By Assemblyman Will Barclay
According to the most recent statistics I could find, in 2012, more than 600,000 children in the United States and Puerto Rico were victims of child abuse and more than 1,500 children died as a result of abuse or neglect.
Even more tragic, these are only reported cases of abuse and neglect.
It is estimated that the actual number of abuse cases is three times greater.
No matter how many cases of child abuse and neglect there are, any child abuse is too much and we must do more as a community and a nation to prevent it.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. National Child Abuse Prevention Month is observed every April to try to make Americans aware of the ongoing crisis of child abuse and to remember all the children who have lost their lives or have been seriously affected by child abuse and neglect.
In this column, I want to discuss three pieces of legislation that I support that, if enacted, could prevent child abuse.
In recent years, there have been several high profile child abuse cases in the news.
Locally, many will remember the Erin Maxwell case.
In that case, 11-year-old Erin was found dead in her family’s home. Her stepbrother, Alan Jones, was eventually convicted of second-degree murder but that conviction was latter reduced to second-degree manslaughter by an Appellate court.
Erin reportedly lived in deplorable conditions; investigators and emergency personnel had to wear masks to protect themselves from the odor they encountered in her residence. There were reportedly several feet of animal feces and waste in the house.
It had come to light in the Maxwell case that social workers had visited Erin’s home prior to her death and that her living conditions had been reported to the Department of Social Services on a number of occasions.
However, no actions were taken to remove Erin from the home.
Because it is evident that the system failed Erin Maxwell, I introduced legislation that would require additional investigation of certain claims of abuse and maltreatment. This legislation would require that if three or more reports are made, and deemed to be unfounded, such person shall be investigated and evaluated at least once a year for the next five years as part of the Department of Social Services regular practice.
Another high profile case involving child abuse was the Caylee Anthony case in Florida.
In that case, Casey Anthony failed to report that her child, Caylee, had been missing for 31 days.
Law enforcement charged her with murder of her 2-year-old daughter after Caylee’s body was found nearly six months after the child’s disappearance.
The outcome surprised many Americans who were watching the court proceedings in what became a highly publicized case.
The jury found her not guilty of murder or child abuse.
During the court proceedings, prosecutors continued to point out that Casey Anthony failed to report her daughter missing until 31 days after her disappearance.
Despite their attempts to appeal to the jury, there was no provision in the law that she actually violated; failure to report a missing child was not a crime unto itself.
Instead, the jury convicted Anthony of several counts of check fraud, providing false information to police and, as a result, she served little jail time.
In order to prevent this from happening in New York, I support legislation appropriately named Caylee’s law that would make it a felony for failure to report a child missing within 24 hours. In addition, this legislation would make it a felony for a parent, legal guardian or caretaker who fails to notify law enforcement of the death of a child, accidental or otherwise.
As many prosecutors speculate, this change would likely not be a deterrent to crime but it would be a tool they could use if a case similar to the Casey Anthony case came up in New York.
Another law I’m a proponent of, A3725, would create a class D violent felony offense for Endangering the Welfare of a Child. This would strengthen penalties for child abusers and also toughen penalties for those who have been previously convicted of such crimes.
Under current law, only misdemeanor penalties can be imposed for “endangering the welfare of a child,” which range from leaving a child in the car unsupervised to extreme physical abuse. Often, up to one year of jail time is the maximum sentence for misdemeanor penalties regardless of the severity of abuse.
Further, this legislation enhances penalties for repeat offenders by creating harsher penalties for those who have a history of endangering the welfare of a child, which is already the case with driving under the influence and many other crimes.
Local authorities say this would give them more tools to protect children in our communities.
While our laws can be improved, laws alone won’t heal the trauma associated with abuse.
Thankfully, there are many local people who dedicate their lives to helping victims.
Medical exams, counseling, and help for those who have been traumatized or abused is available at local Child Advocacy Centers. Victims advocates at local CACs work hard every day, along with local law enforcement, to be a voice for our children.
The Child Advocacy Center in Oswego County has two locations, 301 Beech St., Fulton, NY 13069 and 4822 Salina St., Pulaski NY 13142.
They can be reached at 315-592-4453, by email at [email protected] or visit their website at http://oswegocac.org/
In Jefferson County, Child Advocacy Center of Northern New York is located at 120 Washington St., Suite 406, Watertown, NY 13601 and can be reached at 315-788-8520 or visit their website at http://www.vacjc.com/services/childadvocacycenter.html
In Onondaga County, the Ryan/McMahon Child Advocacy Center is located at 601 East Genesee St., Syracuse, NY 13202. They can be reached at 315-701-2985 or visit their website at http://www.mcmahonryan.org/
To report child abuse, call Child Protective Services at 1-800-342-3720 If you have any questions or comments or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY, 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.