.jpg photo of therapy used for Abused Children
The play therapy is used to allow children to express their hard to talk about feelings

Behind the lines of a war on children.

“The narcissist quality of an offender is ‘I get to do whatever I want to do, no matter what happens to you.’ ”

Nancy Hagman, Lutheran Services of Florida therapist

Abusers have a combination of risk factors
By Kimberly Blair

Don’t expect to find a one-size-fits-all explanation as to why one person versus another crosses the moral line and slams a baby’s head against a wall, scalds a toddler in hot water for soiling her panties or starves their children.

Prosecutors who send abusers to prison, therapists who work with abused children, anger management coaches working with parents, social workers in the trenches; they each seem to have their own take on what pushes a mother, father or caregiver to abuse a child.

Some of them blame personality disorders like narcissism, or point to mental illness or even an aggression gene.

Yet most of the professionals agree there’s a set of prevalent risk factors that all too often trigger abusive behavior among some people, including otherwise loving parents. Overwhelming social-economic pressures, past abuse, immaturity, lack of parenting or coping skills, and even anger management are blamed on pushing some caregivers to abuse children in our community — including some of the worst cases in which children are maimed, disabled or killed.

“I hate to use the words ‘what causes someone to abuse,'” said DaMonica Rivas, Florida Department of Children and Families, Northwest Region communications director.

“Child abuse is a complex problem and has many contributing factors that lead up to physical abuse or neglect,” she said. “Poverty, stress, substance abuse, domestic violence, mental illness and the cycle of abuse can all be considered contributing factors. While physical abuse is more visible, other forms of abuse (emotional, sexual and negligence) could still occur.”

Piling up

Many people living in this modern society have some of the risk factors that spark abuse, but most don’t cross that line. Those who abuse often have a combination of several risk factors, said a physician who has provided examinations on abused children.

“So when you start piling those (risk factors) up on top of each other, the risk for the child goes up,” she said. “Economic risk, relationship instability and drug abuse. Drug abuse. Did I mention drug abuse?”

The physician, who asked to be anonymous because of the sensitivity of her work, said she cannot overstress how substance abuse plays a role in child abuse in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.

Alcohol and substance abuse fuels episodes of loss of control or violent eruptions caregivers often channel at the weakest one in the room.

From the abuse cases professionals who were interviewed for this story are seeing, opiates and polysubtance abuse — the use of more than one addictive substance in a short amount of time — seem to be a common thread in many cases.

“Drug abuse does seem to be riddled throughout a large number of the cases we see,” the physician said. “And I wonder if it has something to do with the rise in opiate addiction. A lot of times we don’t know what substances the caregivers are battling with. A lot of times the kids will tell us. They will describe what it looks like, and we can piece it together and kind of figure out what it is. Sometimes, the caregivers will submit to a drug test and you can tell.”

Don’t get hung up on any one trait, however. Not all drug users are child abusers and not all child abusers are drug users.

Nancy Hagman, a therapist who works for Lutheran Services of Florida and provides counseling for abused children at Gulf Coast Kid’s House, believes a lack of respect is a key character trait in an abuser, particularly sexual abusers.

“It’s always about respect,” she said. “If you’re not respectful of the other individual, then violence or abuse will occur. The boundaries that are set have to do with respect. The narcissist quality of an offender is ‘I get to do whatever I want to do, no matter what happens to you.’ “

She and her colleagues teach parents how to recognize this trait often found in child abuse offenders so they can take measures to protect their children if they see it in a boyfriend, spouse or anyone who comes into their lives.

Poor parenting skills

In 2012, 82 percent of known child abusers were between the ages of 18 and 44 years old, with 25 percent of them between 25 and 34. And 80.3 percent of the child abusers were parents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Robert Donofrio, a retired naval officer and nurse practitioner, has spent much of his career teaching anger management techniques and working on a child protection program dealing with young military men and women who didn’t possess good parenting skills.

“We seem to have more people not having role models of how to be parents,” he said. “Parenting is a learning process.”

He explained that those who often who end up injuring or killing babies by shaking them are men who don’t have the training to deal with the situation, he said.

“If you’re 18 years old, and you don’t have training as to why a baby is crying, you may think you deal with it the same way you do with your peers and shout them down,” he said.

That shouting can escalate into “I’ll slam your head against the wall if you don’t shut up,'” Donofrio said. “Immaturity and lack of experience separates those who act and those who don’t.”

Donofrio and his program administrator, Janis Wilson, teach anger management classes in which they first help people understand anger, then help them learn coping skills to manage it.

“We all get angry,” said Wilson, who facilitates classes for women. “Being angry is one thing. How to handle that anger is what we’re trying to focus on.”

