Proclamation on National Child Abuse
Prevention Month, 2020
Issued on: March 31, 2020
Childhood should be filled with joy, hope, unconditional love, and acceptance. Tragically, however, far too many of our Nation’s young people spend this foundational time of their lives in fear, pain, and uncertainty, enduring abuse and neglect that threatens their health and well-being. During National Child Abuse Prevention Month, we condemn this horrific depravity and reaffirm our unwavering commitment to protecting our children and strengthening our families.
Each year, hundreds of thousands of children across our country suffer from abuse and neglect, a fact that is both sobering and heart-wrenching. In January, I signed an Executive Order to coordinate the Federal Government’s efforts to prosecute individuals who sexually exploit children online, protect and support victims of child exploitation, and provide prevention education to raise awareness and help lower the incidence of child exploitation. I also signed into law legislation to enhance our child welfare systems by supporting at-risk families through mental health and substance abuse treatment and programs to develop parenting skills.
With our international partners in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, the United States developed the Voluntary Principles to Counter Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse. The Voluntary Principles establish a baseline framework for companies that provide online services to deter use of the internet as a tool for sexually exploiting and abusing children. Several major technology companies have publicly adopted the principles and more will follow in the coming months. These companies have a responsibility to prevent their platforms from becoming a haven for child predators and to also ensure law enforcement is able to investigate and prosecute offenders when children have been victimized.
Child abuse causes the loss of innocence and hope. Loving, devoted, and caring families can serve as a bulwark against our children suffering from neglect and abuse. Child Welfare Information Gateway, the information service of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Children’s Bureau, offers several resources on preventing child abuse and promoting healthy families through its National Child Abuse Prevention Month website. Familiarizing yourself with the information provided by the Department of Health and Human Services can help you learn more about what you and your community can do to support children and families during this month and throughout the year.
To eradicate this blight on our society, compassionate and concerned Americans must work to effect change and impact young lives. Child welfare agencies, clergy members, educators, medical and law enforcement professionals, neighbors, friends, and extended family members all contribute to protecting and nurturing our Nation’s youth. Foster, kinship, and adoptive parents open their hearts and their homes to children in crisis and empower them to find happiness and achieve their dreams. Working together, these forces for good can ensure the welfare of children who have experienced the traumas of abuse or neglect and give them a promising future.
The success of our Nation is reflected in our economic and cultural prosperity and military might, but our character is revealed by how we cherish and protect the weak, innocent, and vulnerable. All children are uniquely created in the image of God and gifted with both purpose and unlimited potential. We can and must relentlessly protect our children, homes, and communities from the scourge of these shameful tragedies and support families and communities to ensure that all children have the opportunity to reach their potential.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 2020 as National Child Abuse Prevention Month. I call upon all Americans to invest in the lives of our Nation’s children, to be aware of their safety and well-being, and to support efforts that promote their psychological, physical, and emotional development.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirty-first day of March, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-fourth.
It may seem odd to baby-proof your home when your infant can’t even roll over yet, but you may be surprised at how soon he’ll be getting around and getting into things. So it’s never too soon. Take the time to baby-proof when your little one is still brand new or even before he arrives.
Tie It Down
Time to secure your TVs and furniture — just in case. Use furniture straps to hold TVs, bookshelves, dressers, and other heavy furniture in place in any rooms where your child might be left alone, even for a minute. Don’t put a TV on top of a dresser — the drawers can be used for climbing. Put corner or edge bumpers on any furniture with sharp edges.
You might not see your toilet as a hazard, but the water in it, and the toilet lid, can be a danger for a curious child. So prevent any problems: Remember to always keep toilet lids down and secured with a lid lock.
Control Your Cords
Use cord holders to keep longer cords fastened against walls. That way, your little one can’t tug on a tangle of computer cords and other electrical wiring. That could keep your baby safe from electrical hazards or heavy equipment that falls after a couple of tiny tugs.
Give Baby a Safe Night’s Sleep
Make sure your baby’s crib has fixed rails. Or if you must use an older crib, don’t use the drop-side rail, or get an immobilizer for it. (Cribs with drop-side rails are banned.) Test the crib to make sure your baby can’t fit his head between the slats. If you can slide a soda can between the slats, they’re too wide. Always keep soft items like blankets, pillows, stuffed toys, and bumpers out of your baby’s sleep space.
