Monday, December 17, 2012

In Today's News: "Warren County [NJ] has a 'secret problem' with child abuse, official says"

This article, published in Lehigh Valley Live, highlights the efforts of officials and organizations in Warren County, NJ to prevent child sexual abuse.  Warren County is one of three counties in New Jersey to adopt the Enough Abuse Campaign (Referred to here as the "Enough Abuse" Program). 

Rush Russell, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse - New Jersey makes an important point when he points out that there aren't many child sexual abuse prevention programs designed to highlight adult responsibility - it is a different mindset where the responsibility for preventing sexually abusive behaviors is not solely that of the children targeted by abusers. Rather, our program gives parents and other 'stakeholder' adults education on this issue and training on steps they can take - from specific messages and talking points for their kids to recognizing warning signs in abusers and victims.

Warren County has 'secret problem' with child abuse, official says

By Tommy Rowan
The Express-Times
December 16, 2012 at 6:00 AM
http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/warren-county/express-times/index.ssf/2012/12/warren_county_child_abuse_proj.html 


In the more than 30 years Karen Kubert has worked for Warren County, she hasn't seen the child abuse rate improve.

"It's kind of a secret problem," she told county freeholders last month. "People don't talk about it."

Now they will.

Warren County has adopted a pilot program called "Enough Abuse," becoming one of three counties in New Jersey to implement a comprehensive child abuse prevention strategy.

In 2011, Warren County ranked 10th highest in New Jersey in percentage of confirmed cases of abuse and neglect, according to the State Department of Children and Families. Phillipsburg led the county with 745 reports, but only 58, or 7 percent, were substantiated, according to state statistics.

Hunterdon County had the highest percentage confirmed cases of abuse in the state: 847 cases with 137, or 16 percent, confirmed.

Click here to see a copy of the report.

Rush L. Russell, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey, met with Warren County leaders and officials from Project Self-Sufficiency of Sussex County. They reported seeing an increase in abuse cases from media reports and conversations with public health leaders and service providers around the county.

"They felt like they were seeing a significant increase," Russell said. "They described a situation where they had seen an increase in the number of reports ... around child sexual abuse in the last few years and were concerned."

Project Self-Sufficiency, which serves Warren, Sussex and Morris counties, is replicating the Enough Abuse program that originally launched in Massachusetts about 10 years ago with funding from the Centers for Disease Control. The Ms. Foundation for Women and Prevent Child Abuse America awarded Project Self-Sufficiency a $25,000 grant for the program.

The Enough Abuse program provides free training sessions to parents and other adults on steps they can take to prevent child abuse. Russell said there aren't many programs in New Jersey designed to prevent child abuse that focus on adult responsibility.

"(We've got to) change the mindset in terms of parents being able to talk to their kids and be able to recognize some of the warning signs that are out there so they can intervene before this happens," Russell said.

"I think this topic has kind of been swept under the table because people aren't comfortable talking about it," he said.

Hackettstown ranked second in Warren County with 201 reports of abuse with 17, or 8 percent, confirmed. Washington, N.J. reported 181 cases of abuse with 23 confirmed cases, and Belvidere reported 181 instances of abuse with 23 substantiated cases.

Nine municipalities reported no substantiated cases of abuse. The state reports 142 confirmed cases of abuse countywide. The 2011 abuse and neglect statistics provided by the state do not include cases investigated by the state and passed onto law enforcement for investigation.

Kubert, director of the Warren County's Department of Human Services, said that the county needs change.

"(The rate) is extraordinarily high," she said. "And I think people that work in the agencies decided maybe we ought to take a look at what we're doing and come up with some best practices and see if we can develop standards and then everybody can work toward those standards."

Statewide, officials reported 91,680 cases of abuse in 2011 with 9,414 confirmed cases. Essex County recorded the highest number of confirmed cases at 1,167.

Russell said this is just "the tip of the iceberg at best" and that an estimated 80 percent of abuse cases are never reported to authorities. A Centers for Disease Control 2010 study found that 1 in 4 girls under the age of 18 and about 1 in 7 boys experienced an incident of child sexual abuse.

