, Wolpert went back to the port and arrested Tallman in his stateroom on the Laramie, where he was living. In exchange for a reduced sentence -- he faced more than 20 years in prison -- Tallman agreed to help investigators snare Ontong. He turned over his e-mail accounts and transcripts to Wolpert, who assumed Tallman's online identity and kept in contact with her, while police at the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation prepared to raid Ontong's house.
On Memorial Day weekend 2013, Wolpert logged on as Tallman from a laptop in his living room near Norfolk and negotiated a live sex show. It was after midnight in the Philippines, so Ontong had trouble rounding up children to join in; the more participants the higher the payout. She settled on two members of her extended family and a boy from the neighborhood, all underage, police say.
NBI agent Dimaporo followed the chat on a laptop as he made his way from Cebu to Ibabao in his Toyota sedan, part of a convoy of eight unmarked cars and vans. The NBI had to observe the negotiations taking place from the laptop in order to secure a search warrant, Dimaporo said.
“When we saw the children flash on the screen it was all we needed to swoop in,” he said.
Wilfredo Ontong, standing guard at a basketball court near the house, spotted the agents as they arrived and took off running to warn Eileen, Dimaporo said. He was too late; from the chat, police had all the evidence they needed. The three children were pulled from the house just as two of them were about to have sex in front of the camera, and were handed over to local social welfare counselors. Dimaporo said Eileen showed little remorse, while her husband said he'd warned her to stop the shows for fear of arrest. Both were handcuffed and hustled off to jail.
NBI agents have identified 35 children from the material found at Ontong's house. Dimaporo said 13 have been taken from their parents and placed in state facilities or shelters run by non-profit organizations. Evidence from the case has helped police find at least 10 neighbors involved with online pornography, the NBI says. Charges of child pornography and child abuse are pending against three people, including one of the parents of the second girl rescued during the Ontong raid.
Police have also identified at least 20 people in the U.S., U.K. and Australia, who they say purchased images or live shows from her. One man, an American Marine, paid Ontong some $40,000 over the years, according to Homeland Security. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service arrested the man in Okinawa, Japan, though he can't be named until he enters a plea, expected in January.
In the wake of the Ontongs' arrest, local officials have stepped up efforts in schools, churches and community centers to educate children and their parents about the dangers of the trade. And social workers seek out children on the streets and at Internet cafes to help steer them away from cybersex, said Guusje Havenaar, a psychologist at Terre des Hommes, a non-profit that combats child exploitation.
Children who engage in such acts start to “see their bodies as a tool; they become separated from themselves,” Havenaar said. “Cybersex, especially when parents are involving their children, is damaging much more than the parents suspect. Family ties are strong in the Philippines, but that doesn't mean they are healthy.”
Transparency Lost: Little disclosure on child abuse deaths in Florida
by CAROL MARBIN MILLER
In December 2009, the state panel that reviews child abuse deaths released a 179-page report. The document included a detailed analysis of what killed Florida children the year before, dozens of charts and graphs describing both the victims and perpetrators of child abuse, and brief memorials for several of the youngsters whose lives were cut short.
The task was grim but important: studying past child fatalities to prevent future ones.
This year's version of the Child Abuse Death Review Committee's annual report, by comparison, is 17 pages long, six of them devoted to definitions, references, background and methods. It also contains charts — a dozen of them — but little else. Unlike prior years, the report contains no memorials for individual slain children, and no discussion of the state's role in protecting them.
To find evidence of the panel's existence is no simple matter today. In recent months the Florida Department of Health quietly scrubbed any reference to the Child Abuse Death Review Committee from its website, where the library of prior reports had been posted for public examination for more than a decade.
This past March, the Miami Herald and the Bradenton Herald published a series of stories under the heading Innocents Lost that detailed the deaths of 477 children whose families were known to the Department of Children & Families. Since then, steps have been taken to stanch the tragedies: Lawmakers passed legislation overhauling DCF's child protection system and set aside nearly $50 million in new money for more investigators and other reforms.
The law, for the first time, articulated the Legislature's intent to hold the welfare and safety of children above the rights of parents accused of abuse and neglect. Lawmakers stated that they wanted to see more openness from agency administrators, and mandated a website to track child deaths.
DCF, in turn, vowed to learn from its mistakes, even if it meant enduring an occasional public relations beating. In a report last October that detailed the shooting deaths of Sarah Lorraine Spirit's six small children by their grandfather — the single largest child abuse loss of life in recent memory — administrators made this pledge: “There will never be one child who dies without DCF working to determine what changes can be made or processes improved to prevent further tragedy.”
