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Keep kids safe: for all of us

SPRINGVILLE — At the Journal, it is against our policy to editorialize the stories we run, with the sole exception of this space. We keep personal information out of the news, and that includes obituaries, which we consider news announcements. But, one came across my desk this week that needs to be heard. Not because that late individual was unique, but because he wasn’t.

According to a death notice submitted by his family, Austin Smith, who would have turned 2 years old on March 24, loved tickle fights, the “Cars II” Disney movie and french fries.

Another little boy, Gage Seneca, 3, was an inquisitive kid, who loved superheroes and was always laughing, according to family members quoted in a story in this week’s Buffalo News.

Austin lived in Springville. Gage lived on the Cattauraugus Seneca Nation reservation. Both lost their lives due to abuse by their mothers’ live-in boyfriends, less than two weeks apart from one another. Their deaths were tragedies, and it is not my place or intention to try their alleged killers, here. The courts will take care of that.

During the month of April, child abuse awareness month, the rest of us are tasked with raising awareness, in memory of Austin and Gage and in honor of the children who will be our future.

According to a report released cooperatively by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families and Children’s Bureau, 1,545 children died, as a result of abuse in 2011, the most recent year for which data has been compiled. That translates into approximately 2 children for every 100,000. Of those, 81 percent were younger than the age of 4. In 78.3 percent of those cases, the children died at the hands of one or both parents or guardians.

Every day, five children die as a result of abuse, in the United States, according to the USDHHS.

According to the Erie County Commissioner of Social Services Carol Dankert, there were 11,418 reported cases of child abuse in 2011.

In the face of tragedy, it is easy to feel helpless. In the presence of these statistics, it is even easier to feel hopeless. But there are resources, both nationally and locally, to help children who are being abused or at risk for abuse, and to help those who suspect it may be happening to reach out in advocacy for those who are unable to speak for themselves.

The USDHHS runs www.childwelfare.gov, a website dedicated to child welfare. The site features a wide selection of resources to promote children’s safety. While that site presents a wealth of information for education and prevention of child abuse, the organization is not equipped to respond to individual cases.

Childhelp® is a national, nonprofit organization that “exists to meet the physical, emotional, educational and spiritual needs of abused, neglected and at-risk children [with focused efforts] on advocacy, prevention, treatment and community outreach,” according to www.childhelp.org.

In addition to programs and services, the organization also runs an emergency, 24-hour hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD®.

The Erie County Department of Social Services provides services for children, families and adults, including the child protective services division, which investigates reports of child abuse or neglect and can help families obtain necessary services. These services can be accessed through the Erie County website at www.erie.gov/socialservices or by calling 858-8000.

During the month of April, Erie County runs awareness programs to keep child abuse in the forefront of our minds, but child abuse doesn’t end when the calendar turns.

Austin will never play in another tickle fight. Gage will never ask his mother another question. Five children will die at the hands of abusers today, tomorrow and the next day. Not only this month, but every month, let us all keep our hearts, arms and eyes open for children in need.
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