Greensville Emporia Department of Social Services Director John Holtkamp recently gave a training presentation regarding child abuse reporting to educators in the Greensville County School Division. He followed by giving a similar presentation to members of the Emporia Rotary Club.
Many people have a preconceived conception about those that abuse children. That belief may be incorrect.
“Nobody gets up in the morning and decides they are going to hurt their child today,” Holtkamp said. “The vast majority of parents that end up abusing or neglecting their children many times do it thinking they are being good parents raising their children in the way they were raised. Our job is to help them be the parents they want to be but are failing to be.”
Children are raised differently today than they were 100 years ago. Extended family, neighborhoods and church were the primary resources for helping parents raise children in the past. In today’s world extended family is usually part of the work force, live far away or just plain busy. Neighborhoods today are filled with people who do not know their neighbors and the church family no longer has the impact as it once did in influencing the lives of children.
What exactly is child abuse? According to Holtkamp it is when something happens to an unmarried child less than 18 years of age as a result of acts or commissions of a person responsible for the child. It is usually within a family that child abuse occurs.
Though a social worker is put on the case, Holtkamp was quick to point out social workers are not law enforcement and are not trained to gather evidence, chains of evidence and due process. Social workers did not go to school to be criminal justice majors. They went to school to help people.
“The goal of the child abuse laws is not to save the child from the family,” Holtkamp said. “The goal is to save the family for the child.”
Holtkamp said there is four categories of child abuse. There is physical neglect, mental abuse or neglect, sexual abuse and physical abuse.
Physical neglect symptoms include consistent hunger, unattended medical needs and a consistent lack of supervision. Mental abuse physical indicators include frequent stomach aches, head aches, speech disorders and learning problems.
Victims of sexual abuse know the perpetrators well in most instances. According to Holtkamp, 95 percent of sexual abuse occurs in a trusted relationship. In fact, the child will believe it is normal at an early age. By the time the child gets older, usually between 5 and 7, they learn it is not normal behavior.
Disciplining a child through spanking is legal in Virginia, but Holtkamp said it is something he never did raising his four children. He said if someone chooses to do so they certainly should not do it while they are angry and they should not do it unless they are sure the children are perfectly still so they are not hit in a place on the body that can injure them. His advice is don’t do it at all.
“There is no law in this state that says you can’t spank, slap or hit your child, but at the point you spank slap or hit your child so hard that you physically injure them, you hit your child too hard,” Holtkamp said. “That’s what the law says. That’s child abuse.”
Nationally 6 percent of children are reported annually as victims of child abuse. The numbers are similar in Virginia and Emporia-Greensville. Holtkamp said there were 187 reported cases of child abuse locally last year. Currently there are 21 cases of child abuse of one type or another going through the court system in Emporia-Greensville and 16 children in foster care.
Holtkamp said a child died due to child abuse shortly after he came to Emporia-Greensville seven years ago. Nationally 1,600 children died as victims of child abuse last year.
Children growing up difficult circumstances and becoming successful in life is not rare, but Holtkamp said the thought “they pulled themselves up by there own bootstraps” is probably not the case when one looks at the research regarding the topic. He said there are plenty of cases of an affluent child that seemingly had all the advantages failing in life.
“Children that succeed can tell you there was someone in their life that cared about them,” Holtkamp said. “They knew that person cared about them.”
Holtkamp told members the Rotary Club, “That’s where you come in.”