Program helps moms protect kids from abuse at hands of boyfriend

  • Living-illustration

    Blade illustration/ Jeff Basting

  • The numbers from Lucas County Children Services are shocking:

    Of the 53 children who died from abuse, neglect, or street violence since the spring of 2001, nearly one-third died from injuries in which their mothers’ boyfriends were found to be responsible.

    The recent high-profile beating death of NFL player Adrian Peterson’s son at the hands of his mother’s boyfriend brought the issue into the national spotlight, and local officials have blunt advice for women in relationships with abusers.

    “Get the bum out of your house, or leave him and his house,” said Dean Sparks, executive director of Children Services. “We know they don’t just stop abusing women and kids. We have to have a zero tolerance policy for men beating women, and if he’s hitting her, chances are he’s going to hit children.”

    The Peterson case so sickens Mr. Sparks that his fury could be heard during a telephone interview about the subject.

    “It just really angers me when that happens,” he said. “I’ve been doing this 35 years, and I can’t even stand to talk about it, it angers me so much.”

    One year so many children were killed at the hands of their mothers’ boyfriends in this community that the agency started the Choose Your Partner Carefully campaign.

    Dean Sparks.
    Dean Sparks.

    “For a number of years we’ve talked about this very issue,” Mr. Sparks said. “Often it’s the mother’s live-in boyfriend who kills the child.”

    The Choose Your Partner Carefully program alerts women to the signs that a partner could be a threat to her children. The agency’s Web site,, also addresses the subject as well as other issues and terms associated with domestic violence.

    Advice includes:

    ● Be concerned if your partner calls your child bad names and otherwise puts him down; thinks frightening him is amusing; refuses to let you take him to family events; says you are a bad parent and shouldn’t have children; blames you when he hurts your child, or frightens your child with weapons.

    ● If your answer is yes to any of the following questions, your child could be at risk: Does your partner become easily irritated or short-tempered when talking with the child? Have poor impulse control and need constant attention? Issue harsh punishments for breaking minor rules? Make decisions for you and your child? Use or handle weapons, alcohol, or illegal substances around your child?

    ● Additional characteristics of abusers include: a need for immediate gratification; lack of parenting skills; poor interpersonal skills and inability to interact with others; few relationships with family or friends; a poor self-concept and difficulty working with others; substance abuse; denying accusations, and blaming a victim.

    Joan Freeman, a local clinical counselor, said a man who physically or emotionally abuses the mother may really be directing the abuse toward the child, as he sees her children as taking time and attention from him and his relationship with her.

    Some of the red flags are obvious: a mate with a history of domestic abuse who is extremely controlling, possessive, and jealous, Mr. Sparks said. Sometimes the men don’t allow the women to have guests in their homes, and some men also check their mate’s vehicle odometer reading.

    “We see this over and over again,” he said.

    Ms. Freeman said abusers often grow up in troubled homes where violence is common.

    “Ultimately these are people who have their own traumas, and when they get triggered, they respond highly emotionally,” she said. “My assumption would be that these are people who maybe grew up with their own violence or were abused themselves as children.”

    Infants, toddlers, and other children cannot be treated as if they are little adults. When people do, it shows their lack of understanding of child development, Ms. Freeman said. Furthermore, a potential abuser could be someone who does not allow himself to bond or invest in a nurturing relationship with the child. Describing a child as being “in the way” or a “hassle” are red flags.

    “Children are needy, they cry, and have tantrums. Those are things that a child and all children do,” Ms. Freeman said.

    For a man who has a tendency to be abusive, stressful times with children could send him over the edge, she said, adding that it could be a problem if he’s impulsive and has a low tolerance level that he never learned to manage. Substance abuse also indicates someone’s difficulty of managing stress, she said.

    Plus, the abuser may “think that when they were a kid and they acted up, they got slapped around. You can’t do that with the infant,” she said. “I would just be looking at how they react to everyday stresses. Do they lose their cool? Make a big production out of it? Or are they able to keep things in perspective?”

    Contact Rose Russell at: or 419-724-6178.