Manage Your Medication
Store all medicines in a high, locked cabinet. Never take medicine out of its original childproof container. Try not to take medicine in front of your child or he may want to imitate you. Never call medicine “candy.” And don’t flush old pills down the toilet. Get rid of them through your local drug take-back program, or put them in a sealed bag with something your child won’t want to eat — like kitty litter or coffee grounds — and throw it in the trash.
Tie all blind cords high out of reach, or cut the ends and attach breakaway safety tassels. Never put a crib or child’s bed near window blinds or drapes. Those dangling cords can be a choking risk.
Put outlet covers on all exposed electrical sockets to keep your little one from getting an electric shock. Some small outlet covers can be a choking hazard if a baby or toddler pries them out of the wall. Look for “childproof” covers that require two hands to remove or cover plates that screw on. For double protection, place large furniture in front of outlets.
When It’s Time for a Change
You’ll probably be surprised at how fast your baby learns to roll over — and the changing table becomes a falling hazard. Be sure your changing table has safety straps and always buckle up when diapering your child. Don’t ever leave baby alone on the table. Plan ahead and have all the items you need — diapers, wipes, baby cream, nail clippers, and a small toy — handy before you start to change the baby.
Lock It Up
Protect curious kids from household cleaners and other chemicals by storing those items in locked cabinets or installing safety latches that lock when you close the cabinet door. Do the same for any low cupboards that contain risky items like small appliances. For added safety, store hazardous items up high and far away from small fingers.
Safety in the Car
Keep your baby safe in your car, too — in a rear-facing car seat until he’s 2. Don’t use a car seat if you don’t know its history. It may have been involved in a car crash or it may be past its expiration date. Avoid a used car seat that looks damaged or is missing parts or the instructions. Avoid recalled models, too. You can find out more about car seat safety from the manufacturer or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (http://www.safercar.gov).
Make tub time fun, but safe, for your little one. Prevent scalding by adjusting your hot water heater so that the water is no hotter than 120 degrees. Install no-slip strips on the bottom of your tub and a soft cover on the faucet to protect tender heads. Most important, never leave your baby or toddler alone in the tub, even for a moment.
Limit Baby’s Movement
If there are some rooms you don’t want to baby proof, use baby gates to keep your little one from getting into them. Also install gates at the top and bottom of the stairs beforeyour baby gets mobile. Don’t use accordion-style gates, which could trap the baby’s head. Look for gates that attach securely to the wall but won’t pinch small fingers.
Prevent Window Falls
Place your child’s crib and other furniture away from windows. Don’t rely on standard window screens — they’re meant to keep insects out, not children in. Instead, install childproof screens, or even better, window guards, which are proven to prevent falls.
Around Pools and Water Features
Take steps to safeguard areas around pools, hot tubs, and other home features with standing water, like fish tanks and ponds. Backyard pools should be completely surrounded by a 4-foot fence, preferably with a self-latching gate. Pool covers and alarms may provide additional protection. Don’t leave toys floating in pools. And just like in the tub, never take your eyes off a child near water.
Practice Toy Safety
Baby toys should be safe for babies. Your child’s toys should be much larger than his mouth, to prevent choking. Check that all the parts attached to a toy — like doll eyes or teddy bear bows — are securely fastened and can’t be torn off. Remove mobiles attached to a crib as soon as your baby can push up on his hands and knees.
You may leave appliances such as the toaster, coffee maker, or paper shredder plugged in for convenience. But some appliances can harm your child if she turns them on, pulls them down on her, or gets tangled in a cord. Unplug them when you’re not using them and put them away, out of reach, if you can.
Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are essential to your family’s safety. Install a smoke alarm outside every bedroom or sleeping area, and make sure there’s at least one on every floor. Don’t put smoke detectors near the kitchen or bathroom — these areas can trigger false alarms that may leave you inclined to ignore them. Check the batteries every month.
Choose a Safer Toy Box
Choose a toy box with a safe design. Avoid containers with hinged lids that slam down. You want one with a light, removable lid or one that slides. If yours has a hinged top, make sure it has a lid support that can prop the lid open. Pick a toy box with ventilation holes or a gap beneath the lid — in case a kid climbs in.
Get Your Child’s Point of View
The best way to baby proof is to see things the way your baby does. Get down on your hands and knees and crawl around. What’s at baby’s eye level and within easy reach? Kids can be curious about anything they see, like computer cords and glassware on low shelves. You might not notice breakable or hazardous items when you’re towering above them.
Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 27, 2019
He Didn’t Abuse His Daughter. The State Took Her Anyway.
What does it mean to be a parent? One man hopes his case will change how a decades-old New York law treats unwed fathers.
For the first five years of his daughter Amanda’s life, Ping N., a restaurant manager in Manhattan, lived with his little girl and her mother. He tucked her into bed at night and enjoyed spoiling her with her favorite snacks, like fish balls, egg tarts and ramen noodles.
But when child welfare officials found that Amanda’s mother had inflicted excessive corporal punishment on her in 2013, they removed the girl from the home. Even though court records show that Ping had never committed abuse and was not present when it took place, a judge later decided that he would lose his daughter, too. Ping could not have custody or any say in her life anymore.
Lawyers for Ping, an immigrant from China whose surname is being withheld to protect the identity of his children, are now appealing that decision in what they hope will be a test case that changes how the decades-old law treats unwed fathers.
In New York and 11 other states, if a mother is accused of abuse or neglect but the father is not, and he is not married to her, he must prove that he is a parent in his own right — otherwise he will not have a say in whether the child is put up for adoption. In most of those states, including New York, proof means paying child support — not to the mother but to the government agency that has taken the child.
“This is just blatant discrimination based on stale gender stereotypes — that the only way to be a father is to have a wedding ceremony or else to be a kind of rote financial provider,” said Martin Guggenheim, a law professor at New York University who studies family law and children’s rights.
Defenders of the New York law, which dates to 1980, say it helps children who have been languishing in foster care to get a permanent home sooner by preventing unmarried fathers who do not support their children from using the courts to delay or stop an adoption.
If those fathers had full rights, “we would have to prove by clear and convincing evidence that he abandoned the child … which can take years,” said Ira L. Eras, a New York lawyer who has mostly represented foster care agencies for three decades.
A Family Court judge in Manhattan ended Ping’s parental rights last year, paving the way for Amanda’s adoption by another family. The judge cited Ping’s status as an unwed father at the time of his daughter’s birth and his failure to pay child support to Catholic Guardian Services, the foster care agency that the city’s child welfare arm, the Administration for Children’s Services, had hired to take custody of the girl.
Ping’s appeal, which was submitted in February and will be argued this fall by lawyers with the Family Defense Clinic at New York University School of Law, contended that he was financially supporting his daughter by giving her clothes, toys, food, gift cards and money, as well as by paying for outings and meals they had together. Ping said he was never told that he also owed child support to the government and had never received a bill.
His lawyers added that there was no apparent way for fathers to pay child support to New York foster care agencies, a claim echoed by other lawyers in similar cases.
A spokeswoman for the Administration for Children’s Services, Chanel Caraway, and the executive director of Catholic Guardian Services, Craig Longley, both said they could not comment on a specific case. Ms. Caraway also declined to comment on whether the agency had ever tried to get fathers to pay child support in these situations.
The state does not track how often the law is given as the reason for ending a father’s parental rights. But a review of Family Court decisions and interviews with foster care lawyers suggests it is routinely cited in those cases.
Last week, David Dunbar, a 43-year-old overnight grocery store manager from the South Bronx, narrowly missed becoming one of them.
After the mother of Mr. Dunbar’s daughter developed severe mental illness in 2014, the children’s services agency deemed her to be an unfit parent and placed the girl, Destiny, then 10, in foster care. In order for her to be adopted, the agency had to show that Mr. Dunbar was also not a fit parent.
Although court records show that Mr. Dunbar consistently visited Destiny, took parenting classes and passed drug tests, the foster care agency, St. Dominic’s Family Services, argued that his rights should be ended in part because he failed to communicate regularly with officials about his plans for his daughter.
As the years went on, the agency began citing the state’s decades-old law as an alternate reason for ending Mr. Dunbar’s rights, court records show. But at a hearing in Manhattan on Sept. 18, the agency dropped its petition, largely because Destiny, now 16, had repeatedly stated to the court that she wanted to be with her father.
“I loved my daughter’s mother,” Mr. Dunbar said. “I wish I could’ve married her. I wish we could have lived a wonderful life together. But we didn’t. That doesn’t mean I’m not a dad.”
Diane Aquino, the chief operating officer of St. Dominic’s Family Services, said that she could not comment on an individual case but that the agency would not try to end a father’s rights if he were “actively planning for his child.”
“Five years in foster care indicates a father who is only intermittently planning,” Dr. Aquino said.
