Child Abuse Rising In Montana

.jpg photo of Courthouse in Helena Montana
Courthouse in Helena, Montana.

Rise in child abuse cases alarms Montana officials

HELENA, Montana  –  Child abuse and neglect cases in Montana’s district courts have more than doubled since 2010, prompting renewed alarm from court officials and children’s advocates.

“It’s just astonishingly frightening,” said Beth McLaughlin, the chief administrator for the state’s court system.

The rising caseload threatens to further burden a judicial system struggling to keep up with it, McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin presented the startling statistics Tuesday while updating a legislative committee on a pilot program intended to help reunite children and their parents.

Across Montana, courts handled more than 2,300 abuse and neglect cases last year, up from 1,600 just a year earlier.

The number of cases in the state’s most populous county, Yellowstone, more than doubled just in the last two years, rising from 223 in 2014 to 512 last year.

In the Ninth Judicial District, which encompasses four northern counties near Great Falls, there were just 18 child abuse and neglect cases in 2010.  Last year, the number spiked to 114 cases, McLaughlin said.

“I bring it to your attention because it requires more than the court’s efforts to do something about it,” McLaughlin told members of the Law and Justice Interim Committee.  “It’s not just an urban problem, but is happening all over the state.”

An increase in meth abuse could be the reason behind the rise in cases, McLaughlin said.  But she acknowledged that theory was purely anecdotal, based on comments from district judges.

Experts say a host of problems — drugs and alcohol addictions, mental illness and the stresses from poverty — sometimes collide into situations of abuse and neglect.

“While other states are currently experiencing increases in the numbers of abuse and neglect cases, Montana stands out because its increases are so dramatic and alarming,” said Joyce Funda, the executive director of CASA of Montana, also known as Court Appointed Special Advocates For Children.  The group has 14 offices statewide to serve youth who have been removed from homes because of abuse or neglect.

While she partly blamed the surge in abuse cases on meth and heroin, Funda wondered if inexperience and the high staffing turnover within Child Protective Services may be leading to more children being taken from parents.

Children’s advocates have been arguing for more funding, not just for social welfare programs but for more resources to help courts and the legal system better address the issue.

Michigan Child Abuse Registry

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Wyatt’s Law would help protect Children from Abuse


“Brutal Abuse Of Toddler Leads To New Bill That Could Crack Down On Child Abusers”

Michigan  –  The brutal abuse of Wyatt Rewoldt has led to the birth of a proposed bill that could crack down on vile child abusers.

According to Fox News, the boy’s mother, Erica Hammel, feels her son’s traumatic life experience is much more than just an isolated incident.

Now, she’s fighting to make sure the woman responsible for her son’s injuries, and all other child abusers, never have opportunities to harm children again.  Little Wyatt’s injuries have led to the birth of a unique bill called Wyatt’s Law, which would require child abusers to be part of a registry to make their actions known to others, much like the mandatory requirement for sex offenders.

According to the Independent Journal Review, the petition for this law began with a life-altering incident that occurred back in 2013.

Erica Hammel reportedly had serious reservations about sending her son Wyatt to stay with his father and his new live-in girlfriend, Rachel Edwards.  Initially, she assumed it was only fear of the unfamiliar, but she soon learned her reservations were warranted.

On November 1, 2013, Hammel received gut-wrenching news when she learned her one-year-old son Wyatt had been brutally beaten and that he was near death as a result of the horrific mistreatment he suffered at the hands of his father’s girlfriend, Rachel Edwards.

It has been reported that Wyatt suffered “brain injuries, head trauma, a skull fracture, broken ribs, and eye injuries, according to a doctor that treated the boy during seven weeks of rehabilitation at Children’s Hospital of Michigan,” reports Macomb Daily.  The injuries are reportedly consistent with “Shaken Baby Syndrome.”

Needless to say, Hammel was devastated about her son’s condition, but shortly after, she discovered something else about Rachel Edwards that she was totally unaware of.  Apparently, Edwards had a history of abuse with the previous child abuse convictions — a felony in 2011 and a 2013 misdemeanor charge not long before the harrowing incident that led to Wyatt’s injuries.

Hammel adamantly believes that, if the convictions of child abusers had been made public, her son may not have been a victim.  She would have been able to justify that gut instinct she had before allowing her son to go with Edwards and his father.  In a previous hearing back in January of 2015, she spoke out about her son’s injuries and how she feels Wyatt’s Law could prevent other defenseless children from suffering the same injuries as Wyatt.

“I just want to make sure she never can abuse a child again,” Hammel said at the hearing.  “I thought she made herself look even more guilty and like a coward,” Hammel said.  “She can’t own up to her own actions, and it’s disgusting to me she can feel no remorse for what happened to my son.”

According to Detroit Free Press, Edwards was sentenced to 33 months to 10 years in prison after pleading no contest to the second-degree child abuse charges in connection with Wyatt’s injuries.

Wyatt’s story has garnered national attention, as many others agree that child abuse registries should be mandated nationwide.  Now, petitions have been launched in other states, and Wyatt’s Law has been introduced into legislature.  Although Wyatt has made vast improvements, he still has a long road to recovery ahead.