Thursday, April 12, 2012

OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO RESPOND, NOT REACT

April 1st ushered in Child Abuse Prevention Month. What does that mean to most of us? That depends. To me, it means it’s a reminder that we still live in a world where adults and children are living in violent homes, children are not always well protected and parents are possibly minimally supported in the complexities of child rearing, managing social stressors and depravity.

Nixzmary Brown
The one report that usually comes to mind for me is the case of Nixzmary Brown, a 7 y.o. Brooklyn girl who died as a result of her stepfather’s rage. Nixzmary’s story affected me so closely because at the time of her death I was working as a Social Worker for an outpatient mental health clinic. A number of my clients were around the same age as Nixzmary. According to public record, Nixzmary Brown was being abused at home by her stepdad, Cesar Rodriguez. It was reported, on one occasion, the child even showed up to school with a black eye. When Cesar was questioned about the steps that led up to Nixzmary’s death, he said he became angry with the child for allegedly stealing a yogurt from the refrigerator. 
 
It’s unclear how long Nixzmary was abused, but the abuse included physical as well as sexual assaults. Reports revealed that she endured fist and belt beatings, rape and prior to her death, she was rope tied to a desk and beaten. A few days before she died, Ceasar had also smashed the child’s head into a bathtub, days later Nixzmary passed away. Where was her mother some may wonder? Well supposedly she was in the home. No mention was ever given to whether the mother was also abused. Shortly before Nixzmary died her breathing was labored and she had called out to her mother a few times but her calls were ignored. Nixzmary died in her home on Janurary 11, 2006, in a room that contained a school desk with a rope attached, a mattress on the floor and cat litter. She also weighed 36 lbs. The average 7 y.o. girl weighs about 50lbs. Nixzmary’s stepfather and mother were arrested and charged with second degree murder, child endangerment and given 29 years and 43 years imprisonment, respectively.

At the same time Nixzmary’s case made the news, child protective services agency, ACS (Administration for Children’s Services) was held partly to blame. The case had been opened and investigated, but apparently evidence of abuse was unfounded. ACS was blamed for not aggressively pursuing this case, though the assigned caseworker had made several attempts to gain access to the home, but was occasionally denied by the child’s parents. As a result, another child’s life was lost. This was the beginning of Mayor Bloomberg's overhaul of child protective services. They said the caseworker should have obtained an order to enter the child’s apartment. New York authorities called for a massive hire of new Child Protective Specialists, a police affiliate to oversee the hiring and training process and more.

This month, we will spend time celebrating the lives of those children whose lights were dimmed very early. We will give more detail as to how to become more aware of some of the signs of abuse.
If at this time, you or someone you know may be physically, emotionally or sexually abused and exploited you can call your local precinct or state child and adult protective agency. There’s a required time for officials to respond, in some cases it’s 72 hours, from the time a report is made. It’s important to know that if you file a report in good faith, you will not be held liable. You can also file anonymously.

The important thing to remember is not to wait. If you suspect a child, senior, or disabled person is being harmed or exploited acting immediately could save a life!

If you wish to file a citizen’s report in New York, you may call the NY State Central Registrar at 1-800-342-3720. If you are a Mandated Reporter in New York you may call 1-800-635-1522. For Adult Protective Services Central Intake Unit call 212-630-1853.

If you are outside of New York you can Google your local child and adult protective services agency or call 911 for the state central registrar.

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