A half-century ago, unwed fathers had even fewer rights. But a landmark Supreme Court decision in 1972 redefined fatherhood, to an extent.
In that case, the justices found that a state could not deny an unwed father his parental rights without demonstrating that he was unfit. Over the next decade, legislators in New York and at least nine other states decided that the fitness of these unmarried fathers would be judged by whether they paid child support and maintained some relationship with the child.
When those laws were passed, many policymakers had a particular scenario in mind: a single mother who wanted to give up her child for adoption. Their goal was to prevent an absentee father from thwarting the mother’s decision without having paid child support.
But they did not take into account adoptions that occurred after a government agency had taken a child from a mother because of abuse or neglect. In order to satisfy the law, the unwed father would technically have to send payments to the government.
In New York, lawyers for fathers said that making payments to foster care agencies was not even possible. The agencies do not try to collect the money, they said, and fathers do not know where or to whom to send it.
“I’ve tried to imagine ways of doing it — having my clients get child support orders against themselves, which they can then pay, or offer to pay the agency in cash every time they can, just so it’s in the record that they tried,” said Yusuf El Ashmawy, a lawyer who represents Mr. Dunbar and other fathers. “It’s mind-bending.”
Since its passage nearly four decades ago, New York’s law has not been updated, even as the culture and the courts have embraced more expansive views of what makes a family . The state’s highest court struck down an earlier provision requiring unwed fathers to be living with their child’s mother in order to have a say in an adoption, but it has not directly ruled on other aspects of the statute.
Ping’s lawyers hope his argument will sway the court.
His daughter Amanda, now 11, was adopted by a white family with whom she has bonded. She lost her ability to communicate with Ping in Mandarin; he does not speak English. Ping eventually married Amanda’s mother, and they had a son, Owen, now 6. Ping’s wife has since died, and he is raising his son on his own.
How a stressed out Kentucky social
worker accused the wrong father
of Child Abuse
THESE MISTREATED, OVERWORKED, UNDERPAID WORKERS…. I’m almost in tears…. NOT!!!! This Dear couple, the Humphries, was most pobably being setup so these poor mistreated kidnappers could have their Children by now.
Who knows how many Children’s lives have been lost or ruined, and how many Families have been broken up or innocent lives lost because of these people’s above-the law crimes.
On a Sunday morning in late August, while Karin Humphries was still in her nightgown, a sheriff’s deputy knocked at her door.
Karin, 31, was home with two of her four children, including her second youngest — a three-year-old daughter. Her husband, Brandon, 31, had just left to get a haircut.
Stunned at the unexpected visit, Karin worried something had happened to her two oldest boys, and her stomach dropped.
But the Hardin County sheriff’s deputy was there for a different reason. Carrying a summons, he asked to speak to Brandon, who had been ordered to appear before a Fayette County judge the following week for alleged abuse and neglect of their three-year-old.
“YOU COULD LOSE YOUR CHILDREN. YOU SHOULD HAVE A LAWYER,” was printed in bold on the page.
Horrified, never having seen her husband abuse their daughter or noticing any signs of neglect, Karin told the deputy he’d made a mistake. He countered by referencing the detailed statement their Fayette County social worker, Brittany Philpot, had attached to the petition.
“But we don’t have a social worker, and I don’t even know where Fayette County is,” Karin remembers telling him. Other than a visit from a child protective services worker several years ago over an issue with Karin’s ex-husband, Karin said they’ve never had any involvement with the state Department for Community Based Services, which handles child welfare matters.
A frantic Brandon, who arrived at their Rineyville home within minutes of Karin calling to say he’d been summoned, began thumbing through the paperwork with the deputy. His and Karin’s birth dates and Social Security numbers were correct, but he noticed his daughter’s information was correct on some pages but not others. And the legal name of the three-year-old’s listed biological mother was the name of a woman who lived in Lexington that neither he nor Karin knew. The Lexington woman and Brandon were listed as legal guardians.
“Within 10 seconds of reading it, I knew this wasn’t about us, that there had been a mistake,” Brandon said in his living room two weeks later.
Included in the summons were intimate details about the Lexington woman, a 21-year-old mother with two children, including a three-year-old daughter who shares an almost identical name to Brandon and Karin’s daughter. The woman later spoke to the Herald-Leader. Her identity is being withheld, along with her daughter’s name, because they are possible victims of abuse.
