Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 1, 2002
Parents are killing their kids
Society must take action whenever a child is in danger
By RENATO GANDIA
WCR Staff Writer
Andrea Yates of Texas, Jay Handel of British Columbia, Peter Currie of Ontario and Robert Bryant of Oregon.
These are the more prominent names in the growing list of parents alleged to have killed their children.
Different stories, different motives, different circumstances, but all tied by a single strand of violence, sprinkled by the innocent blood of children.
Why does such horror have to happen? No one has a definitive answer. Experts can only offer opinions.
But to solve any problem, it is imperative to know its cause, to know how things begin before prevention can happen.
Danger signs are unique with individual families. Sometimes the warning flags are not seen as the offending party manipulates the situation and other family members.
From Richard Feehan's point of view "the person engaged in the offending behaviour has also the power control within the family."
The director of family services for Catholic Social Services (CSS), Feehan said when serious things are happening within the family, more often than not family members have little contact with the outside world.
"So you don't see the bruises, you don't see the fighting, but you get a sense that there is an extreme level of control within the family."
Or it can go the other way.
"You see fighting, you see alcohol and drug consumption. You see signs of physical abuse or sexual abuse."
Sometimes children speak about violence in the family indirectly, saying, "I don't like my new dad. He's kind of mean to me."
"To them, that means they've told somebody else what's happening," explained Feehan. "But such is taken as a general statement."
Staff Sgt. Darren Eastcott of Edmonton Police Zebra Child Protection Centre, listed situations that could lead to child abuse or family violence: alcohol abuse, mental disorders, recurrent loud verbal arguments, actual signs of physical violence, parents absent for long periods, loss of job or income, or crumbling marriages heading for separation or divorce.
Intrusion of privacy?
To report or not to report? That is the question.
Father Jim Holland cautioned, "We don't want to give the impression that we're interfering in a family."
On the same token, as a Catholic and coming from a First Nations' community, Holland believes, "it takes more than a couple to raise a child."
Allowing children to reach their full potential demands they receive all the protection in the world, said Holland. The pastor of Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples said if we see a child is being abused or not being cared for, we are obliged to report it to social services or the police.
Even when the children's own parents are the ones who put them in danger, the law stipulates concerned citizens must do something.
"And as Catholics and Christians we have a moral obligation to do something about it," advised Holland.
Eastcoot said the police always advocate "that neighbours can and should contact police whenever they witness a family violence situation.
"We understand that sometimes families may have heated discussions, but they should not include physical violence."
Most police agencies, including the Edmonton Police Service, have excellent spousal violence follow-up teams, as well as Child at Risk Response teams that can intervene and work with families that are in crisis or at risk.
The Edmonton Police works closely with Family Services and Child Welfare and other agencies in the community like CSS.
Feehan agreed with Eastcott saying, "The number one thing that I would always suggest is to expand the number of people who know about that violence."
If a child or a victim of spousal assault is coming to you and saying, "Something is happening," one cannot simply step aside and hope that somebody else will become involved.
"You may be the first and you may be the only person who gets the right kind of information to involve the right kind of people," Feehan said.
The more reports they get from the community, the more they can build a case to become involved from a professional standpoint. Feehan emphasized that if they get three of those calls, it helps to build up the case so that they can be increasingly intrusive in their investigation.
One reminder Eastcott has for neighbours: Police will respond to anonymous calls of child abuse or family violence. Concerned neighbours are encouraged to report such incidents, especially when it comes to the welfare of a child.
Before the breaking point
Psychologists say parents who are faced with financial, physical or emotional difficulties, sometimes find it hard to handle the added stress of trying to meet the demands of children.
Without an adequate support network either in the community or in their extended family, they sometimes become overwhelmed and reach a breaking point. Support systems are actually in place. It is just a matter of accessing them. CSS, with its family services department, offers various programs to support a family in distress.
From counselling, mediation to basic intervention programs, CSS is staffed with competent professionals in the field.
Family intervention program comes into people's homes to actually help them set up patterns and relationships in the home situation.
The agency provides premarital counselling and educational programs for families, couples and individuals. Their services even expanded to Open Adoption, assisting unwed mothers find a caring family for their offspring.
Although CSS does not have a specialized domestic violence unit, it is part of the community initiative against family violence. "Our family counsellors are prepared to deal with family violence in terms of initially receiving them and beginning to deal with them," assured Feehan.
"But then typically we would refer to other groups in the community with programs that are specifically designed, for example abusive partners, women shelters and others, depending on what the particulars of the moment were."
The support system that can prevent heinous crimes against children is in place. People's willingness to access it is another story, but if they do, they can make a difference before it's too late.