Prevent Child Abuse Rockdale: For more information on Active Parenting Now classes or volunteering, call (770) 483-7333 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rockdale CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates): For more information on becoming a CASA, call 770-761-0202 or go to http://rockdalecasa.org
The Rockdale County DFCS office can be reached at 770-388-5030.
Heart breaking and horrific cases of child abuse killings that have dominated the headlines seem to be on the rise in Rockdale. But local child advocates want the public to know there are resources to turn to and ways to prevent more tragedies from happening.
In July 2010, 5-month-old baby James Stewart died from a 6-inch fracture to the head and 25 fractures in various stages of healing at the time of his death. His mother Matea Stewart and adopted father William Grant Stewart, who were both 21 at the time, were both were found guilty of murder and abuse in September 2012, although Matea was acquitted of malice murder, and both sentenced to life without parole.
In March 2011, 3-year-old Edna Figueroa died after being severely shaken and struck on the top of her head. Raul Solis, 21, the boyfriend of the child's mother, pled guilty March 2012 to felony murder and cruelty to children in the first degree.
In April 2011, 3-year-old Cayden Allen died from blunt force trauma to the head and had injuries to his head, back and genital areas. James Sims, 24, the boyfriend of the child's mother, was found guilty in September 2012 on all charges including malice murder, two counts of felony murder, cruelty to children and aggravated battery.
In September 2012 in nearby Newton County, 7-year-old Ethan Israel Martinez died from his injuries after being taken to Children's Hospital. David Mann Jr., the live-in boyfriend of the child's mother and the only adult home at the time of the incident, was charged with felony murder, cruelty to children and aggravated battery.
Lynn Killman Wetzel, director of the Rockdale CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), pointed out that there seemed to be a common thread among the recent child abuse fatality cases.
“The cases in the last two to three years have almost exclusively have been mothers who left their children with someone who was not their father. Where there had already been domestic violence in the home. But mothers need to be instructed, you don’t just leave your baby with anybody.”
Diane Howington, director of Prevent Child Abuse Rockdale, agreed. “There are so many single mothers… and then there’s this boyfriend comes along and they’re leaving their children with people they don’t really know and (they don’t know) how they interact with children.”
Wetzel said it’s not just a matter of perception that that child abuse fatalities seem to be more frequent than in years past.
“It is absolutely more than normal. I grew up here. This stuff did not happen until the last two to three years with the frequency it did,” she said.
Rockdale CASA served about 271 children in the 2012 fiscal year and 215 children in the 2011 fiscal year. Rockdale CASA volunteers are court-assigned with every child neglect or abuse case that goes to the courts from the local Department of Family and Children’s Services. CASA volunteers are also assigned to additional cases in Rockdale’s Juvenile Court, Superior Court or Probate Court.
About 10 percent of the cases are physical or sexual abuse cases while about 85 percent are related to neglect, according to Wetzel.
In Georgia, every day, 32 children are the victims of confirmed abuse or neglect, according to the state CASA website. About 174 incidents of child abuse and neglect are reported daily and in 2010, 77 children died from abuse and neglect.
Nationwide, an estimated 763,000 children are the confirmed victims of child abuse or neglect each year and an estimated four children die every day from child abuse and neglect.
Breaking the cycles
The recent local child abuse deaths were even more heartbreaking for advocates who work to prevent such situations, said PCAR’s Howington.
“We need to do our job better and help offer more prevention programs,” said Howington. “The way to prevent child abuse and neglect is through education.”
“We all get thrown into it. Children don’t come with instructions, and we all need to learn about how to be better parents… there are so many research studies out there that there are lots of better ways of parenting. There’s lots better ways of taking out the anger and stress than on the innocent children.”
“I think part of it is, it is such a generational thing,” said Wetzel, who has been with Rockdale CASA for 13 years. “A lot of kids we dealt with when we were first started are now are parents… Not knowing how to be good parents and not having the financial ability to take care of them either, that’s just handed down over and over again.”
“They’ve just not been taught that. They grew up in foster care, which means their parent was not able to provide them a home, much less an example of it.”
She said many CASA volunteers find themselves going above and beyond their duties and serving as a mentor to some young parents.
“They’ve never had an example of what a good parent is like, someone that knows how to take care of their children.
“Even something small you think would be natural – holding the child, being affectionate to the child. They honestly just don’t know. They’ve never seen in it. They don’t know what to do.”
Sometimes, there’s a lack of understanding of basic child development, said Howington.
“A lot of parents don’t have a clear understanding of age appropriate behavior. They expect a 2-year old to do what a 5-year old does. They take it out on the children.”
An Ounce of Prevention
Prevent Child Abuse Rockdale served 2,286 people over the last year through the Active Parenting classes throughout the community and programs and 110 families with in-home programs. That number is up about 20 percent over the previous year.
“That’s good. We’re excited,” said Howington. “There’s so many more, but I’m thankful for being able to reach the ones we have been able to reach.”
Parents who lose or regain custody of children in the Rockdale court system are usually mandated to take an Active Parenting class as well. They make up about 10 percent of participants.
“As a community it is our responsibility to really open our eyes and start reporting if you see suspicious things going on in your classroom or neighborhood or church. I think people need to realize it is their responsibility to help protect children… and not just turn the other way and think someone is going to take care of this.”
PCAR is looking for more volunteers to reach more families.
On Nov. 10, Prevent Child Abuse Rockdale and Prevent Child Abuse Newton will partner to hold an all-day training 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. for volunteers at the Cousins Center in Covington, hosted by Newton County Community Partnership. The first half of the day, 9 a.m. – noon, will train volunteers to teach the Active Parenting Now and the second half, 1 p.m. – 4 p.m., will train volunteers to teach the Active Parenting of Teens class. Volunteers can sign up for one or both classes, and lunch will be provided in between. To sign up or for more information, call (770) 483-7333 or email email@example.com.
PCAR is also currently working with the Evening Reporting Center in Rockdale to offer classes specifically for parents of teenagers, Sept. 27 through Nov. 8, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The classes focus on fine-tuning parenting skills, including managing stress and anger in the family and learning methods to handle children with learning differences. Dinner and childcare are provided free of charge. In-home classes for teen parents are also available. To register, call (770) 483-7333 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Howington said even if volunteers can’t give time, donations are always welcome and a great help provide materials for the classes.
The Rockdale and Alcovy CASA programs are also always in need of volunteers. Wetzel said with the economy, many of the retirees who would normally volunteer have had to go back to work. Volunteers will be required to undergo a background check, be 21-years-old or older, and go through an eight-session training course. For more information, contact Lena Flowers at 770-761-0202 or go to http://rockdalecasa.org
The goal for child abuse prevention advocates is to work themselves out of a job.
Howington said, “We would like to see at this time next year nothing in the newspapers about children being harmed or killed.”