Taking aim at child neglect

<I>The Eagle/Angel Carpenter</I><BR>Jan Keil and Parc Medford, a social service specialist, check on resources for preventing child neglect.

SENECA - The issue of child neglect came to the forefront at a gathering at Seneca School last month.

The Grant and Harney Counties Child Neglect Summit drew 64 participants from various sectors of the counties' communities with an aim to help them better recognize the signs and affects of child neglect and construct ways people can come together to help reduce it.

"Child neglect is insidious and it's out there," said Jan Keil, child welfare supervisor for Grant County DHS.

The group looked at ways to prevent neglect in the community, brainstorming ideas and creating plans of action.

Grant County Circuit Court Judge William D. Cramer Jr., the keynote speaker, ended the summit with a challenge for ideas from the meeting to be followed up on with a report to him.

Oregon's law defines child neglect as: "negligent treatment or maltreatment of a child, including but not limited to the failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter or medical care that is likely to endanger the health or welfare of the child."

Keil said a person may see a child hungry at school, left unsupervised or perhaps wearing the same clothing all the time. While these circumstances may raise a concern, they do not rise to the level of threat of harm, she said.

"They may or may not be a symptom of other things going on in the child's home," she said.

Christine Phillips, the Children Welfare Program manager for Harney, Grant and Malheur counties, said, "Neglect is the most difficult case to prove because it's not as clear cut as a bruise or other injury."

When a child is demoralized time and again they "just can't regroup in the face of adversity," Keil added. "They're worried all the time. They begin to accept demeaning situations which in time makes them unresponsive to help."

She said those children may not feel worthy of help from others if the most important people in their lives, their parents, don't provide them with their basic needs.

"Their cognitive and social development can be affected because their needs aren't met," she said. "They often don't know how to manage their own emotions."

Phillips commented that some would blame poverty for child neglect, but she says there is a difference.

"People who are impoverished can bond with their infants while others who are using drugs, and alcohol to excess, may not be capable of meeting their child's needs," she said.

Dee Wilson, director of the Northwest Institute for Children and Families in Seattle, Wash., was on hand at the summit to share information about substance abuse and chronic neglect.

There is a spectrum of neglectful parenting, he said, including: situational neglect, sporadic neglect, chronic neglect and chronic maltreatment.

He said the possible effects of substance abuse on parenting behaviors include:

? Unreliable and inconsistent in providing basic care and feeding, hygiene, supervision, protection from danger, medical care, education, increased risk of accidents

? Physically and/or emotionally unavailable for lengthy periods of time

? Frequently irritable, cranky, harsh with children

? Exacerbates family conflict and family violence, and may lead to physical abuse and emotional abuse

? Children may have access to drugs.

A dependable parent, he said, would provide basic care and ensure the child's safety. They would also provide emotional warmth, stimulation and education adequate to allow normal development, guidance, boundaries and stability in caregiving.

According to the 2008 Status of Oregon's Children report 24 Grant County children were victims of child abuse and/or neglect, and 71 percent of those children were under age 6.

The total population for the county was listed as 7,580 with 1,686 children ages 0-17.

There have been 27 children in the county in foster care at least once in 2008.

Reports of child abuse/neglect made were numbered at 881 in 2007 with 53 percent of the reports assessed and 18 percent founded.

So what should a person do if they think a child is suffering from neglect or abuse?

"If someone is concerned we would rather that they call," Phillips said. The person reporting doesn't have to determine whether abuse or neglect occurred, she added, "that's the job of the DHS screener."

The child abuse hotline for Grant, Harney and Malheur is 877-877-5081.

The summit which was funded by the Children's Justice Act Task Force and facilitated by officials from Portland State University was attended by representatives from law enforcement, courts, school districts, Families First, Commission on Children and Families, the medical community, mental health, Department of Human Services and others.

A few of the brainstorming ideas from the meeting were: parent mentoring, build a house to facilitate DHS parent/child visits in a homier atmosphere, ways to address hunger and a plan to start a kids club.

Sgt. Gordon Larson of the Oregon State Police attended the summit and said, "If we combine our efforts on a single focus we can make a difference in the lives of children."

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