Stepping into Our Social and Moral Responsibility to Children

Stepping into Our Social and Moral Responsibility to Children

As most citizens would concur, we have a collective responsibility to protect the children in our community. 

This doesn’t mean we should be over-bearing and spy on our neighbors, however when there is a breakdown in due diligence by the agencies designed to protect them and assure their safety, it is our responsibility to question why it happened, how often it is happening and what will be done to ensure other children aren’t harmed due to such failures. 

So, when the Child Services Department (CSD) of Riverside County’s Department of Public Social Services experienced major failures in its priority and mission to protect the safety, health and wellbeing of the county’s children in recent years as exposed in a couple of well publicized and heartbreaking sagas that subjected two children to severe emotional and/or physical abuse (and no one knows how many more may have fallen through the cracks), the county was required to conduct a rigorous assessment to identify what happened and implement mitigations. However, I believe the public also has a role to play in this assessment and that includes the need to demand full transparency regarding what was uncovered during the review. 

In the publicly released summary of the county’s external review of the processes that failed these children released earlier this month, officials were opaque regarding its findings and intentionally vague relative to  the number of cases where DPSS failed to “remove, adequately investigate or respond to referrals of alleged abuse or neglect in situations where the child(ren) were in the home of their biological parent(s).” 

Without full transparency, how can we as citizens not hold those being paid to protect the county’s children accountable for their failures but most importantly, how can the community help protect the children who rely on the adults to keep them safe?

As citizens we have a great responsibility in this regard. According to the American Society for the Protection of Children no less than 1,720 children died from abuse and neglect in the United States in 2017, and 80.1 percent of child fatalities involved at least one parent. Of the children who died, 75.4 percent suffered from neglect while 41.6 percent suffered physical abuse either exclusively or in combination with another form of maltreatment.

In addition to the suffering these children experience, data also tells us there are other long-term societal consequences. Abused children are 25 percent more likely to experience teen pregnancy; abused teens are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors which puts them at greater risk for STDs; about 30 percent of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children, continuing the horrible cycle of abuse.    

In one study nearly 80 percent of 21-year-olds that were abused as children met the criteria for at least one psychological disorder. 

Also, abused children are nine times more likely to become involved in criminal activity. Research shows 14 percent of all men in prison and 36 percent of women in prison were abused as children (nearly twice the frequency in the general population). Finally, the financial cost of child abuse and neglect in the United States is estimated at $585 billion.

As one commentator noted, “In the time it takes you to pour your morning coffee, another child will be brutalized by abuse or neglect.” I believe we must demand more transparency and greater accountability from elected and appointed officials when children who depend on us to protect them are grossly abused and neglected.

Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.

S.E. Williams

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