DHR: Don’t hesitate to report abuse

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 24, 2013

It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to reporting suspicions of child abuse.

That’s the message the public is urged to take to heart during April – national child abuse prevention awareness month.

Locally, instances of child abuse – be it neglect, sex abuse, physical abuse or mental abuse – are reported to the Covington County Department of Human Resources.

While this abuse happens every day in our county, said Lesa Syler, CCDHR director, people are hesitant to report it.

“I think reporters feel like they have to witness the abuse firsthand or have proof the abuse is happening,” Syler said. “But that is not true. If you are suspicious, report it. It’s our job – or law enforcement’s – to prove it. This is an instance where it’s better to be safe than sorry.

“No one wants to think that a loved one or a relative or someone they know is abusing a child, but it happens,” she said. “Trust your gut. Report it, and let (DHR) take it from there.”

There is a team approach when investigating instances of child abuse in Covington County, involving a DHR social worker, law enforcement agencies, the county district attorney’s office, a forensic interviewer and a medical professional, Syler said.

That team received 195 complaints, representing 287 children, for the 2012 fiscal year, she said.

Of those cases, 173 were disposed; however, 80 reports representing 111 children indicated the:

• physical abuse of 45 children (or 28 indicated cases);

• sexual abuse of 19 indicated children;

• the neglect of 47 children (or 33 indicated cases).

“The majority of the reports (DHR) get(s is) neglect due to drug abuse,” Syler said. “Think about it, when you read an article in the paper about a methamphetamine lab, odds are there are children involved. This kind of environment leads to all types of abuse – neglect and physical abuse because the parents or caregivers are busy getting high and sexual abuse because of the lack of supervision.”

Syler said abuse by neglect should not be confused with living in poverty.

“These are the cases where a child’s basic needs – food, clothing hygiene – are not taken care of,” she said.

Syler said while the majority of abuse reports are given by mandatory reporters such as school and medical officials, each of whom is required by law to report abuse suspicions, the public can still help.

“It’s about putting all the pieces together,” she said. “If your conscience is telling you someone should see about that child, call us. We will.”

On Thursday, a ceremony and balloon release honoring the county’s abused children will be held at 10 a.m. on the Court Square.

To report suspicions of child abuse, contact DHR at 334-427-7900 and follow the prompts to speak with an intake officer.