Child abuse on the rise in South Florida – much of it attributed to overwhelmed parents
By K. Chandler
All across the country there has been a significant uptick in the number of child abuse cases being reported to authorities with Palm Beach County being no exception.
A case in Las Vegas shook some of the most hardened investigators to the core after a three-year-old girl, weighing just 19 lbs. was discovered with scars, bruises and scabs that covered her entire body from neck to foot.
During one alleged incident the stepfather is said to have beaten the little girl with a key chain holding 15 keys.
A North Carolina couple is also facing a slew of child abuse charges after a Union County deputy sheriff, out on an animal complaint call, spotted an 11-year-old boy shivering from the cold and handcuffed by the ankles to the front porch with a dead chicken tied around his neck.
The boy, who was a foster child, was taken into protective custody along with four other adopted children. Incredibly, the boy’s foster mother was a supervisor at the Union County Department of Social Services, and the father an E.R. nurse.
Closer to home, a North Miami child paid the ultimate price in a case so horrific even seasoned law enforcement officials recoiled in disbelief and disgust.
In the short three-year window of his life, Ghanson Debrosse had been severely burned, beaten with extension cords and sexually violated. At the time of his death, investigators noted that every inch of the toddler’s body was covered with scars, bruises and burn marks.
Children’s lives at stake
Each year in the United States six million children are reported to be victims of child abuse with the average perpetrator between the ages of 20-29. Women perpetrators out-number men 53.6 percent to 45.2 percent.
In Broward County over 1,525 children were removed from their homes between 2012 and 2013 compared with 1,129 the previous year.
According to Dr. Elizabeth Winter, director of Community Relations for ChildNet in Broward County (a foster home placement agency), the numbers have been skyrocketing.
“Beginning in April 2013, the number of children removed each month due to abuse, abandonment, or neglect began to rise significantly over the previous year. The 15 percent increase in removals over last year adds 300 children to the existing 2,000 children involved in the child welfare system in Broward County,” said Winter. “We desperately need more people in the community to open their hearts and their homes to children in foster care in order to make a difference in the lives of children who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected.”
The spike in Palm Beach County is even more pronounced. ChildNet reported that the number of children needing their services went from 55 to135 during the course of just three months.
Clinical Supervisor Andres Torrens, who is with the Center for Family Services in West Palm Beach, said that children are being neglected today due to parents – many of whom are unemployed – being overwhelmed by today’s pressures.
“What we’re seeing is families being so taxed that they are leaving children at home for extended periods of time, leaving the house maybe at 7 a.m. and the parents don’t even see their kids until 7 or 8 p.m.
Torrens said it was a positive step in the right direction that there has been a heightened awareness in the community regarding child abuse. “More and more people are recognizing the signs and symptoms of child abuse. People are doing seminars in schools and churches today. Also treatment is being offered today not only for victims but also offenders,” he said adding that the emphasis is on “healing the whole family.”
Long-term effects of child abuse
· According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Justice, children who were abused and/or neglected were 11 times more inclined to get involved in illegal activities and 2.7 times more likely to be arrested for engaging in violent criminal behavior.
· Young adults who experienced child abuse and/or neglect as children were found to be 25 percent more prone to becoming pregnant or a delinquent.
· In another study, a full 80 percent of abused or neglected teens were diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder by the time they reached 21.
· A full one-third of all abused or neglected children be-come abusers themselves when they have children.
· The annual healthcare cost of child abuse across the U.S. is a staggering $124 billion.
Reports of child abuse are most often made by teachers, law enforcement officials, social workers, relatives as well as friends and neighbors.
Effective Oct. 1, 2013 a new law entitled the Protection of Vulnerable Persons law went on the books. The law makes it mandatory to report suspected child abuse incidents, increasing the penalty to a third degree felony for not reporting abuse.