DCYF: Child abuse in Woonsocket highest in the state

DCYF: Child abuse in Woonsocket highest in the state

Visit by agency reps explores possible causes, solutions

WOONSOCKET – Last year, 33.2 children out of every 1,000 under the age of 18 in Woonsocket were victims of maltreatment, according to data in the Rhode Island Children’s Information System.

The rate of abuse in Woonsocket is the highest in the state and nearly triples the state average. It is also significantly higher than the rate in Rhode Island’s urban core cities of 19.6 children per 1,000.

The statistics, and the shortage of local foster families to host children removed from their homes, prompted a forum this week between community leaders and officials from the Department of Children, Youth and Families. The event, organized by local nonprofit Community Care Alliance, was held at St. James Episcopal Church. CCA invited approximately 70 local stakeholders including elected officials, police, city officials, clergy and representatives from other nonprofits.

“When we see the results and the numbers, it makes me wonder what are we doing wrong and what are we missing,” said Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt. “In our day-to-day endeavors throughout the city, it appears we’re much more stable than what we’re hearing here.”

Officials, including DCYF Director Trista Piccola, discussed ways to address the problem, and one theme continually emerged: the need for education.

“When we grew up, we couldn’t talk about child abuse,” said Anita McGuire Forcier, a resident and former member of the Woonsocket School Committee. “We need more education and we need to take it seriously. We need to outreach more people and teach them there’s a better way.”

Ivy Medeiros, a child welfare director for CCA, spoke of the city’s “culture of secrecy” when it comes to child neglect and abuse.

“It’s different from my experience in New York,” said Medeiros. “There’s a lot of hesitancy to reach out. I find that very significant in Woonsocket.”

Data provided by DCYF also showed that this year, 13.2 of every 1,000 city children under the age of 18 were removed from their homes, while the rate in other urban core cities was 8.5 per 1,000 children. But currently, only 67 homes in Woonsocket host foster children. The need for more foster families is a statewide problem that DCYF officials say has led to a high number of teens being placed in group homes and shelters.

“When we’re removing kids, it’s a very traumatic experience,” said Piccola, noting that it’s even harder when the victims can’t find local homes and stay in the community.

Leo A. Savoie Elementary School Principal Donna Coderre said she has four students who have been removed from their homes and are bused to Woonsocket.

“They at least get to stay with their teacher and their friends,” said Coderre. “At least at school they have stability.”

Coderre also said she believes more needs to be done to ensure parents send their kids to school.

“We call DCYF when we know children are being terribly neglected in some families and if they’re not being hit, we feel like we’ve hit a dead end,” said Coderre, noting that some students virtually never make it to class, a problem the principal said she feels is a form of abuse. “A lot of our families think that school is optional, and it’s not.”

Piccola said that if stakeholders could all agree that the focus of DCYF’s efforts in Woonsocket should be around schools, her department could create a specialized school intervention plan.

Public Safety Director Eugene Jalette said that during his time on the police force, he saw the troubles of many offenders who re-entered the system.

“I think we just need more resources,” said Jalette. “A lot of times families are struggling and they don’t have any other way out.”

Josephine Byrd, an administrative assistant for CCA, asked why more focus couldn’t be put on helping people be better parents.

“No matter how good you treat that child, that child cries every night for their mom,” said Byrd. “We need to teach parents how to love their children and we need to stop taking them away from them. We need to make sure that somehow that parent can have some kind of connection.”

CCA President and CEO Benjamin Lessing said his organization already tries a parent-focused approach.

“The good news about this type of strategy is that we’ve done it here before,” said Lessing. “This is all about getting there as early as possible. We get staff in the home and start talking about what’s needed. That is a different model than what’s been employed here in the state.”

Piccola said she aims to get the state organization more focused on helping families before the children are taken out of the home.

“We’re in a pay now or pay later business. When our children end up in institutions, they end up back at home but in so much worse shape,” said Piccola. “We are by definition a reactive system. It doesn’t have to be that way. We can have a child protection system that is more proactive and that is how we’re going to try to intervene as long as I’m here. We’re waiting too long to intervene and it’s costing more money.”

Resident Carol Wilson Allen said she feels churches should also play greater a role in educating families.

“If you don’t speak about it, you’re going to keep having the abuse or the drug addiction,” said Wilson Allen. “I think education is very important, not only in the churches but in the families. If we can educate the parents, I think we’re going to have a better outcome in our communities. In churches we need to talk about these issues and not be afraid.”

Piccola said DCYF aims to implement additional parent intervention programs and to make it somewhat easier to become a foster parent.

“We’re working on it,” Piccola said. “We do need to be cautious and careful about who’s going to be taking care of our kids. There’s going to be red tape – but are there things that we could do a better job of. We can’t afford to lose any family.”

Lessing said that would-be foster families should contact CCA.

“If you know of folks that want to be foster parents, direct them to us,” said Lessing. “The advantage we have is that we are a Woonsocket organization.”

City Councilor Christopher Beauchamp said something needs to be done about Woonsocket’s abuse problem.

“We’ve got kids that need help,” Beauchamp said. “There should be a satellite office in Woonsocket with numbers this high.”

Comments

I just have to say there is a lot of abuse out there and there is not abuse and the one is not abuse was chump charges and put on a record so i know for a fact because they made chump charges on my daughter when she never had children at the time it was made and my son abuse his children just need help and they took my grand kids away and would not even give them to me because i had a record and all mine was none founded the system is crupted. so the ones that need to be take are not taken. and you have a judge is sided for dcyf the ones who need to be adopted are not the one who don't need and to be with family are adopted out

I here more and more about Children being taken from homes. It seems like when this happens no one wants them.Every child is going to have issues it is all about how you handle it. I have taken both my grandson's .I Have Had 1 since 7 months the other since birth . I have raised them 1 is 16 now the other is 14. The youngest had issues from birth . But I never gave up.How ever it is sad that a lot of kids today are no where near respectful as we were as kids. You see smaller children playing outside swearing up a storm that is sad .Kids do as they see and say what they here, so it is not there fault.If I had a bigger place i would take in a child or 2 but I can't. I hate to see kids thrown into the system its not fare to them . And if they need help then get them the help. If A child is removed from the home I am quite sure there is reason. There are so many grand parents raising there grand kids.At least then some still get to see there parents. But if they are being abused then do not let them return until something has resolved . Thats all I have to say . Thank You Donna M