Things can go wrong in mere seconds when a child is left alone in a vehicle
#Vehicles Are Not #BabySitters
Cars are being stolen with children alone in the back seat all over the country far too often and in some of the most unexpected places. Families are being traumatized and expensive AMBER Alerts are being issued as a result of these easily preventable incidents.
Last month, KidsAndCars.org documented 17 children (+ 4 cases involving dogs) who were taken in a stolen vehicle, one resulting in the tragic death of a teen. In 2019, KidsAndCars documented over 200 children taken in stolen vehicles nationwide.
Thieves watch for vehicles to be left unattended with the engine running or the keys inside. Most of the time, they don’t realize that there is a child inside until after they have stolen the vehicle. Car thefts happen even in the safest neighborhoods, outside homes, convenience stores, grocery stores, daycares, restaurants, etc. It only takes a few seconds for a car thief to jump into a vehicle and be gone. Children and pets should never be left alone inside of a vehicle, not even for a minute.
“Although the victims of these types of incidents typically survive, it is incredibly distressing for everyone involved. Because this is easily preventable, we can avoid the unnecessary trauma and use of precious law enforcement resources by simply never leaving children alone in vehicles.” said Janette Fennell, president and founder of KidsAndCars.org.
On February 6, a 13-year-old Wichita, KS girl was dragged to death trying to escape the backseat of her family SUV that was stolen while her family went inside to grab food.
Below are the details on the cases KidsAndCars.org documented last month.
02/28/21 – Chicago, IL – Children 5 & 7 – Parked on street, kids called Mom from tablet, found shortly after.
02/24/21 – Renton, WA – Girl 5 – Grocery Store, AMBER Alert, found unharmed.
02/17/21 – Cleveland, OH – Girl 3, Boy 4 – Parked on street, thief left Children along road nearby.
02/16/21 – St. Paul, MN – Children 2 & 4 – Apartment, thief left children outside in cold.
02/16/21 – Valrico, FL – Girl 1 – Driveway of residence, found 2 hours later.
02/15/21 – Honolulu, HI – Infant – Gas station, found along road shortly after.
02/12/21 – Madison, WI – Child – Restaurant, thief abandoned child in car nearby minutes later.
02/09/21 – Columbus, OH – Boy 4 mos – Daycare, AMBER Alert.
02/09/21 – Cayce, SC – Girl 2, puppy – Hotel circle drive, found 3 hours later 11 miles away in car.
02/07/21 – St. Paul, MN – Girl 6 – Walgreens, thief left girl in car a few blocks away.
02/06/21 – San Francisco, CA – Girl 4, Boy 1 – Residence, AMBER Alert issued, children found 4 hrs later.
02/06/21 – Minneapolis, MN , Boy 1 – Church, AMBER Alert, found nearby 2.5 hrs later.
In 2018 alone, 748,841 vehicles were stolen in the United States, costing vehicle owners more than $6 billion according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
AMBER Alerts and extensive search operations for car theft kidnapping cases have cost taxpayers millions of dollars. One estimate out of Memphis, TN reported the cost to be over $71,000 in the search for a missing baby taken in a vehicle in March, 2018.
Most importantly, the safety and well-being of children is priceless.
There are currently 21 states that have laws making it illegal to leave children unattended inside vehicles. However, it is important for parents and caregivers to understand that in any state, a person can face child endangerment or neglect charges for leaving a child alone in a vehicle, even if the state does not have a law specifically making it illegal.
Additionally, at least 30 states and some municipalities have varying laws making it illegal to leave vehicles running unattended. These are commonly referred to as anti-idling laws and also help protect the environment.
Tips for parents and caregivers:
Never leave a child alone in a vehicle, not even for a minute.
If you see a child alone in a vehicle, get involved. Call 911 immediately. If the child is in distress, get them out of the vehicle as quickly as possible.
Utilize drive-thru or curbside services that don’t require you to leave your vehicle.
If a business doesn’t offer curbside delivery, call upon arrival and ask them to bring your order to your car. Most people are more than happy to accommodate when you tell them you have small children.
Keep car doors locked every time you step away from your vehicle and any time you’re sitting inside a parked car.
Understand that a running vehicle can be driven away even if the key fob is not inside the vehicle.
