Three-month-old Carter Steinmiller was tortured to death; his tiny body bore 23 bone fractures and burns from cigarettes. Baby Elaina Steinfurth, 18 months old, died after she was hurled across a room and then suffocated; her decomposed body displayed fractures on her arms and legs.
In northwest Ohio between April, 2012, and April, 2013, 12 children died of abuse, says Dean Sparks, executive director of Lucas County Children Services. Across the nation, four children die of abuse each day, says Dr. Michele Knox, an associate professor at University of Toledo’s medical school.
Typical victims are toddlers and babies under age 1 who were shaken, drowned, hit, or thrown. Their abusers and killers are mentally unstable or on drugs; immature and narcissistic; poor and stressed; unaware of how children mature; unfamiliar with parenting; lacking family support, and often victims of abuse themselves.
They don’t understand that crying is how babies communicate. They think a child should be potty trained by 8 months. They believe you stop a baby from screaming by hitting him or her.
The United States has no systematic way to prepare parents for the most important job of their life, yet “we give parents permission to use harsh physical punishment on children,” Dr. Knox says. Corporal punishment leads to increased aggression and delinquency, mental-health problems, and worse parent-child relationships, she says.
What is the better alternative? The Toledo area has a number of agencies that offer help and referrals to parents: the 24-hour 211 hot line of the United Way of Greater Toledo, and programs operated by the Family and Child Abuse Prevention Center, Lucas County Children Services, and Heartbeat of Toledo. Mercy runs a 24-hour Crying Baby Hot Line at 419- 251-5555.
Beneath the surface of budget negotiations in Washington is the fate of funding for two programs that offer home visits to help prevent child abuse: Help Me Grow for first-time parents, and Mothers and Infants Early Childhood Home Visitation for Hispanic families.
In the Toledo area, these programs employ 10 social workers, educators, and nurses, says Connie Cameron, a psychiatric clinical nurse specialist and manager of grant-funded programs at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center.
The local programs have a budget of about $250,000 a year. They lost some funding during the Great Recession and from federal budget sequester cuts, Ms. Cameron says. She says she needs a staff of 25 and would like fewer funding restrictions on whom the programs can serve.
President Obama has made home visits a priority for federal aid, she adds. Face-to-face visits are often the best ways to assess explosive family situations and head off abuse. Congress would be wise to lend a vital helping hand to such programs.
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