Domestic Abuse is Child Abuse
Michiana Point of View - South Bend Tribune
October 22, 2016
PCA Board Member, and St. Joseph County Lead Deputy Prosecutor, Aimee Herring
According to Indiana law, domestic battery is defined as a person who knowingly or intentionally touches a family or household member in a rude, insolent or angry manner.
Children are often the unintended victims of a tumultuous and violent relationship. Approximately 25 states, including Indiana, specifically address higher offenses and/or penalties when an act of domestic violence occurs in the presence of a child. In Indiana, for instance, it is now a Level 6 felony offense that is punishable by six months to 2½ years of incarceration when domestic battery is committed by a person older than 18 years of age when a child younger than the age of 16 is able to see or hear the offense. When reported, the Department of Child Services will be notified and has the obligation of determining whether the children in that home are safe.
The risk of physical abuse to a child increases drastically (50 percent to 70 percent) by living in a home where domestic violence is present, and the long-term effects may have a traumatic psychological effect well into adulthood. These children are six times more likely to commit suicide, 26 times more likely to commit sexual assault, 57 times more likely to abuse drugs, 74 times more likely to commit crimes against another person, and perhaps most staggering, 1,500 percent more likely to become an adult victim of domestic violence. There are studies that suggest that a child’s brain development can be affected by witnessing domestic violence, ultimately resulting in neurobiological changes to several areas of the brain. Even if your child is not the target of physical abuse in the home, the risks to a child growing up in a violent home are extremely serious.
St. Joseph County lost two vibrant young mothers in 2015 to domestic violence related homicides. In both cases, their children were found at the scene, in close proximity to their bodies. These examples are extreme, but without intense psychological interventions and a strong family support system, those children will likely suffer lifelong repercussions from witnessing this violence. It is estimated that approximately 3.3 million U.S. children are exposed to domestic violence of varying degrees every year.
Witnessing domestic violence is the predominant risk factor in transmitting violence from one generation to the next. We all have the shared responsibility of keeping our children safe.
Therefore, if you have any reason to believe that a child is witnessing violence in their home, it is your responsibility due to Indiana’s mandatory reporting law to contact your local police department or the Indiana Department of Child Services at 800-800-5556.
For more information on how you can recognize and help prevent child abuse, please visit www.pcasjc.org.
Aimee B. Herring is lead deputy prosecutor of the St. Joseph County Special Victims Unit and vice chair of Prevent Child Abuse St. Joseph County.
Important letter on 4-23-16 in the South Bend Tribune from PCA Board Member
Dr. Kristin Valentino.
No one likes to talk about or think about child abuse and neglect. Child maltreatment is an uncomfortable topic, but one that we cannot ignore. If we do not change our approach to preventing child abuse and neglect, somewhere between 1,500 and 3,000 children in the United States will die from child abuse and neglect in 2016.
In Indiana, the problem is no less concerning. Indiana ranks in the top 10 nationally for the most victims of child abuse and neglect per 1,000 children. Indiana has the third highest rate of child maltreatment for children younger than 1.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities just released its executive report with sobering statistics:
• An estimated four to eight children a day, every day, die from abuse and neglect.
• Children who die from abuse and neglect are overwhelmingly young; approximately one-half are less than a year old, and 75 percent are younger than 3 years old.
• A call to a child protection hotline is the best predictor of a child’s potential risk of injury death before age 5.
• Many young infants die from abuse or neglect without ever having been reported to Child Protective Services. If CPS doesn’t know about them, caseworkers cannot protect them. Many of these children were known to other systems (e.g. health care) and community members who had knowledge that there were potential safety issues in the home.
Our current approach to child abuse and neglect is to wait until a child is severely injured before intervening with vital supports. Our system also relies, almost exclusively, on one agency — CPS (or here in Indiana, the Department of Child Services) — to intervene with families who face multiple complex challenges. The executive report (available here: points to several places where we can improve efforts to prevent child maltreatment. In short, we must be more proactive.
To me, the most striking findings from the commission’s report were that a call to a child protection hotline was the single best predictor of a child’s potential risk of death, and that in most fatalities, there were individuals who knew about potential safety issues but failed to call CPS to make a report.
Under Indiana law, we are all mandated reporters. This means that any one of us who has a reason to suspect a child is a victim of abuse or neglect has the duty to make a report.
As a professor who specializes in child abuse and neglect, people ask me regularly about whether or not they should make a report to DCS. In most cases, the response is yes. If you suspect that child abuse or neglect has occurred, make a report. Call the hotline at 1-800-800-5556 — they will answer 24 hours a day, every day. There is no risk to you, and you could be saving a child’s life. You don’t need to be sure if abuse or neglect actually occurred; DCS will make that determination. You can remain anonymous, so no one has to know you made the call. Remember, DCS cannot intervene to protect children if we do not make reports. If you are worried about a family in crisis, but do not think that child abuse or neglect has occurred, another way to prevent child abuse and neglect is to connect that family with supports. Links to several available services, many of which are free, such as SCAN and Healthy Families, can be found on the Prevent Child Abuse St. Joseph County website (www.pcasjc.org).
It is the responsibility of Prevent Child Abuse St. Joseph County to educate, promote, support and inform members of our community about the prevention of child abuse and affirm the value of our most vulnerable, our youth. For more information about Prevent Child Abuse St. Joseph County, please visit www.pcasjc.org.
Kristin Valentino is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame. She is a board member of Prevent Child Abuse St. Joseph County.