Vail Valley task force helping prevent child abuse
EAGLE — Even tough guys cannot unsee something horrible.
In a 2015 Avon case, six-month old Baby Paris was neglected to death and her two siblings were neglected and abused. It hit some in local law enforcement and child protective services like a train.
The two parents are in prison and Baby Paris’ two siblings are being looked after and loved.
“Our children are our most precious resource,” said Greg Daly, Avon police chief. “That case caused a lot of us to stop and wonder how something like this could happen, with all the support systems and mechanisms in place. But still it happened. We lost a six-month-old baby.”
“These are the types of things you never forget for the rest of your life,” Daly said.
To try to keep anything such as the Baby Paris case from happening again, local officials formed the Baby Paris Task Force.
Preventing child abuse
Daly, Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek, Kendra Kleinschmidt with the county’s Department of Human Services and Blythe Chapman-Tardie with River Bridge Regional Center met recently with the Eagle County Commissioners for a panel discussion to help mark National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
“To some degree, we need to take the gloves off and not be afraid to get into peoples lives sometimes,” Daly said. “Yes, we respect peoples’ rights, but the child also sometimes needs some protection.”
“The Baby Paris Task Force was formed at a very dark and sad time, but this is a positive result in her name. It caused us to reevaluate how, collectively, we were approaching these types of cases,” Daly said.
Because the Sheriff’s Office is the county’s largest law enforcement agency, it deals with more child abuse than other agencies, van Beek said.
“It seems there are more and more cases coming in,” van Beek said. “Dealing with these dark cases can really drag people down. It’s best to collaborate with other agencies.”
Who reports it? What is it?
Most abuse reports emanate from one of two sources:
A mandatory reporter such as an educator or childcare worker.
A family member.
Most child abuse falls into three categories:
Mental and emotional.
Reporting child abuse is a matter of trust, Daly said.
“We work hard to create and keep that trust, especially in the Hispanic community,” he said. “We are not there to enforce immigration law. We are there for them, to help them in whatever crisis they are in.”
Generally, child abuse cases are referred to an agency such as River Bridge, which does one forensic interview.
“You can taint an interview by interviewing a child too many times,” van Beek said.
A forensic interview is structured to gain information from a child about possible abuse, or the relative safety of a child’s situation, van Beek said. They’re trying to corroborate or refute possible abuse situations.
The paradigm is shifting, Chapman-Tardie said.
“Instead of requiring a child to go to all those partner agencies, we now bring all the partner agencies to the child. We are trying to dial down the stress surrounding a child abuse investigation,” Chapman-Tardie said. “We learned in the late 1980s and early ’90s, we were often exacerbating the problem by putting them through that system.”
They also learned that children and families who do not have immediate intervention could go on to have other issues: substance abuse, homelessness, sexual promiscuity, mental health and disease, Chapman-Tardie said.
“We know that if kids and families have those resources on Day One, they’re more likely to follow through and have positive outcomes,” Chapman-Tardie said.
Kleinschmidt’s department received 543 calls for some kind of assistance this past year. Of those, 45 families had a child welfare case opened and seven children have been placed outside their homes in places such as foster homes or with other family members.
If you see something, then say something, van Beek said.
Some people don’t know what to look for. They’re also concerned that if they call, then it might turn out to be nothing.
“On the other hand, it might turn out to be something,” van Beek said.
“Recognizing signs of child abuse is not always easy, but calling is,” Kleinschmidt said.