The paperwork given to the Humphrieses included the Lexington mother’s address, both her and her daughter’s Social Security numbers, which daycare the children attend, and details of their case, including results of drug tests the mother has taken, recent medical history, currently prescribed medications, instances of potential domestic violence, and details explaining why Philpot, 28, believes the three-year-old is “at risk of harm” in her mother’s home.
“We’re panicking, thinking, you’ve got the wrong kid, and is there a child in need somewhere and you don’t know where she is?” Karin recalled.
Around this time, more than 90 miles away, law enforcement knocked on the Lexington mother’s door with a copy of the same paperwork in tow, where the child the summons was issued to protect lives. Her copy, like theirs, included the address, birth dates and Social Security numbers of Karin and Brandon Humphries and their daughter.
For the Humphrieses, there was little they could do on a Sunday afternoon. They made several calls anyway, including to Philpot, whose number was on the summons. She didn’t pick up, so Brandon left a message.
Not knowing how quickly the issue would get resolved and being unfamiliar with the process, the couple was afraid their daughter might be mistakenly taken by child protective services, so they hastily found a lawyer for $250 an hour to appear for them in court the following Wednesday.
That night, Karin and Brandon couldn’t sleep.
“It was terrifying, literally, for two days,” Karin said, “to be sitting, watching your driveway, thinking at any moment someone might show up and take my three-year-old.”
Paranoid when their older children went to school Monday morning, Karin and Brandon asked their teachers to please call them first if anyone showed up asking questions about their kids.
Later that day, Karin phoned the Lexington mother for the first time, and found out the packets they both received were virtually identical.
When Karin shared with the Lexington mother they’d been given the specifics of her and her children’s case, “I was humiliated,” the mother said.
“I still am humiliated. I just don’t think anyone has the right to know those personal details about me and my children,” she said, adding that in the three weeks since, the state still hasn’t told her of the mix up. Earlier this week, a state employee called to say her case had been given to a different social worker without explaining why, she said.
At the Humphrieses’ that evening, state officials had begun returning phone messages, including Philpot, who wrongly assured the couple no one else had received their personal information, they said.
Two days later, the Humphrieses’ attorney returned from the hearing saying officials said all paperwork with their information had been collected and digital copies destroyed. He then handed over what he’d been given in court, which included bits and pieces of summons from other cases, they said. One of those papers included personal information about the Lexington mother’s son, who has a different father than her daughter. This led the Humphrieses to wonder, again, whether their personal information had been shared with someone else, perhaps this boy’s father, who lives in Eastern Kentucky.
Philpot and her bosses would later apologize in an interview with the Herald-Leader for her error as an “honest mistake,” but acknowledged it’s a symptom of a broader issue facing Kentucky’s child welfare system: caseworkers continue to struggle with untenable caseload volumes, increasing the likelihood for mistakes and unintended consequences.
In Kentucky right now, the average social worker manages at least double the number of recommended cases — each of which involves the welfare of a child. When Philpot pulled a wrong file that led to the mix up, she was managing nearly five times that amount.
Her slip up led to the spread of personal information, invoking fear and stoking two families’ distrust in the state’s largest branch of government. And for the Humphrieses, eventually to an ameliorating offer of $5,000 from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to cover at least five years’ worth of credit monitoring and repayment of the Humphrieses’ attorney fees, they said. Cabinet officials would not confirm the specifics of the proposed settlement.
The offer, though, was extended on the condition that the couple agree not to sue the state, return the mixed documentation and that Karin take down a Facebook post she made about the incident, even though it didn’t include names.
They said no.
“The ability to tell our story is worth more,” Brandon said.
‘She made a mistake’
Philpot is a veteran in her profession, despite her young age. With more than six years as a state social worker under her belt, her tenure more than doubles that of many of her colleagues in Fayette County, one of the most case-heavy regions in the state, where most who leave the job do so after fewer than two years. That’s in part why she’s chief on her investigatory team, holding the highest position under her supervisor.
Her work history is also sparkling, one of her supervisors, Alicia Miller, said.
“I never have worried about a case that Brittany has investigated, or any of the information she brings back from an investigation,” Miller said.
Philpot took the job immediately after college, earnest and passionate about protecting children. In the nearly seven years since, she’s seen colleagues buried under hefty caseloads, inadequate pay and high stress spurred by long work hours flee to other professions. But it hasn’t shaken her resolve, even as she’s seen her own caseload grow to an unmanageable size. In one recent pay period, Philpot logged 48 hours of overtime, she said.
