Prosecutors called on to end child abuse

Posted Oct. 21, 2008, at 9:08 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6:17 a.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — The director of the Minnesota-based National Child Protection Training Center urged Maine prosecutors on Tuesday to join the call to end child abuse within 120 years.

“For our country and for our children, we, too, must give our last full measure in the hope that others just as dedicated will come after us and complete what we begin,” said Victor Vieth of Winona, Minn. “Someday, somewhere, somebody will write the history of our nation’s victory over child abuse. When that history is written, may it be recorded that the beginning of the end occurred in the early part of the 21st century when thousands of child protection professionals from every region of the country joined forces to lead the charge.”

For more than a century, American society’s concern for abused children has lagged behind its regard for the protection of animals, Vieth said. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was founded in 1865, but it wasn’t until 1874 that the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was founded.

The government, he said, did not recognize that it had an interest in protecting children until the 1930s, when the Social Security Act was passed. Not until 1962 did physicians recognize battered child syndrome as an independent diagnosis.

Five years later all 50 states had passed mandated reporting laws, but not until the 1970s were these laws expanded to include children who had been sexually abused.

According to Vieth, to end child abuse, five obstacles must be overcome:

    Most cases of child abuse are never reported to authorities.

      Most reports of child abuse are never investigated.

        Most child protection professionals are inadequately trained and inexperienced.

          Even when abuse is substantiated, the child is typically older and often comes into the system not as a victim but as a runaway, delinquent or prostituted child.

            Child victims receive an inadequate share of our country’s scarce financial resources.

            Vieth’s center on the campus of Winona State University trains 10,000 police officers, prosecutors, social workers and other child protection professionals and organizations a year. The training center includes five moot-court rooms, four forensic interview rooms and a “mock house” in which simulated child abuse investigations are conducted.

            A team of prosecutors, law enforcement officers and social workers who work in Down East Maine attended a training session offered by Vieth’s center a few years ago.

            “The overall training has increased our job performance,” Paul Cavanaugh, first assistant district attorney for Hancock and Washington counties, said after Vieth’s presentation. “The program has really increased the communication between prosecutors, law enforcement, case workers at DHHS [the Department of Health and Human Services] and others who work in the child abuse field.”

            Cavanaugh said that the techniques for questioning young children that he and his colleagues learned have helped them tremendously in gathering information and making timely decisions about which cases to prosecute.

            Vieth urged prosecutors in other states to attend the training center this summer.

            The plan of action to end child abuse Vieth described includes these provisions:

              Adequate preparation of professionals to recognize, report and respond to abuse.

                Detection of abuse at its earliest stages.

                  Ongoing training for those in the field.

                    Prevention from the ground up, including prevention programs, must be tailored to local dynamics.

                    Stephanie Anderson, district attorney for Cumberland County, helped plan the conference and invited Vieth to speak “because [child abuse] is a major problem in Maine and we need to get on the same page.

                    “We have had a lot of failed policies, and we’ve made a lot of mistakes,” she said. “It’s time to turn things around.”

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