Chris Ruberto opened an envelope marked “Angelina” and read the scrap of paper inside.

“Today I got to go home from the hospital. Daddy came to pick us up. I got to see my new room and toys. I’m sleeping a lot. Usually I just wake up to eat and get my diapers changed.”

Participants in the 10th annual Marion County Child Watch Visitation Day, she and 19 others followed the journey of an abused or neglected child in the social service system, going from agency to agency.

They didn’t know where they were going, how long they’d stay, who they were going to see or even when — or if — they would get a rest break. At each stop, they received another piece in the puzzle of the child they were assigned.

“Jack, my brother, got a broken leg. Somebody came to see us today about his leg. Mommy and Daddy said that Jack fell. Nobody came back to see us. (The DHHR could not substantiate any abuse at that time.) I think Christina, my sister, saw what happened but she didn’t tell anyone. Sometimes Daddy holds his hand over Christina’s mouth and she cries and she says she can’t breathe.”

“This represented an actual case that happened here in Marion County,” Ruberto said. “That was more disturbing.”

Details in each case were altered so the children would not be recognized.

In Marion County in 2006:

• 820 child-abuse and neglect referrals were investigated.

• 600 reports of child abuse and neglect were investigated .

• 69 children of these investigations were found to be in imminent danger.

• Approximately 177 children were involved in abuse and neglect cases on the court’s docket.

“I am now 6 weeks old. Something really terrible happened. I can’t remember what happened, but Christina does. Mommy and Daddy had to take me to the hospital. The doctor said that my head was hurt (trauma to the head by a blunt force). Mommy and Daddy said they did not know what happened. I never got to go home with them because I died in the emergency room.”

“This brings it closer to home,” Ruberto said. “If you don’t see something, you don’t get a connection with it. The story today gave me a personal connection with what some of these children go through.”

“The DHHR took Christina, 5, and Jack, 2, away from Mommy and Daddy. They went to stay in a new home with a good mommy and daddy. Christina told the DHHR that Daddy hit me in the head with a hammer and that Daddy banged Jack’s head up against my bed. She even said that Daddy broke Jack’s leg. But Mommy, Daddy and Grandma keep telling Christina that’s not how it happened. Christina keeps saying that’s how it happened.”

“These kids don’t have an opportunity in life,” Ruberto said. “When you see other kids complaining and not appreciating what they have, it makes you want to help them so they can become teenagers and become what they’re supposed to be, and not have to worry about being abused or neglected.”

“The DHHR went to help Christina and Jack (went to terminate parental rights). But someone who listens to people’s problems (a therapist) said it would be better for them to live with Grandma, if just for a little while. So they went to live with Grandma and she kept telling Christina that things didn’t happen like she said they did. One day, Daddy died. He killed himself because he said he wasn’t going to jail for something he didn’t do. My brother and sister’s attorney would be their guardian ad litem.”

“This visitation program, which was sponsored by a number of collaborating community agencies, is a unique opportunity to visit programs and facilities addressing the needs of abused and neglected children,” said Michelle Nesselrotte, Marion County Family Resource Network.

“It offers the opportunity to view the child-abuse and neglect system through the children’s eyes as they unwittingly become involved.”

“Jack and Christina got to go home and live with Mommy. I hope they’re OK. I’ll try to watch over them and keep them safe.”

It’s inspired her to help “give these children a better chance at life,” Nesselrotte said. “I don’t know if I can offer foster home, but there are so many different parts of the system that help these kids along the way.

“Our goals are to heighten awareness of effective strategies for addressing concerns regarding abused and neglected children and to mobilize community volunteers into directing their energies toward these issues.”

“Child Watch is a way to bring about awareness that this is happening to our children in our community,” said Pam Nolan, who has organized this event each year.

“It does take a village to raise a child. If we could all contribute enough to bridge struggling families over so not be involved with DHHR system.

“It’s a chance for people to become involved in some way.

“Everyone is amazed at the whole process,” Nolan said. “The amount of information and the whole emotion of abuse and neglect, and what can happen ... It’s overwhelming.

“People become involved in different ways after this. They become foster parents, adoptive parents, take training to be CASA volunteers.”

E-mail Debra Minor Wilson at

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