In fact, though, reviews of each child death, required under federal law, have become increasingly thin and decreasingly critical, making it difficult for the public and the news media to gauge DCF's performance. At the same time, several respected, highly engaged members of the statewide Death Review Committee, under the auspices of Surgeon General John Armstrong, have been purged.
“This is not the direction we had expected DCF and the Department of Health to go in,” said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, a Hollywood Democrat who chairs the chamber's Children, Families and Elder Affairs committee. “I think you get the best results when you communicate openly, and not when there is any kind of cover-up.”
“There is no other place to get this information, and this is not the way government should work in the sunshine,” added Sobel, a Senate sponsor of legislation that overhauled DCF last spring. “The goal is to learn what is happening in the state, so we can use our resources wisely.”
A health department spokesman, Nathan Dunn, said the statewide committee “determines the content of the annual report, not Dr. Armstrong or the Department of Health. He added: “The 10 professionals appointed by Dr. Armstrong have over 170 years of experience in child welfare, law enforcement and related fields and are committed to eliminating preventable child abuse and neglect deaths.”
Dunn said the committee's website was taken down for “updating...to make it more user-friendly and transparent. It will be back on line this spring.”
A DCF spokeswoman, Alexis Lambert, said that “to increase transparency, Florida is one of the only states in the country that posts five years of continuously updated child fatality data online.” She added: “DCF reports are focused on reviewing the decision-making in each case in order to help guide future preventative measures Florida's communities can take to save lives.”
Oversight of Florida's child welfare program, and its worst failures, has sometimes bent to political winds. Wary of bad publicity — and of tort lawyers getting rich from DCF missteps — the state often diluted its own watchdog programs, some critics claim.
For instance, Linda Swan, a DCF quality assurance supervisor from the Panhandle who earned a reputation as one of the state's toughest investigators, repeatedly admonished DCF not to rely on “promissory note” safety plans — written pledges by troubled parents to refrain from dangerous behavior. Her warnings went unheeded until the Herald described the proliferation of such pledges, and lawmakers set strict limits on their use in the overhaul bill last spring.
Swan was laid off as the Northwest Florida death review coordinator in 2011. She called DCF's oversight of death reviews a clear “conflict of interest,” and said the agency had long manipulated the program for political ends.
“One of my bosses said ‘we don't want you to air our dirty laundry,' ” Swan said.
As early as 2008, a former chairwoman of the death review committee, acting as a special counsel to DCF, wrote that such reports suffered from “a striking lack of rigor.”
Along with the “lack of rigor,” some death reviews contain information that is clearly erroneous.
Take the case of Logan Suber. A DCF post-mortem report on Logan — the infant died on Nov. 5, 2011, one day after DCF closed its investigation into allegations that his mother's drug abuse endangered his welfare — says Logan was living at his maternal grandparents house, where investigators believed his grandparents would ensure he was safe.
But a police report detailing the 2-month-old's death said Logan and his mother were living in a barn — alongside horses and “large bales of hay” — when his mother accidentally smothered him on a couch inside the barn. Police said they found Xanax, Valium and marijuana, and a drug pipe in Kortney Suber's purse.
Few of the reviews completed this year contain more than three pages of substantive information, a striking contrast to past years, when reviews delved deeply into what went wrong. Fewer still contain sections for recommendations or “areas for improvement” — as was common in prior years.
Yanelli Jaylin Vasquez's autopsy details 15 separate injuries to the girl's 38-pound body. The decisive blows landed near the child's liver, resulting in a catastrophic loss of blood. The Dec. 13, 2013, beating was administered, police say, by Yanelli's grandmother, Caridad Cobb, with whom the state DCF placed the girl two years earlier.
Yanelli remained with her grandma, records show, though DCF's hotline was told Cobb “beat the crap” out of Yanelli's younger brother months earlier “because he was crying.” Cobb admitted to “popping” her toddler grandson at school.
The 3-year-old girl's death review takes up three pages and one sentence. It devotes three paragraphs to DCF's history with Yanelli and her family, though records, as a whole, are hundreds of pages long. The review gives equal time to Cobb's claim that Yanelli accidentally drowned in a bathtub, though police say the story is fiction. Cobb was charged with first-degree murder.
What the death review did not say: Yanelli and her little brother were yanked from their child care center after Cobb was accused of beating her grandson there — and the children never were returned to day care. That's a red flag for child abuse investigators.
It also doesn't say that DCF allowed Yanelli to stay in the home even after her step-grandfather, Michael Cobb, was charged with domestic battery on his sister in November 2011. Though Michael Cobb was charged with the battery — and his sister was not — reports said the children would be safe so long as the Cobbs signed a safety plan promising to keep the sister away.
“Case manager feels that moving the kids due to the incident is not necessary,” a report said.
