January 23, 2005
Child abuse still matters to many as progress is being made
January 23, 2005 [Grand Island Independant] By Mike Bockoven
Around six months ago, Dori Bush and other members of the Association for Child Abuse Prevention set up a Walk for Child Abuse Prevention aimed at raising funds for agencies working to protect children.
The response wasn't what they expected.
"We had just a bad response," said Bush, a longtime child advocate. "We had thought, with the Molina situation, we'd have a lot of walkers. We didn't."
Of course, one event isn't enough to discourage those interested in children's issues nor enough to paint an accurate picture of volunteerism in the community. However, it's not hard to look around the state and see that child abuse is still a big problem, and many are still not aware of the situation.
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services reported last week that the number of reported child abuse and neglect cases increased from 2,316 cases where evidence was found in 2002 to 2,423 in 2003. Numbers for 2004 were not yet available.
In addition, this week saw a man sentenced to between 50 and 60 years in prison for beating his 3-year-old stepdaughter to death in Omaha. It's a case that mirrors that of Diana N. Molina, a 2-year-old Grand Island girl who was beaten to death by her father in July 2003.
Months after the Molina case was made public, hundreds of volunteer hours and thousands of dollars had poured into efforts to help educate and curb child abuse. Bush said that, at the time, the response was overwhelming. But since, as with anything, interest has declined after the horrors inflicted on the Grand Island girl faded from memory.
The problem, Bush said, is that child abuse is still a problem that needs champions.
"The problem isn't getting any better, and it's frustrating for us who are advocates," she said. "All of us are frustrated. Nothing is going to change if people don't get involved. Volunteerism is so important. It can't be stressed enough."
That's not to say there are no efforts in the area making a difference. Aside from advocates such as ACAP, Heartland Court Appointed Special Advocate and many others, the Little Diana Task Force, named after the slain child, has a grant program that continues to fund child abuse prevention efforts.
Karen Rathke, who helped form the task force, said there should be no mistake that progress has been made and awareness has been raised. But now that there is no high-profile case to grab people's attention, it's harder to elicit the same level of enthusiasm.
"I think people got involved and continue to be involved at the level they need to be," Rathke said. "Now that we're in the update mode and report mode, it's not as visible as it was before."
Rathke also said there is a heightened sense of awareness that many still feel after Molina, and the effects of that are hard to quantify. Who knows how many people have called authorities because they suspected child abuse or stepped in and provided aid to a battered mother and family, she asked?
Kathy Moore, director of Voices for Children Nebraska, a statewide organization dedicated to children's issues, said she has no doubt many people were touched by the Molina case or whenever a high-profile child abuse case comes down the media pipeline.
The problem is that many feel as if there's nothing they can do because the problem is so widespread. More disturbing to her, she said, is how few people act upon their feelings of disgust and indignation.
"One element is desensitization, and the other is a moment of concern followed by hopelessness," she said. "During the Molina trial, I ran into many people who said they couldn't read a report in the newspaper or watch it on TV. That troubles me. If they don't see what's happening with our children, how can they ever hope to make a difference?"
Not just in Grand Island, but across the state, feelings of skepticism and frustration with the issue are becoming more prevalent, she said.
Dianne Muhlbach, director of Heartland CASA in Grand Island, said she feels there are many people in this area that care very deeply about child abuse issues and will continue to whether there's a high-profile case or not. That being said, she needs volunteers to serve in the program as a voice for children when they enter the court system.
"There are a lot of people who care very much. I see it every day," she said. "If something needs to change, people get worked up."
Many of the advocates are aware that child abuse will never be something that is solved. Many, however, speak of "breaking the cycle" with the next generation, letting them know that, whatever their background, child abuse isn't acceptable.
Volunteers are needed, but so is a shift in thinking, Bush said.
"The bottom line is I am so tired of the response being, 'Let's provide more services,'" she said. "When are people going to realize you need prevention efforts? If we can do a huge job of educating, we might break the cycle."
Posted by Nancy at January 23, 2005 06:10 PM