Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt and the Kansas Child Death Review Board are encouraging Kansans to wear blue on April 19 to increase awareness of child abuse. The effort is part of April's observance of Child Abuse Prevention Month.
"Our children are our state's most precious resource," Schmidt said in a press release. "Too often, the signs of neglect or abuse go unnoticed. This month serves as a reminder for us all to remain watchful to ensure our children grow up in a safe and healthy environment."
According to the 2012 data report of the Department of Children and Families, 532 cases of abuse and/or neglect were reported in Ford County last year. Of those cases, 330 were investigated and 39 were found to be substantial reports. Finney County was found to have an even higher number of children suffering from neglect or abuse with 55 substantiated cases.
Since the beginning of 2013, seven criminal child abuse cases have been filed in Ford County District Court.
Brock Cunningham, 28, was arrested Jan. 17 on charges of first degree murder and child abuse. The charges are related to Cunningham's alleged role in the November 2008 death of 3 1/2-year-old Natalie Pickle. The case has remained open since and has attracted media attention statewide. At the time of Pickle's death, Cunningham reportedly told investigators she had fallen off the bed. Cunningham will appear in court May 28 for a contested preliminary hearing on the charges.
Also on Jan. 17, child abuse charges were filed against 26-year-old Elizabeth Romero-Alvarez. Court documents allege that Romero-Alvarez, while babysitting a 9-month-old boy in Nov. 2012, "became frustrated with the baby and shook him." She was also charged with aggravated endangering of a child for the incident and per stipulations of a diversion on the charges, admitted to the offense in late March. The diversion was the result of a plea agreement through which Romero-Alvarez plead no contest to an assault charge and was sentenced to six months unsupervised probation with a 90-day underlying sentence.
Twenty-one-year-old Juan Francisco Bartolome was taken into custody Feb. 13 on a child abuse charge. Court records show the alleged abuse occurred Jan. 30 and involved a 20-month-old boy. And while Ford County Attorney Natalie Randall has confirmed that the victim of the alleged abuse is deceased, she said the death does not appear to be related to the abuse. Randall said she could not identify the child in question based on office policy. A contested preliminary hearing for Bartolome is scheduled for April 25.
On March 6, two counts of child abuse were filed against Joyci Rebecca Bradshaw. The 44-year-old Dodge City resident is accused of torturing or cruelly beating two children ages six and eight. The incident took place Oct. 21, 2012. Bradshaw will appear in court today on the charges.
The next charges of child abuse in Ford County District Court were filed March 15 against 23-year-old Samantha Olivas for an incident that occurred April 23, 2012. Olivas is accused of unlawfully and intentionally inflicting cruel and inhuman corporal punishment on a six-year-old child. Court documents list Olivas as living in Salina, Kan. She is set to appear in court April 25.
Page 2 of 2 - Then, on March 22, Jose Navarrete, 35, was chared with child abuse for allegedly "cruelly beating and/or inflicting cruel and inhuman corporal punishment...by the use of a belt." The child involved in the charge is 7 years old. Court documents allege the incident occured March 15 of this year. Navarrete is set to appear in court April 18. Documents show parties involved are working on plea negotiations.
Charges against Bertha Leticia Rayo filed March 27 allege that Rayo "cruelly beat" a 3-year-old child. The charges stem from an incident in April 2011. The case marks the second round of charges against Rayo involving a child. Rayo plead guilty to helping Aroldo Guerra-Garcia — a man wanted for sexually assaulting a 4-year-old girl — elude authorities in July 2012. The child in both cases is identified by the same initials and birth date in court documents, but Belling said he could not confirm whether or not it was indeed the same child. Rayo listed Guerra-Garcia as her former husband on Ford County Court documents. The relationship between Rayo, Guerra-Garcia and the child in either case was not immediately clear.
Warning signs of child abuse may include parents or caregivers who lack social contact outside the family, have alcohol or drug abuse problems, or are excessively controlling or resentful of a child, according to the Kansas Child Death Review Board.
Victims of child abuse can exhibit a lack of trust, are fearful or anxious about going home, have uncontrolled emotions, and lash out in anger. They may feel worthless, depressed, shameful and withdraw from others. Victims frequently have inadequately explained injuries, exhibit excessive sadness or crying and have difficulty sleeping. Children who are neglected generally have bad hygiene, wear ill-fitting or dirty clothing and have untreated injuries or illnesses. They can appear underdeveloped and malnourished and have excessive school absences.
Children regularly get bruises and bumps, especially over bony areas such as the knees, elbows and shins. However, injuries on other parts of the body, such as the stomach, cheeks, ears, buttocks, mouth, or thighs raise concerns of abuse. Black eyes, human bite marks and burns seldom come from everyday play.
"Child abuse can arise from a variety of factors," Angela Nordhus, executive director of the Kansas Child Death Review Board, said in a press release. "Emotions can run high due to stress, lack of understanding of child development and behavior, parental substance abuse and mental illness. When these emotions are not controlled, everyday situations can spark abusive behavior."
While physical abuse is the most visible form, other types of abuse, such as emotional, sexual and neglect also result in serious harm. Ignoring children's needs, putting them in unsupervised or dangerous situations or creating a sense of worthlessness or being unwanted, are all forms of abuse.
To report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect, call the Kansas Protection Report Center at (800) 922-5330. In cases in which the child may be in imminent danger, call 911. For additional information, visit www.ag.ks.gov, or call (785) 296-7970.