Kubert said the prevention strategy should include not only parents, but professionals, store clerks and neighbors as critical partners to reduce child abuse.

"It's trying to touch on anyone that will come into contact with the child," she said.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

PRESS RELEASE // Statute of Limitations (SOL) Reform Before Year-End Deadline


December 13, 2012 -- 12 AM EST
MassKids, 14 Beacon Street, Suite 706, Boston

Contact: Jetta Bernier, Executive Director
jetta@masskids.org
617-742-8555 ext.2
617-827-5218 (cell)


PRESS RELEASE

Infant/toddler Sex Abuse Case Prompts Advocates to Press for Statute of Limitations (SOL) Reform Before Year-End Deadline

Push for Expansion of Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Campaign

December 13, 2012, BOSTON, MA – Child advocates today urged legislators to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of a bill that would reform the state’s current Statute of Limitations in cases of child sexual abuse. “The public’s response to the sexual abuse of 13 infants and toddlers by Level 1 sex offender John Burbine has been very strong” said Jetta Bernier, director of MassKids, a statewide non-profit child abuse prevention group. “People are upset and want solutions to prevent these heinous crimes from happening. One way the public can channel this outrage is to insist that the legislature move the SOL reform bill through to passage before year’s end,” she said. “Failure to do so would maintain the loophole for those sexual abusers who have never been brought to justice.  Currently, these individuals are free to abuse with impunity since under the current Statues of Limitations, they are beyond the law’s reach.”

        Advocates support an SOL bill that would extend the time a victim could file civil charges against their alleged abuser from the victim’s 21st birthday to age 43.  Importantly, it would create a “window” - a one or two year period of time - during which victims who under current law are barred from filing charges would be able to do so and expose the facts of their cases in court.

        Because final negotiations on the bill were not resolved before the July 31st end of the formal legislative session, a Conference Committee was appointed on October 22nd to finalize the language with the goal of passing a final bill in the “informal” session. Advocates have been told that the Committee is “making progress”, however, the closed-door discussions have not yielded visible results and there are only a few short weeks left for passage during this legislative session. Failure to pass the bill before then would mean refilling the bill and starting all over – something that supporters of reform are intent on avoiding.

        Rosanne Sliney, a former Waltham teacher and survivor of child sexual abuse from age 5 to 14 by her godfather summed it up: “A strong case for holding abusers accountable and preventing the sexual abuse of more children has been made again and again during the two-year legislative session that will soon end. The public and an overwhelming majority of legislators support SOL reform. Concerns about constitutional issues have been fully addressed by the nation’s leading legal experts. Countdown to the New Year begins today with 19 days remaining. We urge the Conference Committee to complete its work and get the bill approved now before survivors have to face the run-down of yet another time clock,” she said.

        Advocates urge parents to channel their outrage by getting educated about specific strategies to prevent child sexual abuse from happening in the first place.  The Enough Abuse Campaign, a nationally recognized Massachusetts-based prevention initiative, has been working to do that and more since its formation just after the clergy sex abuse scandal was uncovered in 2002.  Several communities have joined the Campaign and formed local coalitions of organizations committed to ending the problem. Campaign sites include: the 8-town North Quabbin region, Hampshire and Franklin Counties, North Shore, Greater Lowell, Greater Springfield, Newton/Waltham, South Worcester County, and Cape Cod and Islands. Thousands of parents, youth and a range of professionals across the state have been educated about sexual abuse prevention through community workshops provided free by local volunteers trained by the Campaign. Free booklets for parents about how to prevent child sexual abuse are also available by contacting the Campaign at info@enoughabuse.org

        A 2007 UMass Poll found that nearly two-thirds of citizens say they would participate in local trainings to learn about sexual abuse and how to prevent it – an increase from 47% in a similar poll conducted four years earlier.  When asked where the state should spend its resources to solve this problem, 37% said that educating adults should be the top priority. That was followed by 35% wanting better police and child protective services investigations. Only 20% believed that promoting the Sex Offender Registry was a priority, and significantly fewer (7%) believed that funds should be spent on treating adult sexual abusers.  