Lillie Cobb, Michael Cobb's mother, who lived next door to the family, said she and her adult daughter had grave concerns about Caridad Cobb's handling of the two small children — though no DCF investigator or caseworker had ever asked her family for an opinion.
“She could be vile,” the 75-year-old Lillie said, adding the children appeared to be petrified of their grandmother.
Lillie's daughter, 53-year-old Janice Cobb, who lives with her, said she, too, had never been interviewed by DCF. Though she never saw or heard Caridad Cobb abuse the children, she said, she often wondered why she never saw the youngsters leave the house. “I never saw them come outside to play. They were never exposed to other children. I didn't see them socialize. They never got sunshine.”
DCF's review of Yanelli's death — an opportunity for self-examination — fails to mention that the 2012 investigation of Caridad Cobb did not include any interviews with so-called “collateral contacts,” such as the family next-door.
CONCERNS ABOUT JIMMY
The death review for 2-year-old Noelani Isabella Marmolejo may have been less rigorous; the results of DCF's investigation into her killing took up less than two full pages. The agency's history with the girl's family takes up about half a page.
In January and September of 2013, DCF's abuse hotline received two reports that Noelani was being physically abused: In January, she had “a knot and bruise in the center of her forehead, and a scratch over her left eye.” The following September, the toddler had “bruising and swelling on the right side of her head.” Records show investigators spent four days on the first probe, and nine on the second, though regulations allow 60 days for such investigations.
Such truncated investigations have become common in DCF's Northeast Region, and an Inspector General report on the June 21, 2013, death of a 2-year-old boy, Ezra Raphael, said investigators were encouraged to wrap things up quickly to “alleviate the need to see the child again, and additional work would not have to be completed.”
The death review provides only a brief outline of the two cases, and left out a variety of details that might have shed light on agency missteps, including the fact that Noelani appeared to be fearful of her mother's boyfriend, and, at times, her own mother.
On Nov. 1, 2013, when Noelani was hospitalized with “extensive” head injuries, her grandmother, Fabiola Marmolejo, screamed at a DCF investigator, a report said. The grandmother said she had repeatedly noticed bruises and other injuries to Noelani, and had begged DCF to remove the toddler from the reach of Reyes-Delgado, known to friends as “Jimmy.”
The agency, she said, allowed Noelani to remain with mother Olivia Blake and her boyfriend “even though she tried to tell them that Jimmy was abusing the child.”
Noelani succumbed to “traumatic head injuries,” an autopsy said, and Reyes-Delgado was charged with murder.
Some death reviews remain open for years, rendering them invisible to scrutiny. Two-year-old Lamar Braddy, for example, died on Oct. 18, 2012, while in the care of his state-approved caregivers — one of whom had lost her own children, one to a mysterious death, others to adoption. An autopsy said Lamar died of chest trauma, a homicide, though neither caregiver has been charged. The review of Lamar's death was not made public for two years.
As the rigor of DCF's review of such deaths declined, so, too, did the independence of what was originally designed to be a check on the state's child welfare program. The Statewide Child Abuse Death Review Committee was created by statute in 1999 following the killing of a Kayla McKean. Her father buried her in the Ocala National Forest on Thanksgiving Eve in 1997 before reporting her missing, setting off a furious — though futile — search. She had been the subject of several reports to the state's abuse hotline.
The committee, Florida law says, is tasked with achieving “a greater understanding of the causes and contributing factors of deaths resulting from child abuse.”
Beginning about two years ago, the Department of Health's top administrator, Surgeon General Armstrong, purged a number of members with years of experience, replacing them with newcomers. When the agencies that made the appointments objected, they were overruled.
In March, for example, the chairman of the state's Medical Examiner's Commission asked Armstrong to reconsider his dismissal of Central Florida Medical Examiner Barbara C. Wolf from the panel. “I have selected [Wolf] to remain our appointee” to the committee, Bruce Hyma, the Miami-Dade medical examiner, wrote in a March 31 letter. “I have chosen Dr. Wolf for her expertise, her institutional knowledge, and her passion for the health and well being of children.”
Wolf was removed anyway, along with Connie Shingledecker, a major who heads Manatee County's child protection unit, and, Terry Thomas, a now-retired child abuse expert with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement — both of whom served on the panel for about a decade.
Wolf, the medical examiner for five Central Florida counties, had risen to chairwoman when she was told she could no longer serve. She said Armstrong had sought repeatedly to have her removed from the panel, telling her and other team members their reports were “too graphic.”
This month, Armstrong canceled his agency's contract with Randell C. Alexander, a professor at the University of Florida's medical school who had headed the state's Child Protection Team. Alexander had delivered remarks critical of the state's child protection efforts to a federal commission investigating child deaths earlier this year.
