During the month of April, communities all over Kentucky are placing special emphasis on preventing child abuse. According to the state, more than 23,000 Kentucky children were involved in substantiated reports of abuse or neglect in 2013.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, but Denise Lambrianou works toward that goal daily. She spoke with WKU Public Radio about her work at the Family Enrichment Center in Warren County.
Describe what you do for a living.
I am the Adoption Resource Program Coordinator, so what I do is help the state recruit foster and adoptive parents for children who are in out-of-home care.
Foster children are removed from their birth homes due to abuse or neglect. Explain the difference between the two.
Abuse can be several different things. It can be physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. Neglect could be not providing sanitary conditions where your child lives, not providing enough food in your home. There's even educational neglect where you don't make your child go to school. There can be medical neglect, but it's a fine line depending on one's religious belief.
You speak from experience, having adopted four boys from foster care. From what situations did they come?
My two oldest ones were removed from their home for neglect. They were living in deplorable conditions and there wasn't enough food in the house, so I'm sure they were hungry at times. Our two little ones were infants, so they don't remember much. Our two older ones do because they were eight and four when they came to live with us.
Have their birth homes had any long-term effects on them?
I'm sure it does. Our oldest one, he had to grow up much faster than kids his age. He was a caretaker, and for a long time, we had to help him learn how to be a kid. The next youngest one, we're pretty sure he was hungry a few times. There are some little issues with food occasionally when he's afraid there isn't enough food in the house. But I think they've adjusted rather well, but they do remember their past, but hopefully we've been able to help them through that.
Every parent has moments when they are upset with their children, but sometimes that anger can into abuse. What should the public look for in detecting potential signs of abuse?
Physical signs depend on the age of the child. When children are toddlers, there's going to be bumps and bruises because they're learning to walk. But when it becomes bruises around the head, upper arms, and the rib cage area, that would be a sign something else is going on because six-month-olds don't bump into tables or hit corners that might leave a mark. If you see any of those outward signs in those parts of the body, then there could be some suspicious activity going on.
Are signs of child abuse always physical?
No. When a child that's been pretty outgoing in the past starts to withdraw, that could be a sign that something is going on at home. There could be attachment or boundary issues. If a child is being sexually abused, there could be boundary issues. What someone displays to them as "love" is maybe inappropriate touching. When a child wants to tell you they love you, they may try to mimick what they've seen or had done to them. That could be a huge red flag.
What would you say to someone who is afraid to come forward with child abuse allegations?
In Kentucky, we're all obligated to report child abuse if you think it's happening. you can report anonymously. You will talk to the Department of Protection and Permanency, you don't have to leave your name, and it's up to them at that point to set that investigation into place and get that ball rolling.
Take us through the process of child abuse cases, starting with allegations that might get the police involved to how cases are resolved.
Usually an allegation is made by an anonymous tip, which is assigned to an investigator at the Department of Protection and Permanency. They may at that point go to the family's home and talk with the parents about what's going on. If the child is of school age, they may also go to the child's school and talk to the child separately. If investigators think there is abuse or neglect happening, the child will be placed in foster care. Social workers will then start a case plan for the parent to get their child back. That's where the Family Enrichment Center comes in. A lot of families are required to take parenting education classes so they can learn a different way to parent or discipline their child without crossing that line that they've maybe already crossed. Some of our parents' children have already been removed or are at risk of being removed. We're there to hopefully reunify families. That's the goal, to get those kids back home because that's where they want to be.
Without mentioning names, talk about a case that stands out in your mind as being one of the worst in terms of abuse or neglect.
Recently, I met a little boy whose foster parent had come to a training at the Family Enrichment Center. He was in a body cast from the waist down. I was hoping it was a medical condition, but the foster parent told me the baby wouldn't stop crying so his birth parent twisted his upper leg until it broke. We're talking about a nine-month-old. It's unimaginable a parent could do that.
What have you learned from child abuse victims?
It's amazing the resiliency of children and how they can overcome these awful things that have happened to them and still look at the bright side of life. They'rfe so upbeat and positive and they just want to be loved. I've just been amazed at how some of these kids go on to do great things.
How do you not take your work home?
Sometimes you do. We all get upset at our kids, but I keep images in the back of my head. When you do discipline your child, you remember you don't want to hurt your child. That helps you keep things in perspective. Sometimes I want to go home and just hug my children and tell them I love them. I can never make up for their past, I can just try to make their future better.