Reporting child abuse can save a life
Published 12:00 am Friday, November 15, 2002
Prior to the Nov. 8th death of Lakayla Janea Rodgers, the 8-month-old who was beaten to death according to medical examiners, Suffolk’s last infant fatality as the result of child neglect took place in July 1999, when an infant was left unattended in a bathtub containing water.
Rodgers, according to the Norfolk Crime Lab’s forensic scientists, bled to death internally, the result of &uot;blunt trauma force blows&uot; to her abdomen.
It was not the first time the baby had suffered a beating or abuse, according to the examiners; however, the question of whether her abuse had ever been reported remains a mystery.
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Annie Ward, supervisor of Child Protective Services Daycare Court and Mediation, said that because the investigation is ongoing she could not state whether there was a report on Rodgers’ abusive situation.
Four child protective workers who respond to allegations of child abuse and help with investigations assist Ward.
Figures compiled Aug. 31, 2001 (for July 1999 – June 2000) show that in Suffolk there were 287 referrals, or reports of alleged child abuse or child neglect reported to Child Protective Services in Suffolk in 2001. Ward stated that figures are from the State Office of Child Protective Services. Of the 287 cases, 73 were screened out.
&uot;Of the valid cases, five investigations were founded, or there was enough evidence to say the children had been abused or neglected,&uot; said Ward. &uot;We have three levels or degrees of criteria that determine how many years the child’s name and the alleged abuser’s name is placed into the central registry and kept. Level 1 names are kept on file for 18 years. They are the most serious cases including infant fatalities. Level 2 case names are kept for seven years, and Level 3 names are kept for three years. If no subsequent complaints are received, the names of the abusers and their victims are purged at the end of the stated time.&uot;
According to Ward, when a report or allegation of abuse or neglect is made, it’s accepted for assessment or an investigation and in the &uot;assessment track,&uot; the allegations are investigated and a determination is made whether the family will receive services. The investigation track is for the more serious allegations such as death, sexual abuse, and serious physical abuse.
Within the year 2001, Level one cases number 5 in Suffolk; Level 2 had 6 cases, and Level 3 had 18 cases found to be valid.
&uot;Once a case is determined to be valid, we have several alternatives,&uot; she said. &uot;Our primary job is to protect the victims, the children, and keep the family together if the child’s safety can be ensured. If we believe, however, that a child is in danger we can seek assistance from the court. We also offer assistance to the families including referrals for anger management, mental health issues, parenting classes, financial counseling and many other services. We also offer help for drug dependency.&uot;
While there are instances of court involvement in some cases of abuse or neglect of children, Ward said the emphasis is always on helping the family.
&uot;We want to make it known that we are here to help, not to destroy a family or remove children unless they are in eminent danger,&uot; she explained. &uot;We welcome calls from anyone who feels they may need some type of assistance to help them with their children. We are here for everyone in the city of Suffolk, no matter the financial status or income levels, and all our cases are absolutely held in the strictest of confidence.&uot;
Ward said that every person in this city has the power to prevent child abuse or neglect. Just by taking that responsibility seriously, a simple phone call could make the difference between life and death for a child.
&uot;You need to know your neighbors names and the names of their children and make sure they know yours,&uot; she said. &uot;Give stressed parents a break by offering to watch their children. Volunteer to help with kids in the community through civic clubs, and serving on boards and committees. All such activities can only strengthen the community as you ultimately contribute to the well-being of the children.&uot;
Anyone who knows of an instance of child abuse or neglect should call Child Protective Services at 757-923-3018, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
After hours call the Virginia Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-552-7096. You may also call 911 and local police officers will respond.