Juvenile Magistrate Deborah Domine spoke at our Children’s Rally on March 27 and encouraged residents in Elkhart County to “take notice” of child abuse and neglect around us. She has given us permission to share her speech to further encourage everyone to protect the children in our community.

“Many of us live our lives failing to remember that there are children in our communities who need us to make sure that they are safe. But, we are not allowed to do that in April. In 1983, Ronald Reagan designated April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month to raise awareness of the very serious problem of child abuse. We are trying to raise awareness today. We are a bit early, it is not April, but we are early adaptors in Elkhart County. And we all hope that today’s rally serves as a reminder that we all need to do better for the children that live with us in Elkhart County.

I know I am preaching to the choir. I see many of you in court on a regular basis. And most of you know that too many children that we see in court have experienced trauma. I am going to start out by reading you a poem written by a child which illustrates the trauma that we see in our schools and offices, and I see in my court. The writer of this poem has been in my court since he was two, he is now 17 years old. He was labeled as ‘abused’ because of his mother’s addiction, and now he is labeled a ‘delinquent child’ because of the drug use he inherited, and perhaps the trauma he endured.

He writes:

‘I am from Empty fridges
from scales and compact pistols.
I am from apartments that never sleep
good grades, but still old shoes on my feet.
I am from water
whose silence took my l’il brother. (His brother drowned)
I am from locked doors and chains.
I am from dealers and addictions
and from death.’

It is so easy to forget that there are children in our communities who struggle and suffer. It is easy to forget, because abused, neglected and delinquent children are a small minority of the children who live in our community and the abuses that scar those children, often go on behind closed doors. Yet, we know those children are there.

There are children in our community who are born addicted to illegal substances, while their mother dies multiple times from her heroin addiction and overdose. And she is revived multiple times by Narcan, a drug that can bring this heroin addict back to life, and in her case, once revived, she only goes back to use again.

There are too many young girls in our community who are sex trafficked.

Yes, it happens here. There are children — actually both boys and girls — living here who often need love and attention, and someone gives it to them, gains their trust, and they are victimized. And often, no one even noticed.

There are children who go to school hungry, teachers who buy them food and teachers who sometimes notice that they are battered and bruised.

There are toddlers found walking, alone, along a busy highway. There is a toddler who was found only in his diaper running across city streets, in the winter, without an adult to supervise and it happened multiple times, because nobody noticed. Nobody was there to supervise.

Abuse and neglect come in all varieties. And it exists here in our community.

I want you to think about, and be aware of abuse and neglect because this is a problem that belongs to us all. We all need to notice.

But with that assignment, it is also important that you to be aware of the fact that we collectively in Elkhart County do pretty good job of addressing abuse and neglect in our community. We have a community full of caring compassionate people and great organizations, represented by many of you, and it pays off.

And I am going to give you some numbers that evidence that fact.

In 2015 child abuse and neglect cases, known as CHINS cases, exploded across the state of Indiana.

In Hamilton County, a quite wealthy community, they went up 14%. In Marion County, they went up 39 %. In Wayne County, they went up 244%. In our neighboring counties of Kosciusko they went up 31%, and Marshall they went up 40%, and abuse and neglect cases in St. Joseph County went up 84%. While in Elkhart County, they went up 2%.

We do good work in Elkhart County.

We have lower numbers of children who are abused and neglected and in care than the national average. Our percentage of children who experience repeat maltreatment within six months after abuse is identified is significantly lower than the national average. Our percent of children who re-enter the system after being abused and neglected and are placed in the system, get help and their cases close, is considerably lower than the national average.

I do not know why, numbers look good here. But also, I strongly suspect it is resources and people who care — people, like you.

Now, don’t get a big head. We can always do better. Even if there is only one victim, it is one victim too many.

And the first step to doing better is to notice. We must be cognizant of the children who need us and are often victims in their own home. We have to be cognizant that sometimes behind the headlines of a crime, there are children who are left behind and suffering and need community support. We need to be cognizant that that child who is acting out in class, might have gone to bed hungry last night, the child might have been battered and bruised. We need to address the cause as well as the action.

We need to be cognizant, because every child is important.

As film director Guillermo del Torro says, ‘there is no other, only us.’

‘Us’ is a lot stronger when every child is safe.

So let’s do what we can to notice, and work to keep all children safe. Thanks for the work you do, and the work that you will do.”

 

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