TERRORISTS ATTACK AUGUSTA!
With that headline, you would sit straight up and read every word of the article. You would be glued to TV, and you would search the newspaper for every related story. You would become obsessed: Who? What? Where? When? And of course, Why? And you would forever remember what you were doing when you heard the news.
But what were you doing on Jan. 3, 2001, or Feb. 28, May 9, June 27, or Dec. 21?
Do you remember? They appeared to be peaceful days, but they were not. On those days, one by one, five children died in Augusta from unprovoked attacks.
Terrorism has many faces. We are all too familiar with international terrorism and domestic terrorism (Oklahoma City, the World Trade Center). But another type of terrorism exists, one that is actually more common than the others, one that has claimed more victims. It is familial terrorism, and its victims are routinely women and children. Collectively, nearly 7,000 die each year due to abuse by a family member.
In April, National Child Abuse Prevention Month, we focus on the children. Though child abuse was first officially addressed in 1874, approximately 1 million children are still confirmed as abused each year.
Nearly 2,000 children, or five per day, die from being abused.
Why are we no better at protecting our children? There are many reasons. Child Protective Services is under-funded and understaffed. Law Enforcement is inundated. Resources for children who are abused are lacking, especially quality foster care homes, and the court system is backlogged. And on occasion, we simply do not want to get involved.
In response, many efforts are underway to better safeguard our children. The Georgia state Legislature is currently debating a new child endangerment statute, SB 407, and $14 million may be added to Georgias budget next year to provide Child Protective Services with 100 new staff members.
The local community is also working to improve. Volunteers assist Child Protective Services in managing the prodigious paperwork required for each case. The Richmond County Child Fatality Review Committee has recently reorganized to more effectively investigate unexpected or unexplained child deaths. The Domestic Violence Task Force for the Augusta Judicial Circuit has been reactivated to coordinate efforts for Intimate Partner Violence, which significantly increases the likelihood of child abuse.
What can you do? Be aware and become involved. How? First and foremost, be willing to report abuse when you suspect it. You may well be the only person who is aware of the situation, and failing to report may have fatal consequences. To report suspected abuse or neglect, contact your local Department of Family and Children Services or law enforcement agency.
Become a foster parent. There are currently only 80 certified homes in Richmond County for 350 foster care children. For more information on being a foster parent, call the Department of Family and Children Services in Richmond County (721-3934), Columbia County (541-1640), or Aiken County (202-3535).
Or, volunteer as an advocate for children in court. For more information, call the Court Appointed Special Advocates (737-4631) or the Augusta Child Advocates (737-3006). Rape Crisis and Sexual Assault Services (774-2740) is also seeking volunteers to assist with children who have been sexually abused.
The terror is real, as are the results, and the children in harms way need continued support on every personal and political level. The need is immediate.
As the poet Bariela Mistral once wrote, We are guilty of many errors and faults, but our worst crime is abandoning the children, neglecting the foundation of life. Many things we need can wait. The child cannot. Right now is the time his bones are being formed, his blood is being made and his senses are being developed. To him we cannot answer tomorrow. His name is "Today.
Failing this, the terror of child abuse will continue - as will the headlines of their deaths.
For more information on child abuse, visit the Medical College of Georgia Childrens Medical Center web site at: http://cmc.mcg.edu/child_abuse/index. htm
(Lee Bultman is coordinator of Family Intervention Services, the Medical College of Georgias program for abuse and neglect victims, and former chairman of the Richmond County Child Abuse Protocol and Child Fatality Review Committees.)
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