Spokeswoman Louise Grasmehr explained plainly, "We can't investigate unless we get the call into the hotline." And in fact, it wasn't until a complete stranger alerted officials earlier this month that the 5-year-old was rescued. The good Samaritan reportedly overheard the little boy talking about someone burning his hands on a stove and the person phoned it in. (On a bright note, I learned from DCFS that the boy is recovering well in the hospital this week. Local surgeons have offered their services to reconstruct the child's disfigured hands.)
What has come to light in news reports this past week is that people in both of these children's lives knew what was going on. From the great-grandmother who told the LA Times she noticed scratches and welts but dropped the subject when she was told he was attacked by a dog to the Brooklyn neighbor who told Newsday he saw little Kyle Smith shivering outside on a cold February day in a T-shirt and shorts as his foster mother screamed at him to stay outside... people failed to act. It is outrageous and disturbing. But unfortunately, according to child welfare officials and experts, all too common.
"For the most part, it's fear of what's going to happen, fear of nothing happening, fear of collateral consequences, and denial, that 'it's none of my business, and it can't be as bad as it seems to me," explained Carol Shauffer, executive director of the Youth Law Center in a follow-up story by the LA Times.
I know in many communities, the distrust of child protective workers runs deep. And agencies, including DCFS, are working on improving their reputation by focusing on prevention and trying to keep families together after an intervention. What I take away from these tragic news stories is a call to action. These little boys remind us that all of us have a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable among us. Yes, child abuse is often caused by stress stemming from poverty, substance abuse and a cycle of violence. But it knows no boundaries of race, religion, ethnicity, class or community. Violence, verbal, emotional abuse and child neglect are problems that affect all of us.
While there are 3 million child abuse reports made every year in the United States, experts suspect incidents may actually number three times that, according to Childhelp.org
, a national child abuse prevention organization. If you or someone you know suspects a child is in danger, please call your local child welfare hotline or the national Childhelp tipline 1-800-4-A-CHILD.