Editorial: Keeping vigil over children

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The trial last week of former soccer coach Ralph Wager gives even more impetus to this year’s observance of Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Wager pled guilty to molesting boys he coached in youth soccer in the late 1980s, and now he will spend the rest of his life in prison. Wager’s case proves that strangers are not the only danger parents should caution their children about. Sometimes a person whom parents respect and trust can violate a child’s innocence.

Prevent Child Abuse Rowan says one in five children are sexually abused before turning 18. Reports of suspected child abuse and neglect come in from schools, law enforcement and anonymous sources, with some 1,948 reports investigated last year in Rowan County. The vast majority — 1,694 — were for suspected neglect, and 105 were for possible sexual abuse. The rest were other kinds of abuse, neglect and dependency.

Fewer than 10 percent of those reports, 149, were substantiated. That’s a relief, considering all the reports. Along the way investigators also identified children who needed services and other kinds of help.

But still, 149 children abused and neglected is a sad fact to live with — children right here in our community who have been beaten, sexually abused, underfed, left to fend for themselves or brought up amid drugs, violence and squalor.

The violent deaths of three children in 1996 at the hands of caretakers, and another shot in a melee — all while in some way being investigated by the Department of Social Services — was Rowan County’s wake-up call. New protocols were put in place to make sure social workers, medical professionals, law enforcement and others were communicating with each other when a child was hurt, and a Child Protection Task Force was formed to stay on top of the situation.

Last week members of that task force decided to fold their work into Rowan’s Community Child Protection Team. The people who advocate for children are unified and vigilant. The Terrie Hess House, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, has served over 500 children and their families.

This month, Prevent Child Abuse Rowan is holding several events to raise awareness, including a Stand Up/Speak Out family event one week from today at Bounce City. Don’t let the fun setting fool you; opening people’s eyes to abuse is serious business. You can find out more at preventchildabuserowan.org.

It takes courage to speak out about abuse and confront abusers. The young men who stepped forward to finally stop Ralph Wager — one not even seeking anonymity — are to be commended. We won’t all have as dramatic a role in preventing further child abuse as they did, but we can  all support the health and well-being of children and families in the community. What will your role be?