        “The lesson we all need to take away from the clergy sex abuse scandal, the Penn State cover-up, the Boy Scouts’ “perversion files” case, and the stream of sexual abuse disclosures that have become so routine, is that adults and communities must take prime responsibility for preventing sexual abuse from ever happening,” said Bernier. “That means learning and talking about it. That’s where the Enough Abuse Campaign comes in.”  The Campaign’s goal is that by 2015, every Massachusetts city and town will be actively engaged in preventing child sexual abuse in their homes and communities. “Every day we are working to reach that goal,” said Bernier whose organization staffs the effort.  “We urge citizens who want to help launch a prevention effort in their community to contact the Campaign and become part of the solution.”   

###

About MassKids

MassKids (Massachusetts Citizens for Children) is a 53-year-old independent, private child advocacy organization working since 1959 to improve the lives of Massachusetts’s most vulnerable children.  It serves as the Massachusetts Chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America and is lead agency for the Enough Abuse Campaign to prevent child sexual abuse.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has called the Campaign “a trailblazing effort.”  The Campaign has been adopted in Maryland, New Jersey, New York and California.

For more information: MassKids, 14 Beacon Street, Suite 706, Boston, MA 02108 or call 617-742-8555 ext. 2 or visit www.masskids.org. For more information about the Enough Abuse Campaign visit  www.enoughabuse.org

Monday, December 10, 2012

Watch this News Story: How can parents educate themselves...

On everyone who comes into contact with their child.

Watch this interview by Fox 25 News of MassKids Executive Director Jetta Bernier about important information that parents need to know about protecting their children from child sexual abuse.

Boston News, Weather, Sports | FOX 25 | MyFoxBoston

Friday, December 7, 2012

In Today's News: "Medical Society Offers Free Brochures on Violence Prevention"

Friday, December 07, 2012


WALTHAM, Mass. — Physicians of the Massachusetts Medical Society have produced a series of 10 brochures to help parents identify and deal with a range of topics on youth violence, including bullying, dating and street violence, violence in the media, and child sexual abuse.(emphasis ours)

They are available free to parents, educators, youth counselors, or others who work with children and youth.

Originated by Dr. Robert D. Sege and developed by the Medical Society's Committee on Violence Intervention and Prevention, the current publications are updated versions of a previous series and contain information from a variety of sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and Massachusetts Citizens for Children. They are written by experts in the field of youth violence.

Dr. Elliot Pittel, chairman of the society's Committee on Violence Intervention and Prevention and a psychiatrist at The Home for Little Wanderers in Boston, called attention to the severity of the problem.

"Violence or abuse affecting children occurs in far too many places – in the home, at school, on the street, online, in relationships - and has enormous effects on physical and mental health," said Pittel. "And we see the results all too often in headlines and news reports. Physicians can play a major role in addressing the needs of hurt and injured children by screening for violence as an essential part of every visit to the doctor."

Sege, director of the Division of Family and Child Advocacy at Boston Medical Center and professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine, said the goal "is to reach beyond the physician's office, to educate parents and those who care for children with expert, practical information, first to prevent violence, and then, when and if it does occur, to intervene appropriately."

The series' 10 titles are:

  • Protecting Your Child From Sexual Abuse (call 617-742-8555 x3 or email info@enoughabuse.org to get your copy from the Enough Abuse Campaign)
  • When Children Witness Violence in the Home
  • Bullying Prevention: When Your Child  is the Victim, the Bully, or the Bystander
  • Street Violence: Your Child Has Been Hurt, What You Can Do
  • Dating Violence: What Parents Need To Know
  • Protecting Your Child From Gun Injury
  • Pulling the Plug on Media Violence
  • Some Myths and Facts About Violence
  • Time-Out! A Break From Negative Behavior
  • Raise Your Child With Praise: Tips for Parents of 2-5 year-olds


The brochures may be downloaded free at www.massmed.org/violence. Printed copies may be ordered individually or in sets from the Medical Society by writing to dph@mms.org or calling 1-800-322-2303, Ext. 7373.