“I can attest to the caseloads in Fayette County — almost every worker I have has a high caseload and it’s due to staff turnover,” Miller said.
A year-long study completed by a state legislative committee in 2017 found Kentucky to have some of the highest caseloads in the nation, and the annual turnover rate in the profession was 24 percent. In a report issued this summer, the state average was still about 31 cases per worker — twice as high as the federal recommended standard of 15 to 17.
Raises were given to social workers across the state three years ago for the first time since 2008 as a way to stave off high turnover rates, boost morale, and create an avenue by which employees could work their way up to higher-paying positions. Starting salaries are now around $34,000. Philpot earns $43,090, according to state records.
In 2018, Gov. Matt Bevin’s biennial budget included $22.2 million tofund more pay increases for about 10 percent of social workers, and another $28 million to hire new social workers and replace outdated technology.
But progress is slow going.
Currently, the average caseload size in Fayette County is 33, according to state data. And the number of social workers hired in the area in 2019 compared with how many have quit is virtually break even: between Jan. 1 and Sept. 15, 19 social workers were hired and 16 left. In the 10 central Kentucky counties that make up the Southern Bluegrass region, including Fayette, 27 social workers have been hired this year, while 30 have quit.
Today, Philpot manages 60 cases — almost five times the federally recommended amount. Each case represents a family of varying size, meaning she manages well over 100 children, all of whom are in vulnerable and potentially dangerous positions. It’s a workload she admitted “is not doable.”
When she mistakenly swapped the Humphrieses’ three-year-old with the Lexington mothers’, she was managing 56 cases, according to her personnel records.
Philpot erred when she pulled the wrong name from Kentucky’s birth index, a statewide registry with personal information for every person born in Kentucky. That day, she also pulled information for about 10 other children, in order to issue similar juvenile dependency, abuse and neglect petitions to their parents.
Complicating matters, the Lexington three-year-old’s name was spelled incorrectly in the system, “so when I searched her in the birth index, the other child is the one that came up,” and, always tight for time, she didn’t double check her Social Security number and birth date, Philpot said in an interview Monday alongside Miller, Department for Community Based Services Commissioner Eric Clark, Cabinet for Health and Family Services Chief of Staff Tresa Straw, and DCBS Chief of Staff Lesa Dennis. They all defended Philpot’s work performance and said no reprimand was necessary.
“I made an honest mistake. I was very overwhelmed,” Philpot said. “I would never intentionally put stress on a family like this.”
Clark said he and others chose to speak publicly about the incident to admit a mistake was made, and to rebuff the Humphrieses’ notion that accountability means “publicly shaming” Philpot for a simple error.
Workforce retention is a constant struggle for the department, the officials agreed, and it’s likely to be exacerbated now that the Humphrieses are using “this as a platform to ruin a good worker’s career and publicly humiliate her,” Clark said.
“Let’s talk about mistakes. Let’s talk about outcomes due to high caseloads,” he said. “There are much more egregious things that can happen due to high caseloads outside of mailing something to the wrong address.”
Miller said it’s hard for people outside the industry to understand the toll it takes.
“For someone who doesn’t understand what the agency does and just wants to have an outlet for their own benefit when we’re here trying to protect kids, trying to make sure families have what they need, it puts a bad taste in your mouth. That there are people out there who have no clue what we do but want to drag us through the mud when we have really good workers who are trying to do their jobs.”
‘Not going to correct what happened’
In the weeks since the incident, Karin and the Lexington mother have been communicating regularly. She’s due in court for her daughter’s case in early October, and Karin, who said she feels obligated “not to turn our back on her and her kids,” plans to go.
Though Clark wouldn’t provide specifics, he said the state has tried “everything we can” to remediate the issue with the Humphrieses, but to no avail, because what they want is “more precious taxpayer dollars to pay them out for this mistake.”
The Humphrieses, though, said they’re not interested in money, especially if it comes with strings attached, and they don’t understand why they’re being portrayed as exploitative.
What they want is accountability and assurance that this won’t happen again.
“How big of a mistake are they allowed to make before something changes?” Brandon said. “They still can’t tell us who all has our information. We understand that mistakes get made, but we didn’t ask to be brought into this.”
But instead of getting bogged down scrutinizing isolated mistakes, Clark said, the department must focus on retaining more of its employees.
A big part of that means standing behind overworked staff by transparently owning minor mistakes and publicly defending them — what he called “a new way of operating.”