Many parents, including Donofrio, have found themselves pushed to that brink of anger where maturity, anger control and good parenting skills kick in before they lash out at their children.

“I’m a parent, a therapist and I have two master degrees and am trained to work in very intense and emotionally high-powered situations,” he said. “When my children were teenagers, frequently I had to bite my lip and talk myself down from taking it out on one of those kids. It was harder to do when they were teens as opposed to a crying baby.”

Characteristics of abusers

In 2012, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Four-fifths or 80.3 percent of child abusers were parents, 6.1 percent were relatives other than parents, and 4.2 percent were unmarried partners of parents.

82 percent of perpetrators were between the ages of 18 and 44 years. Fewer than 3 percent of perpetrators were 18 years old; 19 percent were aged 18–24 years; 40 percent were aged 25–34 years; 23 percent were aged 35–44 years; 9 percent were aged 45–54 years; and 4 percent were aged 55-75.

54 percent of perpetrators were women and 45 percent of perpetrators were men.

Why children are physically abused and/or neglected

Parents who abuse their children may love them very much but not very well. The most prevalent reasons for child abuse and neglect are:

The parents were abused as children and lacked a successful model of parenting and family life.

Immaturity, the absence of parenting preparation skills, and a lack of understanding of child development often result in the creation of unrealistic expectations for a child’s behavior. When the child fails to meet these expectations, frustration on the part of the parent may erupt in anger toward the child.

Abusing parents often feel isolated or keep themselves isolated from others. They may expect the child to satisfy their unmet emotional needs.

Financial pressures, poor housing conditions, loss of a job and the inability to provide for the needs of the family can cause parents to feel overwhelmed and unable to cope.

Alcohol and substance abuse compound the chances for loss of control and eruption of violent behavior.

Source: National Council on Child Abuse & Family Violence/

PENSACOLA News Journal

Kentucky Couple Shaken By False Child Abuse Calls

.jpg photo of Arrested Social Worker
Beth A. Bond, 37, then a social worker in Hardin County

Elizabethtown, Kentucky – The first time it happened, on April 1, the young couple thought it must be an April Fool’s joke.

Several Elizabethtown Police officers appeared at the door around 10 p.m. to check on them and their baby — asleep in her crib — following an anonymous report the couple, one of them holding the girl, had engaged in a drunken fight outside.

Corey Chaney, 25, and April Rodgers, 23, who are engaged, were dumbfounded, having spent a quiet evening at home having dinner with friends.

“We asked if it was an April Fool’s joke,” Chaney said. “Then we realized it was serious.”

Even worse, it was the first of a series of such calls — all false and all late at night, repeatedly sending police and state social workers to the couple’s Elizabethtown apartment, disrupting their lives and leaving them panicked that the state might try to take their baby.

“It was all pretty terrifying,” Chaney said. “We couldn’t figure out why anybody would do that.”

But the most astonishing news came when the couple learned that the alleged source of the false reports was one of the state’s own social workers who lived with her fiancé in the apartment below theirs, neighbors they barely knew.

Beth A. Bond, 37, then a social worker in Hardin County with the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, and her fiancé, Joseph W. Applegate Jr., 42, are charged in Hardin District Court each with six counts of complicity to call in false reports. They were charged May 27 following an investigation by Elizabethtown Police.

Bond and Applegate made the false calls to the cabinet’s social service “intake,” or abuse hotline, between April 1 and May 23, according to court records. Police said it was because of a “verbal dispute” with the other couple, a dispute Chaney and Rodgers deny ever happened.

The only motive they know of is that Bond allegedly told police she found her upstairs neighbors “too loud,” Rodgers said.

Bond, who joined the cabinet in 2013 as a social worker handling child abuse and neglect cases, resigned her state job June 1, according to state personnel records. She could not be reached for comment, and her lawyer, Adam Cart, did not respond to a request for comment.

Applegate could not be reached for comment and did not have a lawyer listed in court records.

Teresa James, the commissioner of the Department for Community Based Services, the social service arm of the cabinet that employed Bond, said she was appalled to learn one of her own social workers was charged in the case, saying the alleged actions violate basic standards of social work and constitute a criminal offense.

“I find it very disturbing and very disappointing,” James said.
Cabinet officials said Bond would have faced disciplinary action had she not resigned.

Chaney and Rodgers said they are still reeling from the ordeal that made them the subject of six separate investigations of child abuse and neglect by cabinet social workers — all unsubstantiated. The couple underwent drug tests and repeated scrutiny by social workers and signed multiple “prevention plans” designed to prevent further abuse, even though Chaney and Rodgers knew the reports to be false.