The publications are part of the Society’s Campaign Against Violence, co-sponsored by the Massachusetts Medical Society Alliance. Other materials in the effort are two guides for health care professionals, both also free via download from the society's website.

Watch this News Story: Wakefield Sex Abuse Scandal - What Parents Need to Know

Check out this video with Pathways for Children Executive Director Sue Todd in a discussion about the Wakefield sex abuse scandal and also tips on making sure your child is safe with their caretaker
http://www.myfoxboston.com/video?autoStart=true&topVideoCatNo=default&clipId=8043182 
Boston News, Weather, Sports | FOX 25 | MyFoxBoston

In Today's News: "After Wakefield arrests, parents weigh child care risks"

Parents ask: How can we really know?

By Martine Powers
Globe Staff /  December 7, 2012
The Boston Globe
To view the original article with accompanying video go to Boston.com's website here

Christina Kirkwood, a ­Woburn mother of two, has ­every confidence in her child care provider.
The day care, run out of the home of a Woburn family, passes all her tests: The caretakers are licensed. They came with great references. One is an official with the local Fire Department.

Still, she says, hearing allegations about a Wakefield child care provider was painful.

“It rattles me,” she said. “It bothers me a lot that this would happen.”

After news spread about the arrest of the Wakefield child caretaker on charges of a disturbing series of sexual ­assaults, parents and child advo­cates said the case highlights the challenges of guarding against dangerous child care providers.

Child advocates said the ­alleged incidents should remind parents of the measures they can take to evaluate individuals claiming to be reliable baby-sitters and nannies, most crucially, checking to see if a child care provider is licensed by the state.

Still, some parents and child advocates said, it is hard to know whether they can ever completely trust someone with their child.

“It’s just so difficult to imagine that a young child could be exploited in that way, because we just tend to not want to think about it,” said Jetta ­Bernier, executive director for Massachusetts Citizens for ­Children, a statewide child ­advocacy organization.

The man arrested Thursday, John Burbine, 49, provided child care through a business owned by his wife, Marian ­Burbine. She did not have a license to provide child care services, and, if she had applied, Burbine’s status as a registered sex offender would have prevented his wife from approval, Bernier said.

Checking for licenses is a key step in ensuring that a child care provider is trustworthy, Bernier said. But parents may not take that step, relying ­instead on friends’ reviews.

“When other parents who you trust say, ‘Oh, yeah, we used her and everything went fine,’ that almost seems more valuable to a parent than calling a state agency,” she said.

Taking steps to authenticate credentials can help prevent ­instances such as the crimes of which Burbine has been ­accused. It is an option that many parents do not realize is available, she said.

“What this shows us is, in this day and age, it’s important that there be safeguards and oversight,” she said. “We need to be asking some clear questions about whether a program is licensed or evaluated.”

Kathleen Hart, spokes­woman at the state Department of Early Education and Care, recommended that parents use the agency’s online database of licensed child care providers and child care referral agencies to search for licensed businesses, using their ZIP code.

Additionally, parents concerned about a child care provider’s credentials can call the agency to learn about the provider’s full licensing history, she said.

The department licenses 7,718 at-home child care businesses in Massachusetts, she said.

And while checking state sex offender registries can be an imperfect method for targeting possibly dangerous caretakers, Bernier said, websites such as SitterCity.com perform background checks and sex offender registry searches before allowing individuals to advertise baby-­sitting services on the website. Sex offender registries list only those considered most likely to commit another sex crime, Level 3, and not those such as Burbine, a Level 1 ­offender.

Fear of dangerous child caretakers is why Kirkwood, 35, first turned to a day care center, rather than an operation run out of a home, for her 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter. She thought a larger atmosphere would be safer: Her children would be out in the open, with multiple adults overseeing their care.