“We have got to stop workers from leaving our agency in two years or less,” he said, and figuring out, “how can we create an environment where workers feel supported in spite of high caseloads?”
As for what should happen as a result of Philpot’s mix up, Clark was unequivocal: “There does not need to be a change in how we operate in the Department for Community Based Services,” he said.
Accountability is necessary, he said, but this isn’t what it looks like.
“A new policy, a new procedure, disciplinary action is not going to prevent this from happening again, and it’s not going to correct what happened,” he said.
“It’s important for us to demonstrate to Brittany and our entire workforce that we care about them, because we need them. We’re not going to let bad outcomes define who we are.”
The Good, the Bad and the Puzzling in
Child Maltreatment Counts
Each year, the Oklahoma agency that tracks and investigates abuse and neglect of children issues a detailed statistical report.
Buried in all of the numbers is what appears to be a hopeful trend.
During the past six years, the number of child abuse cases – the most severe form of child maltreatment – has plummeted by more than 50 percent, to 1,407 last year.
At the same time, another measure of how Oklahoma treats its children has risen to alarming levels. During the same period, the number of substantiated cases of child neglect has tripled, to 13,394. That drove an overall 18% increase in the number of cases of abuse, neglect or both since fiscal year 2012, a data analysis by Oklahoma Watch found.
But why would neglect soar and abuse plummet?
Human Services Department officials say they don’t know why, except mainly to suggest that when it comes to child neglect, citizens and professionals who deal with children have become better educated about recognizing the problem, which is defined more broadly than abuse, and are more inclined to report suspected cases.
No one at DHS or among child advocacy groups seems to be celebrating. Some advocates question whether the statistics are accurate and, as they did at a recent legislative hearing, continue to push for more funding to prevent and respond to both abuse and neglect.
“Why overall it (abuse) keeps going down, I don’t know,” said Debi Knecht, DHS deputy director of child welfare programs. “I would like to think society just evolves and stops abusing kids, but I don’t know why that is just in one particular area.”
Among the thousands of substantiated cases of abuse and neglect each year, a large majority involve only neglect. In fiscal 2018, neglect cases made up 86% of the total 15,591 cases, compared with 9% for abuse and 7% for both abuse and neglect.
The most common types of abuse are a threat of harm, such as a child who is in danger of abuse because of their proximity to physical violence; beating or hitting by hand, and beating or hitting with an instrument.
The most common types of neglect are threat of harm, which is when a child faces a direct threat from their environment, such as a home where drug use is present; exposure to domestic violence, and failure to protect a child.
Knecht credits most of the increase in cases of child neglect to statewide efforts to teach law enforcement, teachers and others who work with kids how to recognize and report the problem. Education drives up the number of reports that come into the agency, which leads to more substantiated reports, she said.
Knecht said the opioid epidemic and popularity of methamphetamine have also contributed to growing reports of neglect that involve substance abuse.
Knecht said the increase in neglect cases also could mean the agency is taking action earlier and thus preventing physical abuse. Another contributing factor could be a cultural shift that has caused fewer parents to spank their children, she said.
But Knecht acknowledged it is difficult on the surface to reconcile the divergent trends. An increase in reporting would more likely point to an increase in substantiated abuse, not a decrease, as it did with neglect cases, she said.
Child advocates question the accuracy of the data, saying the number of child abuse cases they see has remained steady or even increased over the past several years.
Dr. Ryan Brown, a child-abuse pediatrician at The Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City, said he has seen more cases of child abuse in recent years, not fewer.
“No matter what the DHS numbers say, those physical abuse numbers are not going down,” Brown said.
National reports from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also show an increase in children suffering from abuse and neglect combined.
Mary Abbott Children’s House conducts forensic interviews of children ages 3 to 18 for criminal investigations in Cleveland, Garvin and McClain counties and surrounding areas. Interviewer Christi Cornett said the organization interviews around 480 children per year, and that number has remained steady since at least 2013.
Joe Dorman, CEO of the the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, and Nellie Kelly, executive director of the Child Protection Coalition, said the reported drop in child abuse cases contradicts what they see every day.
“I want to believe we’re getting better, but I find it hard to believe,” Dorman said.
Reporting Abuse and Neglect: All Oklahomans 18 or older are required to report child abuse or neglect. Reports can be made 24 hours a day, any day, to the state Department of Human Services at 1-800-522-3511.