There are far too many devastating tragedies that could have easily been prevented had a child not been left alone in a vehicle. Besides being abducted during a car theft, children are injured by knocking cars into gear, suffer from heatstroke, become strangled by power windows and seat belts, start car fires, exit the vehicle and are run over, etc. For more information on the dangers children face when left alone in vehicles, please visit our website.
A ‘horrific’ crisis. Hundreds of California Child Abuse reports intentionally
MADERA COUNTY, CA – Children faced “incredible pain and suffering” when a Madera County social worker intentionally discarded hundreds of child abuse reports last year, according to government emails uncovered in a Fresno Bee investigation.
Department emails examined by The Bee indicate at least some of the 357 reports may have been neglected for up to two months. The emails, obtained through a public records request, reveal a behind-the-scenes crisis in the fall of 2019 with Madera County Social Services workers scrambling to investigate hundreds of abandoned abuse referrals.
While sources said there is no known evidence that any child died as a result, emails show workers feared children suffered more abuse while reports were stuffed in waste bins and gathered dust around the social worker’s desk between September and November last year.
Deborah Martinez, the county’s social services director, outlined her dread in a Nov. 7 email to the county’s chief administrative officer at the time.
“There is no doubt that at a minimum, her actions placed children in danger,” Martinez wrote. “The ultimate impact to children and families (in) our community can’t be known but based upon some of the allegations that were made this social worker likely caused incredible pain and suffering.”
Dozens of the dumped cases were emergency reports — cases involving allegations of physical or sexual abuse, the emails show.
Multiple children later were removed from their homes days or weeks after their alleged abuse initially was reported, according to two department sources.
“Some were investigated and found substantiated — those kids would have been abused for that time,” one employee said in an interview. Two department employees were interviewed on condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation for speaking with The Bee.
Officials have not released the name of the social worker at the center of the controversy, but have confirmed she no longer is employed at the department.
The Madera County Sheriff’s Office in November launched a criminal investigation that remained open, more than four months after the case came to light.
Meanwhile, state officials said the Madera department never notified the California Department of Social Services. State authorities only learned of the case when The Bee contacted them for comment. State officials are scheduled to be in Madera this week.
The consequences and scope of the crisis remain unclear — and ongoing.
At least 75 of the 357 reports involved possible sexual or other physical abuse, requiring social workers to respond within 24 hours. Another 248 reports involved allegations of neglect and required a 10-day response, according to the emails.
Some of the cases may have been ignored for up to two months.
The outcomes of the remaining 34 reports are unclear, but may have ultimately been determined unfounded. Martinez, the county’s social services director, declined to say specifically, but noted that not every report leads to an investigation.
It’s unclear exactly how many children were involved in the 357 reports. Officials wouldn’t say whether each report is made for an individual child or whether reports group siblings together.
Martinez also refused to say how many children were removed from their homes in connection with the reports, saying those details were part of the ongoing criminal inquiry.
Two employees told The Bee some children would have been removed sooner had reports been investigated properly.
“All those reports could have led to a child’s death,” one employee said. “You don’t want a child to die on your watch. It’s the biggest fear for a department — a child’s death.”
Managers and supervisors were outraged when the problem finally surfaced in early November, according to the emails.
“They also state what was found puts children of Madera County at risk and in harm’s way,” Chris Aguirre, an eligibility supervisor, wrote in a Nov. 14 email to Martinez. “The story I was told is very disturbing and I am appalled at what the worker did. Any person would find the story horrifying.”
Martinez responded, acknowledging the department was “in crisis” and described it as “pretty horrific.”
“Something I never imagined we would be facing and we are working on safeguards to ensure that it can never happen again,” she replied to Aguirre.
Martinez learned of the deserted cases late in the day on Nov. 6.
The employee was placed on leave the following day and escorted from the building. Martinez initially declined to comment on the issue, including the worker’s status. But after The Bee obtained the department’s emails, Martinez confirmed the worker’s employment formally ended Nov. 12. She declined to say whether the worker was fired or quit.
A DEPARTMENT IN CHAOS
How the issue was uncovered remains unclear, and Martinez refused to say during a recent interview with The Bee.
All of the reports appear to have come through the department’s telephone hotline number, the emails reveal.
In the emails, workers describe “pieces of paper” and “post its” that “added up to referrals” found “on and around her desk.” Reports also were hidden in special locked waste baskets, typically used for shredded documents, employees told The Bee.