“Originally, I didn’t want a home day care,” she said. “I was afraid there wasn’t going to be any oversight.”

But Kirkwood said she eventually grew unhappy with the quality of care they received and switched the children to an at-home day care she has come to trust.

She said she feels confident that if her children were confronted with inappropriate actions, she would be able to ­detect a change in their ­demeanor.

“I know that I’m observant of my children’s behavior,” she said. “I would hope that I would be in tune enough with my kids to know I need to pull them.”

Ferrying his 13-month-old daughter through the rain in a covered stroller after picking her up from a downtown day care center, Anthony Tracy of South Boston said he was disgusted by the news of the allegations made against the Wakefield baby-sitter.

But, he said, he felt confident nothing like that could happen at the large day care that tends to his child. Because the day care centers they use are large, with several staff members on duty at all times, he said he knows his child is never alone with just one adult.

“Security is an extremely ­important thing we looked for,” Tracy said.

Globe correspondent Derek J. Anderson contributed to this report. Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.

© Copyright 2012 Globe Newspaper Company.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Watch this News Story: "Mass. child care provider reacts to fears after case"

Watch this NECN interview of Sue Todd, Spokesperson for the Enough Abuse Campaign North Shore and Executive Director of Pathways for Children.  She discusses the Wakefield sex abuse case and some of the things that all parents need to know about finding safe child care. WATCH HERE

(video will open in new window)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

In Today's News: "Specter of predators puts parents in constant vigil"

By Beth Teitell, Globe Staff
The Boston Globe
December 4, 2012

Gretchen Ertl for the Boston Globe
Debbie Currie watches what her children do on their electronic devices


Pollyanna Santos doesn’t let her 6-year-old son play at a friend’s house unless she knows all of the adults who live in the home — and those who might be visiting. “You don’t know what can happen in the next room,” said Santos, a waitress from East Boston.

In Braintree, Debbie Currie feels anxious when she leaves her 7-year-old daughter at gymnastics class. “There are 20 other kids in there, and we live in a nice town, but you just never know,” said Currie, a customer service supervisor for Comcast.

Bernice Ferrara, a retired MBTA bus driver from Brockton, will not let her 15-month-old granddaughter sit on Santa’s lap because she doesn’t know the man behind the beard. “I don’t want to feel that way,” she said. “But I do.”

After years of revelations about sexual predators lurking in some of our most high-profile institutions, including recent accusations against Elmo’s puppeteer, it has come to this: Parents and caregivers say they’re living in a state of high alert, suspicious of even the most innocuous-seeming encounters, worried even in their own homes, where the Internet has the power to deliver predators to their children’s bedrooms.

In 2012, forget what Santa thinks about whether we’ve been bad or good. We’re watching him.

“There is no escaping it,” said Stuart Goldman, a psychiatrist at Boston Children’s Hospital. Among the parents of his patients, he has observed a growing awareness of child sexual abuse, and with it, caution. “Do you feel comfortable having your son camp out in the woods with the Boy Scout leader?” he asked.

The list of institutions that have 
been tarnished by sexual predators 
has been growing in recent years. 
Former Penn State University 
assistant football couch Jerry 
Sandusky (above) and Kevin 
Clash, the voice of Elmo, 
have both been implicated in 
sexual abuse cases against 
children.  Sandusky was 
sentenced in October to 
at least 30 years in prison.
The growing unease about sex abuse is reflected in two surveys taken four years apart by MassKids , a nonprofit child advocacy organization. In 2003, fewer than half of Massachusetts residents said they would be willing to participate in training to learn about child sexual abuse and how to prevent it. By 2007, two-thirds of residents said they would be willing.


Parental anxiety seems to be on the rise even as the rate of child sexual abuse is falling, according to a large-scale analysis by the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.

Data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System showed that the rate of substantiated child sexual abuse dropped 62 percent between 1992 and 2010, from 150,000 cases to 63,000 cases, said the center’s director, David Finkelhor.

