The Times West Virginian

March 6, 2014

Being observant, reporting suspicions can make difference for hurting children

Times West Virginian

— If a child is hurting, we wouldn’t hesitate to help.

Or would we?

In a five-year span, 22,830 children were victims of some type of neglect or abuse in West Virginia. That’s an overwhelming number to think about.

That means that almost 23,000 innocents were hurt in some way — emotionally, physically or sexually — by an adult they loved and trusted.

The impact of that abuse affects each child for the duration of their entire life, whether it be that they find themselves in abusive relationships as adults or become the abusers themselves, abuse drugs and alcohol, develop behavioral issues or create unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with the effects of the trauma.

In 2012, there were 4,591 individual children who were victims of abuse in West Virginia, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. And if you think that a majority of those cases involved physical abuse, you might be surprised. More than half of those case were classified as neglect (2,484 or 54 percent) and about a third were physical abuse cases (1,565 or 34 percent).

Again, these numbers are not just claims of abuse or neglect, but actual numbers based on investigations where children were removed from the care of a parent of guardian and in some cases where charges were filed.

It doesn’t take into account the cases that were not reported, because that happens, or the cases that were not substantiated following an investigation, because that happens, too.

One would be too many. Knowing that there were more than 4,500 children abused or neglected here in our state last year is difficult to accept. In fact, it makes it hard to sleep at night.

What do you?

Well, that question comes to mind because of a recent case reported within our pages. A man at a grocery store saw a young boy who appeared to have large bruises on his face. He saw the child enter a car with adults and wrote down a partial license plate number and the make and model of the car.

Why? Because he was so consumed with fear that the child was in danger, because he couldn’t live with the thought that there was something he could do to help an innocent boy who could be in a dangerous situation and not act on it.

He reported what he saw and the information he knew to the West Virginia State Police. That particular case has not been litigated, and we certainly don’t want to make presumptions of innocence or guilt. But we do want to point out that one individual could have made a difference in the life of a child by being observant and reporting his suspicions.

If you truly believe a child could be in danger because parents are unable or unwilling to take care of them, or if they are at risk of being or have been physically abused, do not hesitate to contact authorities.

Last year, 1,640 children died from abuse or neglect in the United States, with more than 70 percent of them ages three or younger.

They say that it takes a community to raise a child. It takes a community to protect a child, too.