How to Protect Children From Parents

Children today are warned against potential kidnappers, school shootings and TV violence, among other things. But what's to protect them from … their parents?

The need is clear following a string of odd child negligence and abuse cases in recent weeks:

A mother in Pomona, Calif., on May 24 allegedly put her 2-year-old daughter inside an active, coin-operated public laundry washer. Police were called after the parent, Erma Osborne, 35, and bystanders were unable to unlock the machine door. The girl suffered cuts to her arms and legs. The mother faces felony child endangerment charges.

A mother in Macomb Township, Mich., allegedly left her 12-day-old baby in the back seat of her car last Monday as she slept off a night of drinking in her apartment. She faces child abuse charges.

A woman in Oakland County, Mich., has been accused of starving her 10-year-old son for days as punishment for being disrespectful. Prosecutors have filed a neglect petition against her.

And in Georgia, a 21-month-old boy is fighting for his life after his mother left him alone in a hot car as she claimed to be taking packages into her home. Chemia Cullins, 22, told police on May 24 she only left her son alone only for a short time. But prosecutors did not believe her and charged her with child cruelty, aggravated assault and reckless conduct.

Charges have been filed in all these cases, which are far too common in the United States. According to the most recent statistics by Health & Human Services' Administration for Children and Families', approximately 903,000 children nationwide were victims of abuse or neglect in 2001. The data, collected by the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, estimated that 12.4 of every 1000 children in the United States were victims of abuse or neglect.

But is fear of prosecution and the threat of losing custody to child welfare services the best way to save children from neglect and abuse? Not according to some experts, who argue the best way protect children is to first protect the parents.

"Parents can get so overwhelmed," said Gloria Rodriguez, founder and National President of AVANCE Inc. Family Support and Education Program in San Antonio, Texas. "In a lot of these crimes, where you find parents doing things like leaving children in the car, the parents are experiencing various stresses in their life where they've either lost their husband or their job or their trying to hold a job while raising their child alone and all these things affect the way they would parent.

Added Rodriquez: "It's an overload.They're in need of an outlet; they need a group to talk to."

No Parent — Or Child — Is Immune

While there are some distinctions — most violence abuse cases involve younger parents, while parents in their mid-30s are more likely to neglect their children — child abuse neglect cases involve parents of all races, age, gender, education and economic status.

Experts agree all parents can become overwhelmed, or suffer substance abuse and mental health problems, leaving them prone to neglect or abuse their children.

And in some abuse and negligence cases, parents simply may not have learned responsible guardian skills, either from their own parents, peers, or counselors. Some abusive or neglectful parents may have been abused themselves and learned their behavior.

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