The trend was confirmed by data from six other sources, including governmental agencies, the FBI, and reports by victims, he added.

A combination of factors has led to the decline, said Finkelhor, a UNH sociology professor, including: more aggressive law enforcement; prevention education; public awareness; and cultural changes such as the empowerment of women.

But even so, the list of organizations that have housed molesters keeps growing.

While the Catholic Church has been at the center of sexual abuse scandals for years, the Penn State football program and the Boy Scouts of America have now been implicated.

In early October, Penn State’s former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was sentenced to at least 30 years in prison in a child sexual abuse case, and later that month, files were released showing allegations of sexual abuse in the Boy Scouts of America.

Last month, the Tennis Hall of Fame suspended disgraced star Bob Hewitt following allegations he sexually abused underage girls he coached from the 1970s to the early 1990s, and Kevin Clash, the voice and puppeteer behind the “Sesame Street” character Elmo, resigned after allegations that he had sexual relations with underage boys.

And those are just the nationally known cases. The media regularly carry a steady stream of local stories as well.

Just weeks ago, Massachusetts Maple Leafs hockey coach Anthony DeSilva of Acushnet was arrested on charges he allegedly attempted to seduce two Florida boys online.

In August, Rockport guidance counselor Howard J. Kasper was placed on leave after being accused of inappropriately touching two students years earlier at a school in Beverly.

The media accounts have led to a generalized mistrust among parents that can be seen in the smallest of actions: a father deciding not to run a 10-minute errand and leave his child alone with the piano teacher; a mother watching out the window as a (too friendly?) neighbor plays catch with the kids.

The growing suspicion that predators are among us can be seen in places like Athol, where a 10-year-old “Enough Abuse” training program is gaining a larger audience.

“In the kick-off years we were doing a lot of outreach,” said Rebecca Bialecki, executive director of the nonprofit North Quabbin Community Coalition. “Then we went through a period where there was a lull.”

But within the past few years, “groups are reaching out to us,” Bialecki said.

The training aims to help parents, caregivers, and people who work with children recognize warning signs and keep kids safe, and the message is simple, Bialecki said. “Sexual offenders can look like anyone around you, and they can be in your family, your neighborhood, your friends, and in positions of trust in a community.”

Indeed, 80 percent to 90 percent of abusers are people known to the children, said UNH’s Finkelhor.

Despite the dropping rate of substantiated sexual abuse cases, widespread media coverage and high-profile offenders make for a nervous public, he said. “There’s been a steady parade of sex crimes against children in the news over the last 20 years.”

“Some of the anxiety is positive,” he added, “in that people are taking precautions and thinking about who their kids are with and making sure they’ve talked to their kids, but some of it is probably an overreaction, too.”

Jetta Bernier, executive director of MassKids, says her organization’s surveys show that parents have become more anxious over the years. “In some ways that’s a good thing — there’s greater recognition that this is not just some rare occurrence.”

Parents aren’t the only ones becoming more educated, Bernier added. Child-safety advocates are, too.

When the Massachusetts Medical Society asked her to revise a brochure on child sexual abuse that she had written for the group in 2006, Bernier realized she needed to completely re-do it.

“We have learned so much since then,” she said, explaining that in-depth interviews with sexual abusers have provided valuable insight.

Bernier gave an example: “Sometimes [the predator] will start with ‘accidental’ touching to see if the kid is a good target. They’ll sit on the couch really close to the kid and see if he wiggles away. They might even do it in front of another adult. If the kid doesn’t move, that says it’s OK.”

But even as education increases, and abuse rates drop, many parents say the only time they feel truly safe is when their kids are in view.

“Their lives can be destroyed so quickly,” said Christine Nolan, a Somerville mother of three who supervises as many of their activities as possible. “If I can prevent that, I’m going to. They’re all I have.”

Beth Teitell can be reached at bteitell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.
Original article here: http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2012/12/04/parents-high-alert-child-sexual-abuse-cases-pile/I8KAfbhQt1OWw38C6qn54H/story.html