By Valerie D. Lockhart
SUN EXECUTIVE EDITOR
Lifting a chair above her head Leah threw it against the wall, smashing it into pieces. Then, she stared at chunks of wood scattered on the floor and shouted, “Look at what you made me do!”
Fear appeared in 10-year-old Micah’s eyes. As his 200-pound mother redirected her outrage towards him and began pounding on his back and kicking his tiny legs, he cried out, “Mommy stop!”
For what seemed like eternity, Micah endured his mother’s heavy blows. The bruises appearing on his back and legs were not as severe as the emotional scars left behind and his mother’s threat, “You better not tell.”
“My earliest memory of my mom’s temper is from when I was a toddler, and she was throwing books down the stairs at my dad,” he explained. “I was young at the time that I thought it was a game. When my dad left, my mom got hooked on drugs. She would kick me, beat me, throw me down the stairs, once held my head under water and another time shoved a bar of soap into my mouth. The abuse was mommy’s dirty little secret, and I was afraid to tell. A teacher reported my mom to the Child Protective Services, after seeing my bruises. I was placed in foster care, when I was 13. It’s not until I was 17 and left foster care that I spoke to other people and realized that I wasn’t alone.”
Like Micah, between 500 million and 1.5 billion children worldwide endure some form of violence. In 2015, there were 23,813 confirmed cases of child abuse or neglect reported in Michigan.
“Our children are our most precious resource, and when they are abused and neglected, we in law enforcement have a duty to protect them,” said Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette. “If you see a child that needs your help, report it. You could save their life.”
Sadly, the State of Michigan received 284 complaints in 2015 that a child died as a possible result of abuse. Of those reported cases 74 were confirmed.
“Michigan’s children can be protected through the power of one person, one community, one dollar or one action,” said Michael Foley, executive director of the Children’s Trust Fund, a nonprofit within Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to prevent child abuse and neglect.
To help boost awareness and prevent child abuse and neglect, April is recognized as National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
“All children deserve to grow up in a caring and loving environment, yet across America, hundreds of thousands of children are neglected or abused each year, often causing lasting consequences. Although effectively intervening in the lives of these children and their families is an important responsibility at all levels of government, preventing abuse and neglect is a shared obligation,” proclaimed President Barack Obama.
“During National Child Abuse Prevention Month, we recommit to giving every child a chance to succeed and to ensuring that every child grows up in a safe, stable, and nurturing environment that is free from abuse and neglect.”
Freeing children from abuse and neglect involves recognizing signs of ill treatment. Helpguide.org offers the following tips to identify signs of emotional and physical abuse:
Warning signs of emotional abuse in children
•Excessively withdrawn, fearful, or anxious about doing something wrong. •Shows extremes in behavior (extremely compliant or extremely demanding; extremely passive or extremely aggressive). •Doesn’t seem to be attached to the parent or caregiver. •Acts either inappropriately adult (taking care of other children) or inappropriately infantile (rocking, thumb-sucking, throwing tantrums).
Warning signs of physical abuse in children
•Frequent injuries or unexplained bruises, welts, or cuts. •Is always watchful and “on alert,” as if waiting for something bad to happen. •Injuries appear to have a pattern such as marks from a hand or belt. •Shies away from touch, flinches at sudden movements, or seems afraid to go home. •Wears inappropriate clothing to cover up injuries, such as long-sleeved shirts on hot days.
“Tips from the public are crucial in identifying situations in which children are being harmed or are at risk,” said Steve Yager, executive director of the MDHHS Children’s Services Agency. “Once we are alerted, we can take action to provide services to families to keep them together safely or, when necessary, petition courts to remove children from unsafe homes.”
Micah, now 21, says that being removed from his mother’s home saved his life.
“I now know how a normal home, free of violence, is supposed to be,” he added. “Mommy’s dirty secret is now out in the open, and I’m now free. Thanks to having a loving foster family, I received resources to get my life back on track. I now mentor youth to help them break free of their abusers. I encourage them to speak out. Abuse shouldn’t be kept in the closet. It’s not only family business. It’s everyone’s business. So, speak out.”