Armstrong's agency also abolished the job held for 10 years by Michelle Akins, who oversaw the health department's local child death reviewers. Two years earlier, Armstrong had removed Akins from the statewide team. She had drawn the ire of DCF by questioning the agency's decision to stop counting dozens of child deaths each year that resulted from drowning or accidental suffocations in bed.
Shingledecker, a major in the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, said both Alexander and Akins had been instrumental in helping the committee produce “what I believe are the best reports we put out.”
Sobel, the lawmaker who co-sponsored last spring's reform bill, said it appeared as if Armstrong had “wiped the slate clean, shut down the website, and changed the whole direction of this committee.”
Most of the staples of the report, which had been published annually for 13 years, are now gone, including the short vignettes that served as memorials for individual children, and a “dedication” that, in 2009, said members remembered the slain youngsters “for their innocence, and honor them by committing ourselves to work tirelessly to see that no child dies from a preventable death.”
Gone is any detailed analysis of the most persistent threats to Florida children's safety, such as alcohol and drug abuse, criminal or violent histories, or mental illness.
Gone, too, is any discussion of DCF's role leading up to the fatalities, or any analysis of whether any deaths were “preventable.” In the 2009 report, the committee concluded that 65 fatalities, or 32.6 percent of that year's total, were either “definitely” or “possibly” preventable by the state.
Detailed recommendations comprised 12 pages in the 2009 report. Only one page was devoted to calls to action in this year's installment, and one of the seven recommendations was for less transparency: the panel suggested eliminating a requirement in state law that some meetings be taped, arguing such recordings inhibit candor.
“The more transparent we are — as painful as it is — the more chance we have of saving the next child,” said Pam Graham, a professor in the Florida State University College of Social Work and ousted member of the Child Abuse Death Review Committee.
“If you are serious about saving children's lives, you have to look at these things with a discerning eye,” she said.
Advocates Needed For Victims Of Child Abuse
The Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program has an urgent need for volunteers to advocate for children in court.
The Arizona Department of Health Services estimates that one or more children witness domestic violence in Arizona every 44 minutes. In addition, up to 60 percent of perpetrators of partner violence also abuse their children.
Currently in Gila County, some 153 children have been removed from their homes due to abuse and neglect, but only 21 active CASA volunteers are advocating for these children in court.
“We're currently experiencing a drastic increase of cases in Gila County and these children need a voice in court,” says Lyndsie Butler, Program Coordinator for CASA of Gila County. “As a CASA, you literally have the opportunity to change a child's life forever. You can be the difference between that child languishing in foster care, or finding a permanent home where they can be healthy, happy and safe,” she said.
CASA volunteers serve as critical figures in the lives of children who have suffered from abuse or neglect. After receiving special training and appointement by a judge, CASA volunteers gather all of the information involving a child's case and make formal recommendations to the court on the child's behalf. For many children, their CASA volunteer is the only consistent adult presence they have.
For more information on CASA of Gila County, contact Lyndsie Butler at 928-474-7145 or visit www.CASAofGilaCounty.org
The Arizona Supreme Court administers CASA in all 15 Arizona counties. County programs recruit and train community-based volunteers to speak up for the rights of abused and neglected children in court. Judges appoint CASA volunteers for foster children who have the greatest need for an advocate. Volunteers do not provide placement or a home for the child, but serve as advocates and make recommendations to the judge. CASA volunteers complete 30 hours of training to prepare them for their duties.
Child abuse statistics
In the six-month period of October 2013 to March 2014, the statewide Child Abuse Hotline received 22,956 calls that met the statutory criteria for a report.
Neglect is the most common form of child abuse, followed by physical abuse.
Reports of child abuse and neglect have been consistently rising in Arizona since 2010.
As of March 2014, there were 15,751 children in out-of-home care.
The majority of children in out-of-home care in Arizona have a case plan goal of family reunification (54 percent).
CASA volunteer requirements
Volunteers must be at least 21 years old.
Volunteers go through a rigorous screening process including interviews, reference check, a fingerprint check and polygraph exam.
Volunteers make a commitment to one case until its conclusion, typically involving 10-20 hours per month.
Volunteers must complete 30 hours of pre-service training.
CASA volunteers are advocates, not mentors. Their objective is to help the court system determine the best outcome for the child.
CASA volunteers try to build a 360-degree view of the child and his or her surroundings. To do this, they meet with teachers, counselors, physicians and guardians.
CASA volunteers work to ensure that children are in safe, permanent homes where they can thrive.
If you would like to become involved, but cannot make the time commitment to become a CASA volunteer, you can help in other ways. Contact Gila County Friends of CASA and become a member, or provide a donation. Email GilaFriendsofCASA@gmail.com.