Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Spate of child abuse spurs action (Chandler, Arizona)

Arizona, like Florida, has been a hotspot for a lot of domestic violence- and child abuse-related injuries and deaths. The economy is being blamed as a stressor, but we need to be clear on this: not all parents are breaking under the pressure in the same way. Interesting "coincidence" here--for all the blame that the media and fathers rights groups heap on mothers for child abuse, look at the list of recent child abuse cases that came up in Chandler, Arizona:

Out of six reported cases, the main perpetrators were 3 boyfriends and 2 fathers. In 2 of these cases, mothers were also arrested for failing to protect, being an accessory, etc. There is also a case of neglect involving the mother and boyfriend--not clear yet on who did what. What's striking to me: No mothers acting alone.

Still think that child abuse by fathers and live-in boyfriend father substitutes is a minor problem? That it's mostly moms?

Spate of child abuse in Chandler spurs action
Ari Cohn, Tribune

December 1, 2009 - 6:48PM

If it appears that someone else's child is being abused or harmed, an observer shouldn't hesitate to get involved for the sake of the child.

That's the message being developed by Childhelp, an international, Scottsdale-based nonprofit dedicated to child welfare. The planned public education campaign, which will feature ads on television, radio, newspapers and online, began when Chandler officials approached the group for help after a recent spate of severe domestic violence attacks on children in the city.

Paul Penzone, Childhelp's director of prevention and special projects, said the point is to remind parents that they are not just responsible for their own children.

"I'm sure there will be a small percentage who will feel that it's invasive to get into the affairs of other families," Penzone said. "I would rather be accused of being nosy than of doing nothing and letting a child get harmed."

Between June and October, three Chandler children were killed in domestic violence incidents. One other child's death is still under investigation. Two additional children suffered broken bones and serious injuries, according to police.

The spike sent Chandler officials in search of a solution to the problem, and the city ended up calling on the 50-year-old Childhelp organization for assistance, Penzone said.

"They recognized that this problem needed immediate attention," he said. "That was the galvanizing issue. It's unfortunate that tragedies such as the high volume of death in a short period of time are what bring focus to a problem that's been there far too long."

Over the last few weeks, the city and the nonprofit have invited other Valley communities, hospitals, law enforcement agencies, government and private child welfare agencies into the discussion.

"It really started to develop a life of its own," said Jane Poston, a Chandler spokeswoman. "A lot of people wanted to help."

Penzone said the public awareness campaign is expected to cost $250,000 to $500,000, but will produce a memorable anti-domestic violence message that will stay with the community.

"It's to create a theme that is powerful and stands the test of time," he said.

Childhelp is funded through federal grants and private donations. Participants in the campaign will have to decide on a way to raise the money, he said.

"We're all going to have to work together to find funding," Penzone said.

The local uptick in cases of severe domestic violence is in line with a national trend, he said. Financial stress at home because of the economic downturn likely is a major factor, he said.

"(Case workers) are telling us that they're seeing more severe cases of abuse that are consistent with the stressors in the economy," Penzone said.

The public service announcements could begin airing in April to coincide with Child Abuse Prevention Month, he said. Eventually, the group could come up with policy recommendations on how government and private agencies can better prevent and deal with domestic violence, he said.

"There is no quick fix to this," Penzone said.

Ultimately, the goal is a societal attitude change to encourage the reporting of suspected domestic violence, he said.

"We can't just close our eyes to what's going on and not see anything beyond our own four walls," Penzone said. "Any child's safety is everyone's responsibility."

Recent child abuse investigations in Chandler

June 6: A 2-year-old girl is slammed against a cement floor, causing fractures to her skull. She is taken off life support 12 days later. The mother's boyfriend, Jeremias Aguilar, 21, is charged with first-degree murder. The mother, Josefa Talavara, 20, who police say did not call 911 until more than two hours later, is charged with one count of felony child abuse.

Aug. 21: A 5-month-old boy is taken to the hospital with a broken leg. His father, Michael Dunn, is arrested on suspicion of child abuse after admitting that he shoved the child's ankle toward his head four times while yelling for him to stop crying.

Aug. 26: A 2-year-old boy in the care of his mother's boyfriend is found dead. The 20-year-old man and the boy's mother give police conflicting statements. A child abuse investigation is ongoing.

Aug. 31: Schala Vera, 3, dies after being beaten with a belt by her mother's boyfriend, Dauntorian Sanders, according to police. Schala's mother, Susan Witbracht, is also arrested, and the two have been charged with first-degree murder.

Sept. 8: A 3-week-old girl is hospitalized with skull fractures, brain swelling, broken ribs and injuries consistent with sexual assault. Her father, Brian Hopf, 25, is indicted on a charge of first-degree murder on Sept. 16, two days after the girl dies.

Oct. 6: A 2-year-old boy is hospitalized with broken bones. Police arrest Matthew Lallemand, 32, and Amanda Corwin, 22, the boy's mother, on suspicion of child neglect, furnishing harmful material to a minor and charges related to drug possession. A child abuse investigation is ongoing.