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Amberly's Place encourages residents to speak out for abused children
Help reduce the stress that often leads to abuse and neglect by:
• Being a friend to a parent you know. Ask how their children are doing. Draw on your own experiences to provide reassurance and support. If a parent seems to be struggling, offer to baby-sit or run errands, or just lend a friendly ear. Show you understand.
• Be a friend to a child you know. Remember their names. Smile when you talk with them. Ask them about their day at school. Send them a card in the mail. Show you care.
• Talk to your neighbors about looking out for one another’s children. Encourage a supportive spirit among parents in your apartment building or on your block. Show that you are involved.
• Give your used clothing, furniture and toys for use by another family. This can help relieve the stress of financial burdens that parents sometimes take out on their kids.
• Volunteer your time and money for programs in your community that support children and families, like parent support groups or day care centers.
Source: Prevent Child Abuse America (www.preventchildabuse.org)
Yuma County is seeing a marked increase in child abuse cases involving children, especially newborns to 4-year-olds.
Amberly's Place, a Yuma crisis center for victims, responded to 451 reports of child abuse in 2011, with 130 involving physical abuse and 321 involving sexual abuse.
In the first three months of 2012, Amberly's Place has responded to 136 reports of child abuse, with 36 physical abuse cases and 100 sexual abuse cases.
Also, there were 11 infant deaths in Yuma County last year, all preventable, according to Diane Umphress, executive director of Amberly's Place.
For National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April, Umphress' wish is to help educate the community on the issues of child abuse.
“Every five hours a child dies from abuse or neglect in the U.S. We need people to wake up and become as pro-active for our children as we are for our animals,” she said.
At Amberly's Place most calls after domestic violence are for child abuse cases involving physical and sexual abuse.
“We see a lot of old bruises, which tell us that it's been going on for a while.”
Nationally, about 80 percent of children that die from abuse are under the age of 4, according to statistics provided by Amberly's Place.
“You want people to be aware, they need to be the voice of our children. Especially newborns to 4-year-olds who don't have the verbal skills to tell somebody. They can't pick up the phone and dial 911 and say what's going on.
Child abuse deaths have made the headlines in Yuma this past year. Umphress pointed to the case where a Yuma man was charged with murder in the death of his girlfriend's 21-month-old daughter. In May police responded to a report of a child not breathing and without a pulse. She was taken to the hospital and pronounced dead.
The 22-year-old mother was not at home. Her 29-year-old boyfriend was the only person with the baby at the time of the incident, police reported.
The investigation revealed the girl had suffered significant internal trauma that day, in addition to serious injuries in the past consistent with continuous child abuse.
In court, the judge said, “The autopsy shows the baby's spine was severed — broken lower spine — total separation.”
In January, 20-month-old twin girls in Yuma suffered multiple injuries so intense they were air flighted to Phoenix.
Police arrested the 22-year-old man suspected of severely beating his girlfriend's twin daughters. The 19-year-old mother was also arrested for reportedly failing to report the abuse.
According to the Yuma County Sheriff's Office, the man was alone with the twins at the time of injury. The girls suffered multiple bruises and contusions on their heads, torso and pelvic area. Police said one of the two girls also suffered a broken collarbone and bleeding on the brain.
“Some injuries were old injuries. Mom is not the one who called this abuse in to the police, it is was the roommate. Thank God for that roommate,” Umphress said.
She wants people to become aware of their personal responsibility. “Who is being the voice for our children when parents are not looking out for them? It's important to pick up the phone when you suspect child abuse. It's our responsibility. Don't count on somebody else doing it. Who is going to be the voice for the children when a parent looks the other way?”
Some people are reluctant to report suspected abuse in case they are wrong. But Umphress notes that it's better to err on the side of caution. A team of highly trained professionals will work together to find out the truth.
In addition, should an individual turn out to be wrong, he or she cannot be sued if they reported the suspected abuse without malice or bad intent.
“Kids trust us as caretakers. We need to do what's best for them. Don't say it's not my business. Report it. You could be saving a life,” she said.
The hardest case for Umphress occurred a few years ago. Amberly's Place responded to a report of domestic violence involving the mother of a 2-year-old and her live-in boyfriend.
About two to three weeks later, the toddler was injured to the point that his liver become severed.
“It was the hardest because we had seen this little boy and he was fine. A few weeks later he's dead,” Umphress said.
“People in the apartment complex had to have heard the crying, screaming.”
She strongly encourages people to become aware of what's going on around them.“If a child is screaming, go up and ask what's going on,” Umphress said.
She believes children needs advocates, whether they are their parents or a concerned adult, because children often don't speak out.
Some abusers tell children they wouldn't need the “discipline” if they behaved better, making children think it's their fault. In other cases, children don't speak up because the abuser is a family member or friend, someone they look up to and love.
Umphress notes that 30 percent of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children, continuing the cycle of abuse.
Also, abused children are 25 percent more likely to experience teen pregnancy. “And many of those teens don't have the parenting skills they need and so that keeps the cycle of abuse going,” she said.
Substance abuse is also a big thing, according to statistics. One-third to two-thirds of child maltreatment cases involve substance use. Children whose parents abuse alcohol and other drugs are three times more likely to be abused and more than four times more likely to be neglected.
While Amberly's Place is seeing a rise in child abuse cases, it doesn't mean an increase in child abuse. It could be an increase in reporting as more people become aware of mandatory reporting, Umpress pointed out.
Any person who has the care and custody of a child, whether for five minutes or six hours a day, is a mandated reporter, according to Yuma's Children's Justice Project (CJP) Mandated Reporting Team.
“Every time they finish a training, we start getting calls reporting suspected cases of abuse,” she said.
With 11 preventable deaths in 2011, neglect has also become an issue.
For example, in one instance, a caretaker who had been drinking fell asleep with a baby in the same bed. The person rolled over and suffocated the baby.
“Once you fall asleep, you have no idea what you're doing. When you're drunk you sleep pretty hard,” Umphress said.
Another person laid a baby on a sofa. The baby rolled into a corner and suffocated. “It was not intentional, but it just wasn't the safest thing.”
One baby was laid face down. The baby threw up and suffocated. “Maybe it was OK to do that when you were little but now they know that it's not safe.”
Umphress suggests calling law enforcement to report suspected child abuse. “It's quicker response. With the hot line, it could be hours to days.”
For more information or to reach Amberly's Place, call 373-0849.
For helpful tips on recognizing child abuse and alternatives to lashing out at a child, go to www.preventchildabuse.org and click on the “What to do” tab.
Mara Knaub can be reached at email@example.com or (928) 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or on Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.