Sickening NC child abuse, sickening statistics

The Charlotte ObserverNovember 19, 2013 

The following editorial appeared in the Charlotte Observer:

The reports of a Union County boy found handcuffed to a porch, shivering in the cold with a dead chicken tied around his neck, gets more disturbing with each revelation. Not only is one of his alleged abusers someone legally charged with keeping him safe from abuse – a child protective services supervisor who is his foster mother – but law enforcement officials said the 11-year-old was routinely handcuffed to a piece of steel in the house.

In an Observer report, law enforcers described conditions in the home where the boy stayed as “terrible” with feces on the floor and said the “smell would take your breath away.” The boy, who a sheriff’s deputy stumbled upon while investigating a hog on the loose, has been removed from the home, as have the couple’s four adopted children ranging in age from 8 to 14.

The Observer report detailed neighbors’ troubling accounts of neglect including two stories of children begging for food. In one, a neighbor described a boy “purple with cold” seeking something to eat and then pleading to stay with her.

An adult adopted son who no longer lives in the home disputed that the couple – Wanda Larson and Dorian Harper, a nurse – abused the children. He said he was never abused. He also said the 11-year-old has emotional issues and acts inappropriately. Still, the couple has been charged with child abuse and false imprisonment. Larson has also been charged with willful failure to discharge her duty as a public official.

This case spotlights a pressing need for aggressive action from all of us to ensure that these and other children are kept safe from harm – especially from caregivers. The case might point to a need for more scrutiny of child protective workers themselves.

At least one of the neighbors called for help after a hungry boy came to her home. A sheriff’s deputy came out but returned the child to the foster parents after talking to them. That in hindsight might have returned him to a dangerous situation. Officials should review what led to that decision and whether policies that govern such situations are appropriate.

Yet the neighbor’s action was the right one. It is an apt reminder that N.C. law requires any adult who suspects child abuse to report it.

The image of a child begging for food, handcuffed in a home filled with excrement or left shivering in the cold on a porch with a dead chicken around his neck is sickening. So is this: Here in North Carolina, more than 134,000 children were referred to local Department of Social Service agencies for possible abuse and neglect during fiscal year 2011-2012.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the toll on children who are abused or neglected continues long after they have endured that abuse. The economic impact in terms of medical attention, mental health services, the child welfare system and law enforcement in tackling abuse and neglect was more than $80 billion nationwide last year. In North Carolina, the estimate was $2 billion.

So there is a financial imperative as well as the moral and compassion ones to aggressively ensure that all our children are effectively protected from harm. This is even more important as the state looks at more ways to help children in foster care.

The CDC’s Linda Degutis said recently that “no child should ever be the victim of abuse or neglect – nor do they have to be.”

All of us have to redouble our efforts to make that statement a reality.

MCT Information Services

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