April 1, 2016

BY JOHN D. HOMAN
Logan Media Services

CARTERVILLE – Perhaps Elaine Duensing said it best when she said that all children deserve to grow up in a healthy and happy environment.

Duensing serves as a representative of Prevent Child Abuse Illinois and was one of a handful of featured speakers at a press conference Friday at John A. Logan College, organized in part by the Poshard Foundation for Abused and Neglected Children. The foundation is housed on the college campus.

“All of us have a role to play in keeping children safe and we must commit ourselves to doing something today,” Duensing said.

Union County State’s Attorney Tyler Edmonds thanked the Poshard Foundation for its work with abused and neglected children in the region and also gave a shoutout to those social workers and law enforcement agency representatives who work tirelessly for the benefit of children.

“Child abuse is a community issue. It’s not just a law enforcement issue,” Edmonds said. “I encourage you all to be active in your community. Volunteer your time to help a child. Everyone says they’re against child abuse. But what are you going to do to prevent it from happening?”

Edmonds added that he has seen too much of the bad side of child abuse – from the physical and mental effects the child must deal with to the denial and disbelief of the families involved.

“But I have also seen the good side to the problem if you want to call it that,” he said. “I have seen the dedication of the child advocates, DCFS (Department of Children and Family Services) representatives, and law enforcement officials. I have seen the healing take place.

“What we can’t do is ignore child abuse,” Edmonds said. “It does happen here in Southern Illinois. It happens everywhere and we can’t stop it if we pretend it doesn’t exist.”

Lori Gray, Southern Region Administrator for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, said there is still much work to do to alleviate the problem of child abuse in this state.

“There has been an increase in the number of reported cases,” she said. “Everyone has a role to play. You don’t have to be wealthy or an expert in kids. You just have to be willing to help.”

Alicia Barr, a special agent with the Illinois State Police, said a special task force set up to investigate child abuse deaths and injuries is more than 160 members strong covering more than 50 law enforcement and social service agencies.

“The biggest problem we have to deal with is rollovers (when a parent rolls over on top of a newborn and suffocates him or her),” she said. “We’ve had 23 such cases. So, it’s important that we educate parents as to the danger of co-sleeping.”

Poshard said people need to be able to identify the warning signs of child abuse and to report a potential abuser by calling the toll-free hotline at 800-25-ABUSE.

A few of the warning signs for physical abuse may include bruises and welts on the face, lips or mouth, torso, back, thighs or buttocks and may be in various stages of healing. They could also be in a cluster, forming regular patterns. They may reflect the shape of the article used to inflict the damage such as an electrical cord or belt buckle. And they may regularly appear after an absence, weekend or vacation.

There could also be unexplained burns like from cigarettes or cigars, especially on soles of feet, palms, back or buttocks.

There is also sexual abuse and emotional maltreatment.

In sexual abuse cases, a child may have difficulty walking or sitting; torn or blood-stained clothing; pain or itching in the genital area; bruises or bleeding in external genitalia; a venereal disease; or could be pregnant.

Emotional indicators may include habit disorders such as sucking, biting, rocking; conduct disorders such as antisocial and destructive behavior; and neurotic traits such as sleep and speech disorders or inhibition of play.

“It’s important to seek counseling for the child and the family if an abuse has occurred,” Poshard said. “And if you feel that you may be at risk of abusing a child, you should seek help immediately.”