A little more than 125 years ago in the state of New York, the case of a 5-year-old child by the name of Mary Ellen was brought to the attention of the courts by a church group.
Mary Ellen was being chained to her bedpost, beaten and malnourished. However, because there were no laws that existed to protect children or set minimum standards of child care, parents had the right to raise their children as they chose; the courts could not interfere.
The church group became so enraged about the inhuman treatment of Mary Ellen that they returned to court to successfully obtain legal protection for her through the auspices under the Society For the Prevention of Cruelty To Animals.
Mary Ellen was a victim of what in present day we term "child abuse and neglect." In simplistic terms, abuse is an act of commission and neglect is an act of omission.
Laws and services to protect children are a relatively new phenomena. Historically, laws concerning children have evolved from the premise children's rights were derived from the rights of their parents. Children were viewed to possess no constitutional rights separate and apart from those of the adults responsible for their care. In recent years, lawmakers have established a new precedent to strike a balance between the child's rights and the discretionary parental, judicial and legislative authorities which prevail because a child is a minor. The intention of public policy has been the protection of the child and preservation of the family unit. Implementation of these state and federal laws has placed added emphasis upon legal and rehabilitation aspects of child welfare.
This new child-and-family focus has resulted in transformation of child welfare services from a system of housing for orphaned and abandoned children to a complicated social and legal structure commanding the participation of a wide range of professional disciplines. Decisions that surround the provisions of child welfare services are complex. The proliferation of federal, state requirements, civil liability issues, divergent philosophies, changing family roles, diverse community expectations, economic problems, the rise of family violence, substance abuse, homelessness, poverty, all require careful consideration. Child welfare is a system of priorities and the choice can often mean the difference between life and death for children in the system.
Most people tend to believe that stories like Mary Ellen's happened hundreds of years ago, in places far away and cases like this simply do not exist anymore - at least not in Washington County. The statistics in their starkness and the reality is - not so long ago in 2011. Washington County Children Services received 1,661 referrals of allegations of child abuse/neglect involving 2,454 children. Thus requiring the assessment of such child maltreatments so provisions of in-home protections and services to children and their families and out of home placement of children who remain at high risk of repeated acts of abuse/neglect.
It took a case like Mary Ellen's to bring the problem of child abuse and neglect to the attention of her community. But more than a century has passed since and child maltreatment counties and the sad commentary is, it's on the increase.
We are fortunate to live at a time in a society where there is an increasing awareness of the mistreatment that has been perpetrated on these most vulnerable and helpless of people - children. We are discovering how abuse has been handed down from generation to generation, and how damaging the effects have been to the self-esteem and emotional health of those who have survived.
One of the programs that we had to eliminate was the School Outreach Prevention Program (S.O.P.P.). This program reached many children before problems began.
For more information on what you can do to help, please visit our website at www.Facebook.com/childrenservices and our YouTube video.
I encourage you to do your part. Ever child deserves a chance. We need your support. Please vote yes for the Children Services levy on Nov. 6.
Joseph Wesel Sr., former Children Services board member