Wednesday, April 9, 2008

This April, We Need Child Abuse Prevention Month More Than Ever

I asked for some suggestions for the blog, and got several good ones -- thanks, and keep them coming. People definitely seemed interested in the policy stuff, too. So here's comes another one -- but I'm afraid it's not a happy issue. Be warned: if you're already having not the greatest of days, this blog likely won't improve things. But on the cup half full side, there are some options for action.

According to police, six-year-old Anthony, four-year-old Austin and two-year-old Athena were drowned by Mark Castillo -- their father -- in the bathroom of a 10th floor hotel room. It happened on March 30th, in the shadow of Camden Yards in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Afterwards, the murderer tried unsuccessfully to take his own life as well.

If you thought that was devastating, here's a downright scary part of this whole sorry ordeal. Court documents show that the children's mother, Amy Castillo, repeatedly tried to revoke her ex-husband's visitation rights. She even filed for a protective order, saying the kids' father had threatened to kill the children: "He has never actually hurt [the children], but did tell me that the worst thing he could do to me would be to kill the children and not me so I could live without them," she wrote in the petition. But despite Mark Castillo's history of mental problems, her request was denied by the Montgomery County District Court.

Sadly, this is an all too common tale. But don't be so sure that a different outcome other than the outrageous denial of Amy Castillo's protection order would have made a difference. Well, it might have -- battered women and their kids need to use every means available to them to try to improve their safety. But a protection order doesn't ensure protection. Just ask Gail Pumphrey and her kids.

Last Thanksgiving, David Brockdorff used a .22 caliber rifle to kill Pumphrey -- his ex-wife -- her three children and himself; their bodies were found in a Montgomery County park. Pumphrey had gotten a protective order in April 2007 against Brockdorff.

This is just one county in Maryland, folks, in roughly a four month period. ONE COUNTY IN MARYLAND. And these are just the crimes that were publicized. The sad fact is that domestic violence and child abuse are alive and well and living next door to you, me -- all of us. It's an equal opportunity crime, now matter how nice or "safe" your neighborhood. And while the system is better than it was in addressing this complicated issue, there are still huge problems -- and women and children fall through the gaping cracks.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. The cycle of violence that begets more child abuse and domestic violence begins here -- it is a sad fact that children from violent homes are more likely to be violent themselves once they reach adulthood. While we seem to have commemorative months for just about everything, and they may sometimes feel trite, they do serve an important purpose. They give advocates an opportunity to focus attention and -- hopefully -- grassroots efforts that impact our policy makers on issues we care out.

So April is as good a time as any to start the discussion with your elected officials as well as candidates for public office. Ask them what they might do to improve public policies on preventing child abuse and neglect -- and its companion crime, domestic violence. According to Every Child Matters, "[t]hese discussions are a necessary first step to develop better conditions for children and promote the information parents need to be the parents they want to be. And that first step belongs to each of us." I would add that it's also a critical step if we are to hold our policy makers accountable to enforcing existing laws, allocating necessary funds to social programs that both prevent the problem and deal with their aftereffects, and passing additional legislation aimed at curtailing these debilitating crimes.

Here's some more food for thought. A study released in January by Prevent Child Abuse America calculates that a solid investment child abuse and neglect prevention could potentially save the nation over $100 billion per year -- a kind of "stitch in time saves nine" idea that makes sense to most rational folks and should motivate even those who are most moved by the bottom line (sadly, in politics, this is often true -- we give lip service to the heart wrenching stories, but it's the money that often motivates action). This brief document very clearly shows the long-term adverse consequences and economic impact of child abuse on children, their families and the nation.

If that's not enough, according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, about 905,000 American children were victims of maltreatment -- 91,278 of them were infants -- from October 2005 to September 2006. Even more scary, 19 percent of all child maltreatment deaths happened to babies under one year of age. Apparently, an infant's greatest risk of death from maltreatment is during their first week of life -- a time when you'd think they'd be especially protected, especially cherished. Something is wrong. Something is very, very wrong.

Speak your mind, people. Prevent Child Abuse America has a list of advocacy initiatives designed to address these issues -- you can even write a letter to your member of Congress about some of the bills they list. That seems like the very least we can do to "commemorate" Child Abuse Prevention Month. You can also stay up-to-date on the latest domestic violence policy efforts through the National Network to End Domestic Violence -- but go ahead and write those letters now, too; don't wait until October, which is (yes, you guessed it) Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Copyright 2008. The Zaftig Redhead. All Rights Reserved.

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