The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

August 17, 2013

Speak up when children are abused

The (Alton) Telegraph
CNHI News Service

---- — It has happened to most of us. You are in a restaurant or store, and you see an adult speaking harshly to, screaming at or even striking a child. You feel helpless and conflicted as you watch the situation unfold. Is it your place to intervene? Should you call the police?

Now, a new report from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services adds weight to the argument that everyday citizens need to report possible child abuse. Last week, DCFS officials announced that the number of Illinois children killed by abuse or neglect over the past year likely will be the highest in 25 years.

The report shows that 94 of the 223 deaths of children investigated by DCFS officials during the latest fiscal year that ended June 30 involved credible evidence of abuse or neglect. Another 45 cases remain under investigation and are awaiting official rulings. That means the number of abuse-related deaths — what the department terms “indicated” cases — likely will surpass the state’s all-time high of 102 recorded in the 1989 fiscal year.

By comparison, there were 90 indicated cases statewide during each of the previous two years and 69 during the 2010 fiscal year. The upward trend is disturbing and is prompting DCFS officials to urge Illinoisans to report suspected mistreatment of minors before it results in death.

Another disturbing fact is that three of every four deaths linked to abuse or neglect involved households that had no prior contact with DCFS. The agency often is criticized in cases where the state was aware of problems in a family before a death occurred, but when 75 percent of the deaths occur in homes that have not been investigated by child-welfare officials, the need for better reporting becomes obvious.

When one sees an incident that appears to involve possible abuse or neglect of a child, it’s understandable to consider it a private matter in that family and to wish to avoid getting involved. But when one considers the cost to defenseless children, minding your business is no virtue. Better to report such matters and let the authorities determine whether they involve abuse or neglect than to ignore them and risk complicity in a child’s death.