Workers described to The Bee seeing the locked blue waste bins taken into a conference room where they were dumped out. Workers searched for “blue sheets,” the form workers are supposed to fill out when reports come in through the department’s hotline.
Emails describe social workers racing to catch up with the backlogged caseload as the department conducted its internal review. Employees believed it would take up to a full month just to enter each case into the department’s system for review. On Nov. 15, an email was sent to all social workers interested in working overtime to help with the backlog.
Some of the referrals didn’t have a time or date indicating when the report came in. Employees in mid-November were instructed to enter “today’s date” in the appropriate field if they couldn’t find the proper date, emails show.
Supervisors and managers worried that some abuse reports may have fallen through the cracks altogether.
“Remember that this backlog dates back to September (maybe August but there is no evidence of that),” Danny Morris, deputy director of the Madera County Department of Social Service, wrote on Nov. 20.
The emails also reveal the challenges department supervisors faced sorting through the pile of abandoned reports, including questioning whether overtime pay was available, the effect on other cases, and the strain on workers.
“Social work supervisors would like OT (overtime) to process the backlog of CPS referrals that were just recently discovered,” a department supervisor wrote to Martinez in a Nov. 13 email. “Is this something you would be willing to discuss?”
Martinez responds to Aguirre saying “I can’t pay OT and going through the lengthy process to request authorization for straight time pay has not proven to be beneficial in accomplishing the goal.”
Eventually, social workers were paid overtime, but not social work supervisors, the emails show.
Supervisors also feared falling behind on other cases while the department worked through the backlog.
“I guess I am having a hard time figuring out which areas we can sacrifice and have lack of attention in order to meet the needs referenced,” Shanel Moore, a program manager, wrote in a Nov. 20 email.
It’s not clear when the department finally cleared those cases, but as of Jan. 2, the department still had 27 referrals to complete.
“Could we encourage our (social workers) to get them done as we would like to get these wrapped up soon so we can move on with our lives,” Heidi Sonzena, a program manager, wrote in a Jan. 2 email.
STATE LEFT IN THE DARK AMID CRIMINAL PROBE
The Madera County Sheriff’s Office on Nov. 7 opened a criminal investigation, the same day the social worker was suspended.
Kayla Serratto, spokeswoman for the Madera County Sheriff’s Office, confirmed the investigation continues. She declined to release any details. The Sheriff’s Office denied a public records request seeking case documents, citing a need to protect the now months-long investigation.
“Upon the conclusion of the investigation, the case will be forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office,” Serratto said.
A state official said the California Department of Social Services was unaware of the case until contacted for comment by The Bee.
“We were not informed by the county and made contact after (The Bee’s) referral about this,” said Scott Murray, spokesman for the California Department of Social Services. Murray confirmed the state now is looking into the matter.
State officials also acknowledged the county department was not legally required to alert the state. Murray on Tuesday said state officials are scheduled to be in Madera County this week.
Martinez refused to answer questions about why the state did not know about the case.
Emails show at least some of the department’s top people wanted to keep the episode quiet, even within the office. Supervisors discussed concerns over specific employees learning of the incident.
Officials also discussed the possible ramifications of The Bee’s investigation. Martinez on Dec. 11 wrote it was “unfortunate for there to be an article on this topic,” saying “the county could use a break.”
The following day, Martinez sent another email saying the department would “just deal with the aftermath.”
‘RED FLAGS’ MISSED?
Employees interviewed by The Bee said the department likely missed “red flags” in the weeks before the disaster unfolded.
Child abuse reports typically spike in the fall, from August to around October, when schools resume after the summer break, Martinez acknowledged.
“The largest segment (of reports) are from educators — teachers,” Martinez said.
But that didn’t appear to happen in the fall of 2019 — until the rest of the reports were unearthed and the catastrophe erupted, employees told The Bee.
Martinez wouldn’t comment on what may have motivated the worker to discard the referrals.
“That’s a terrible thing to happen,” said Michael S. Wald, an emeritus professor of law at Stanford, who has drafted major federal and state legislation regarding child welfare.
Wald said the larger question is whether the department had any safeguards in place and, if so, why they apparently failed.
“That’s the bigger issue,” he said.
Martinez also said she couldn’t comment on what actions have been taken to prevent similar situations in the future because her department was still discussing preventive measures.
One employee said they were not aware of any new policies or safeguards, but said at least some steps have been taken, including the addition of a new group of hotline workers who screen calls.
