MONMOUTH – Monmouth Police Sgt. Kim Dorn doesn’t pay attention to every special “month,” but April’s Child Abuse Prevention Month is one she asks officers to honor.
“Children can’t protect themselves,” she said. “We have to be protectors for children.”
When Dorn says “we,” she means everyone in the community, not just police officers.
“They can’t care for themselves; they can’t get themselves out of situations that may be bad,” she said.
Dorn said people make more reports to the child welfare hotline than they used to.
“Sometimes it may be an overreaction, sometimes not,” she said. “We appreciate people making those calls. We have the training and the knowhow. If it was just a mom or dad that just lost temper, we can look at the family dynamic and make contact with the family and not just accuse them of abuse.”
Officers don’t investigate reports of abuse with a predetermination of guilt and to make an arrest, Dorn said.
“We make the parents feel like we are here to help you,” she said. “We aren’t here to take you to jail and interfere with your life; that’s not our purpose.”
Children have accidents, too, Dorn said.
“When a parent is up front and honest with us about what happened, it makes everything a lot easier to determine,” she said. “We realize – we have kids – we realize that kids are going to have injuries and get bumps and bruises. We have to look at the totality of the situation.”
Sometimes parents are afraid to take a child to the doctor after an accident for fear of child welfare services or the police being called, Dorn said.
She said not seeking treatment can complicate an investigation of child abuse.
Dorn said sometimes parents just need help, in which case, they can reach out to child welfare services for parenting classes, churches, schools or other parents.
“We all lose our temper,” she said. “We all have times that we look back and say, ‘that wasn’t a good decision as a parent.’ That’s what I mean about us watching out for each other.
“If you see a mom losing it, offer to watch the kids for an afternoon if you’re her friend.”
The community can be the eyes and ears for children, reporting suspicious injuries or behavior so that police officers and those who are trained to spot abuse may investigate.
Abuse isn’t just physical, it can be emotional or sexual, too, Dorn said. But the goal is to get help for struggling parents and reunite families, only removing children from really horrible situations.
If you see a child who you suspect has been abused, or know someone who needs help: child welfare hotline, 503-378-6704, or call your local police department.