“It took over our lives,” Chaney said.

And they remain shocked it was one of the cabinet’s own social workers charged with making the false reports.

“It’s scary to think that she could do this to someone,” Rodgers said.

But they are most outraged that cabinet officials never seemed to take seriously their concerns that someone was calling in false, anonymous complaints even as a parade of social workers showed up to investigate.

“There is no way to hold a rogue social worker accountable,” Chaney said. “There’s got to be a system in place to protect families. There’s everything in place to protect anonymous callers.”

James said that when cabinet officials learned of the allegations in late May, they cooperated with police.

As for anonymous calls, James said the cabinet relies on such calls to the hotline to learn about and investigate alleged child abuse and can’t ignore calls that meet requirements for investigation. It accepts anonymous calls because callers often are afraid of retaliation, she said, and the cabinet has no way to track down such callers.

Meanwhile, if an allegation of child abuse or neglect appears serious, officials must investigate, she said.

“The cabinet has to go out on every call that comes in that meets the criteria,” she said.

Chaney, who works in his family’s telecommunications business, and Rodgers, who works for a veterinarian, said they have no criminal offenses in their past nor any previous involvement with the social service system.

Lawyer Barry Sullivan, who represents Chaney and Rodgers, said the case represents a massive “waste of resources” by police and social workers. Further, his clients’ ordeal shows a hole in the state social service system when it comes to false, anonymous complaints, he said.

“This could happen to anyone,” Sullivan said. “The bottom line is that there was a social worker allowed to run amok because there’s a system in place to protect anonymous callers.”

Further, Sullivan said, it calls into question the accuracy of Bond’s work on cases of child abuse and neglect she handled while employed by the cabinet.

Cabinet officials said they have reviewed Bond’s cases and turned open ones over to other workers.

Sullivan, who said he has years of experience in family law in Kentucky including cases of alleged abuse and neglect, said officials at the Hardin County social service office brushed him off when he asked them to look into the unusual nature of the calls against the couple. Officials told him they were just following policy and procedure by investigating each call, he said.

Rodgers said the couple pleaded with workers with Child Protective Services to consider whether someone was making false calls.

“We asked CPS, how many calls are you going to take before you realize this isn’t true,” Chaney said. “They said, ‘Oh, we have to respond to every call.’ ”

And the severity of the allegations increased as the calls continued, they said. One call claimed Rodgers was holding the baby upside down over a balcony; another alleged Chaney was violent and high on methamphetamine; and the last claimed he slammed the child into a wall.

Each time police would show up at the apartment, at the request of the cabinet, to find no evidence of the allegations, they said.

“The cops by the third call were apologizing, and by the fourth call they were getting mad,” Chaney said.

Fortunately, he said, police grew suspicious about the calls and began to investigate.

Still, each call triggered a new investigation from a new state social worker with a new round of questions about their personal lives, such as whether they used drugs (no) whether they fought violently (no) or whether they had abused or neglected their child (no). All were closed by the cabinet as unsubstantiated, or unfounded.

But the couple had discerned a pattern to the calls and decided to act.

Each time a case against them was about to be closed as unsubstantiated, a call with new allegations would come into the CPS hotline, triggering a new investigation. Knowing a current case was about to be closed, and anticipating a new hotline call, Chaney and Rodgers took their daughter and left their home to stay with Chaney’s parents.

The couple alerted Elizabethtown police about their plans.

The first night they were away, May 22, a call came into the abuse hotline reporting that Chaney had become violent and thrown the baby against the wall. Another call followed on May 23, alleging a disturbance at the couple’s apartment. Police went to the apartment but found no one home.

A few days later, police charged Bond and Applegate with six misdemeanor offenses involving the false reports.

Rodgers said she wept “tears of joy” at the news after weeks of fearing she might lose custody of her baby over false allegations.

“We were so scared that someone was going to take her away,” Rodgers said.

Chaney said he’s relieved by the arrest but disappointed it’s just a minor offense.

“You can tear someone’s family apart and it’s a misdemeanor,” he said.

Chaney and Rodgers say the ordeal has taken an enormous toll, emotionally and financially.

They had to hire a lawyer and take time off work for repeated meetings with social workers; and, after their neighbors were arrested, they decided to move to avoid any encounters with Bond and Applegate.

“We moved that weekend,” Rodgers said. “It took every single dime we had.”

No one from the cabinet has contacted them to explain or apologize, the couple said.

They decided to go public with their story, they said, to expose what happened.

“We don’t want this stuff swept under the rug,” Rodgers said.

Added Chaney, “I don’t want this to happen to somebody else’s family.”