“They completely brought in a new team,” an employee said.
NOT THE FIRST – OR WORST – BACKLOG EVER
News of the neglected abuse reports comes about two years after a 2018 Madera County Grand Jury report revealed a backlog of more than 1,000 cases in the department.
That unrelated backlog was linked to an “exodus of social workers” from the department between 2014 and 2016, the report found.
“During the period when DSS (Department of Social Services) was lacking social workers, a large number of client cases were left open, and services were not provided for these children,” according to the report. “There were over 1,000 of these referrals, some up to two years old.”
Martinez inherited the backlog of the more than 1,000 referrals when she took over the department in June 2017.
As the most recent crisis developed in November last year, Martinez reminded her colleagues she helped resolve the prior backlog through “aggressive and continuous recruitment,” hiring more workers, and implementing other accountability measures. That only came after failed attempts to reduce the backlog by having social work supervisors work extra hours.
Seven people charged in Vinton County Child Abuse cases
VINTON COUNTY, OH – Seven people are facing various charges for multiple instances of child abuse in Vinton County.
The Vinton County prosecutor says the seven were arrested Thursday after being indicted by a grand jury.
In a release, Vinton County Prosecutor Trecia Kimes-Brown outlined three separate cases where children under a year old were allegedly abused, and one of them died.
Kimes-Brown says in all three cases, the suspects charged have a history of drug abuse.
The indictments include:
– Nicholas Bethel, of Ray, was indicted on three counts of assault, six counts of endangering children, and one count of permitting child abuse.
– Lacey Grant, of Ray, faces charges for endangering children, and permitting child abuse.
– Tyler May, 22, of McArthur, was indicted on several charges including assault, child endangerment, and permitting child abuse.
– Savannah Peoples, 24, of McArthur, was indicted for assault, child endangerment, and permitting child abuse.
– Mark Thompson, 24, of McArthur, is charged with one count of involuntary manslaughter, one count of reckless homicide, one count of endangering children, and one count of permitting child abuse.
– Hannah Beckett, 23, of West Virginia, faces several charges including child endangerment, and permitting child abuse.
– Tyler Rucker, of Jackson County, Ohio, was indicted for using a minor in nudity oriented material.
“I believe these children are our future and deserve the best that all systems can offer,” said Kimes- Brown. “As a result, many people, through coordinated efforts, worked to attempt to bring security and justice to these victims. I am aware that there are many others who deserve the same. I will continue to use my best efforts and our available resources to ensure that we can provide them the safe environments that they need to heal and thrive.”
Her statement goes on to say, “As a result, at this time, I am asking that our local communities and our state come together to have a hearty discussion about our priorities in addressing the issues that face these children and the systems obligated to protect them. Further, I ask that once that discussion occurs that we take strategical action to implement our priorities and we fund them appropriately.”
WANTED: Suspect reportedly tried to abduct a teenage girl in Colorado
FORT COLLINS, CO – Police in Colorado are hoping a composite sketch can help lead to an arrest in an attempted abduction case.
The incident happened on Tuesday in Fort Collins at about 3:40 p.m.
Police are reporting a teenage girl was riding her skateboard on Deerfield Drive when she fell.
A vehicle described as an older, tan, four-door sedan with “bubbled window tint” stopped, and a man got out. He approached the girl, grabbed her arm, and pushed her into his vehicle.
Two men were walking nearby and approached the vehicle to intervene.
The suspect reportedly told the witnesses that he knew the victim.
The victim told them she did not know the suspect.
She fled the area on foot and called the police a short time later.
Police are asking for help in identifying the suspect and are asking the two witnesses to come forward. A composite sketch of the suspect is at the top of this article.
The suspect is described as a Hispanic man, in his early 20s, about five-foot-ten, with short hair, a thin mustache, bushy eyebrows, a deep voice and a Spanish accent. He was wearing a white tank top and blue jeans at the time. He reportedly has tattoos on both arms.
“Detectives have been diligently investigating this incident. Now that they’ve spoken to area residents and completed necessary interviews, we need the larger community’s help identifying the suspect,” said Sgt. Heather Moore, who leads the Crimes Against Persons Unit.
“We’re very grateful to the bystanders who intervened, and we also really need them to contact police to share what they saw.”
Anyone with information is asked to call 970-416-2825.