Manhattan biker group works to reduce child abuse numbers in Riley County

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Members of BACA sit on their bikes in the parking lot of the Blue Hills Shopping Center on Nov. 2, 2014. (Kelly Iverson | The Collegian)

In a city where the “K-State family” is relentlessly emphasized, it may come as a shock to some that the Little Apple could ever be a place where children didn’t feel safe.

For fiscal year 2012, however, 1,868 total child victims were recorded by the state of Kansas in the 23rd edition of the Child Maltreatment 2012 annual report. The report compiles data on child abuse and neglect via the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System.

A child in need of care is a person less than 18 years of age who is not adequately cared for, been abused or neglected, been abandoned, not attending school or is a run-away from home or court-ordered placement. Child in Need of Care Intake Reports show that from July to December 2014, there were 259 reports made in Riley County alone, making up 1.46 percent of the state’s total.

To better protect and support the children from Riley County and the surrounding counties, Bikers Against Child Abuse formed a temporary chapter in Manhattan known as the Native Stone Chapter. Bikers Against Child Abuse, along with other members of the Manhattan community, hope to lower these numbers.

Types of abuse

There are two major types of child abuse according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The first kind of abuse is physical, sexual and emotional. Physical abuse is anything from hitting to shaking. Sexual abuse occurs when there is any type of sexual behavior with a minor. Lastly, emotional abuse occurs when a child sustains injury to their “psychological or emotional stability.”

The second kind of child abuse is neglect, or lack of stimulation. Malnutrition is one of the most common forms of neglect. Not providing a child’s need for shelter and safety is classified as neglect as well. Neglecting children’s cognitive needs – emotional and social for example – can also lead to many issues down the road.

Bethany Fields, assistant county attorney for Riley County, is one of six attorneys in the office that prosecute all the crimes that occur in Riley County, both misdemeanors and felonies. Her primary job is to deal directly with Child in Need of Care cases.

Children who are designated as a “child in need of care” rarely have to testify against their parents. Often, Fields can directly deal with the law enforcement or social workers to whom the abuse was initially reported. Fields said that one of the hardest things a child negotiates during the cases she works with is their love for their parents. Children feel torn between this love and the abuse that is happening. They rely on therapy and support to process what is happening.

“It’s OK to love your parents and to want to be with them, it’s just that your parents need to take responsibility to keep you safe and to provide for your needs,” Fields said.

When perpetrators have been criminally charged, children do often have to testify against their abuser. For younger children, circuit television is used for their testimony to avoid putting the child in the same room as the offender.

“That again is a scary process,” Fields said. “Most of the time it is somebody that they know, so that makes it hard for them to have to face that person.”

The courtroom sequence of events is reviewed with the child thoroughly beforehand so that he or she feels comfortable speaking in front of the jury or judge, Fields said.

Why it happens

It is hard to justify something like child abuse, but certain factors and triggers can contribute to its prevalence. Fields said that child abuse most commonly occurs when parents or caregivers get out of control.

“Getting frustrated with the child and not having the parenting skills to find other ways to discipline the child, just reacting as opposed to taking a step back and imposing a consequence,” Fields said.

Fields also said that sometimes parents were raised with spanking or switches. They then think that’s how they should raise their child.

“Some of it can be, ‘I was raised this way, this is how I will raise you,’” Fields said.

Nancy Westling, social worker with Manhattan Headstart, said the demands and frustrations of life build up on parents, especially those who had difficult childhoods themselves.

“Having been parented in a way that may have been abusive or neglectful themselves, when you’re under stress you revert to what you know,” Westling said. “In terms of that, parenting education is important.”

Fields said she sees a demographic issue.

“I think part of the problem in this area is that we have a very transit population with the college and the military that there is not a lot of extra family support that you find in other communities,” Fields said.

Manhattan’s unique demographic oftentimes leaves new parents far away from their families.

“If you lived near your family, you would have more family support for parents when they get stressed out or need a break,” Fields said. “A lot of people feel isolated in this area since they are away from family and close friends.”

Maybe they don’t consciously feel isolated and don’t want to admit that they need help, Fields said. Open dialogue and more parenting education would be helpful, but parents and caregivers have to be willing to take advantage of it.

What to do if someone is being abused?

“At Headstart, we are all mandated reporters,” Westling said.

Being mandated reporter requires any staff member to immediately report any suspicion or inclination of child abuse. The mandated reporters are required at Headstart to report instances to the Kansas Prevention and Protection Services website.

According to the “Guide to Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect in Kansas,” mandated reporters only need a minimal amount of information to make a report. Not all the facts are necessary beforehand, and a reporter only needs to have suspicions that abuse or neglect is occurring. The guide highlights the importance of not asking too many questions, because digging too much into a possible report can “alter facts of the case unintentionally.”

The Kansas Department for Children and Families, along with law enforcement officials, takes on cases after a report is made and conduct interviews with children.

“Anything we can do to support that family through the investigation or work with (the Department for Children and Families) after the investigation to help the family, we will do,” Westling said.

Solution

Education is very important. Fields said there are a lot of programs in place to do just that.

CLICK for Babies is one of these educational programs. Organized by the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, this program relays to new parents information about the Period of PURPLE Crying, which is, “a period of time when infant crying increases; beginning when babies are about two weeks old, peaking in the second month and ending around the third to fifth month.”

Along with information, parents receive a handmade cap donated by volunteers stitched in different shades of purple.

Support for the abused child is also important, especially during the trial process. That’s where organizations like Bikers Against Child Abuse come in.

Fields has had two cases where Bikers Against Child Abuse was involved with the child. One was a child victim of a sex crime where the suspect was charged criminally and the family had, with research, found Bikers Against Child Abuse.

“They came to court with the little girl and just had a presence in court,” Fields said.

The case eventually ended in a plea, so there was no trial. The girl did not have to testify, but Bikers Against Child Abuse supported her the entire time.

“It just made the victim feel very safe and gave her a lot of support and encouragement to continue on with the criminal process because it can be lengthy; it can take up to a year from the time the incident happened and is reported and that’s a long time to have to keep thinking about it,” Fields said.

The other case she had where Bikers Against Child Abuse was involved was a Child in Need of Care case. Fields never saw any members of Bikers Against Child Abuse, but she said they went to the child’s house to give them support.

“The hardest part is ensuring that the child is safe and protected when they go back home, and I cannot always be 100 percent sure that they are safe,” Fields said. “We can give parents all the skills that the agencies offer but, at the end of the day, they have to implement those skills.”

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