Violence is a systemic issue

Indiana will likely retain its 2004 standing as the state with the most children to die from abuse and neglect (Cover, “Grave Mistakes,” June 28-July 5). The recently released Department of Child Services Annual Fatality Report found that once again 57 children died as a result of abuse and neglect, a number unchanged from 2004.

Indiana follows national trends, in that the majority of children to die are under the age of 5 and more fatal abuse and neglect occur during the first year of life than any other one-year period. Of the families affected, about 40 percent had substantiated investigations of child abuse and neglect prior to the incident. At the top of the list of stress factors for parents or guardians were domestic violence, lack of parenting skills for abuse, and lack of parenting skills for neglect.

Unfortunately, these deaths are a drop in the bucket compared to how many children experience violence on a daily basis. It is essentially impossible for a child to escape the onslaught of violent images that appear in cartoons, advertising, toys and games. Combine this with the child whose every experience of riding in cars is a parent raging at other drivers, or every family conflict ending with yelling and hitting and violence starts to feel pretty natural.

Children learn how to regulate their feelings in the earliest years of life. This is when they begin to understand personal boundaries and experiment with social problem solving. During these most impressionable years, children who are at highest risk of witnessing family violence are often caught in the crossfire and suffer abuse and neglect simply because they tend to be home.

It is easy to slip into the Abu Ghraib defense and claim that these deaths are the result of a few bad apples in a generally well-meaning bunch. But violence is a much more systemic issue. Child deaths from abuse and neglect are the most appalling side-effect of our society’s daily dose of violence.

Leadership at Child Welfare has called for the community to step up. Gov. Daniels recently supported funding for 100 new case-workers. Though steps in the right direction, these efforts fall short of addressing the problem. As someone who works in the field of “picking up the pieces,” I know that intervening after the fact can only go so far.

In addition to parent education, we need to be training teachers and care-givers child discipline techniques that stress personal responsibility, as opposed to corporal punishment, which reinforces fear and humiliation. Our children must be educated in media literacy, addressing the fact that children spend 35 hours a week on screen time (T.V., videos and games), most of which contain violence. We need stiffer policies on gun control; 12 children a day die from handguns in the U.S. Our communities need to reach out to young parents. And most importantly, each of us needs to ask, “What are the little ones in our lives learning from watching us?”

Indiana lacks a coordinated effort for addressing systemic violence. Where is our leadership? When will we have a unifying vision for reducing child fatalities?

Nathan Ferreira

Child/adolescent therapist at the Julian Center Domestic

Violence shelter

Information sourced from



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