By Steve Hansen
QCS Managing Editor
Quay County’s child wellness team of law enforcement, child welfare workers and advocates, and the Tenth Judicial District Attorney’s office Tuesday enlisted support of another group of front-line allies: public school educators.
“You know these kids. You can see when there are changes that indicate something is wrong,” Lt. Herbert Hinders, New Mexico State Police, told educators from all Quay County districts at the Tucumcari Convention Center. He reminded them that they have an obligation to report suspected abuse to police or the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department.
Hinders talked about how an investigation proceeds.
“Usually, we talk to everyone else involved in an abuse report before we talk to the suspect,” he said.
Pete Rivera, assistant chief of the Tucumcari Police Department, said kids should learn that police are there to protect, not punish.
In some cases of emotional and educational neglect, he said, parents know how to get around some of the laws.
“We will check into things,” he said.
Logan Police Chief Robert Gore said that instead of asking, “What if I’m wrong?” when considering whether to make a child abuse report, teachers should consider the question “What if I’m right?”
The public face of a person who abuses children can often hide well what goes on behind closed doors, he said. He assured teachers that if they call about a case, “it will be investigated,” and because of the child wellness task force, he said, “We know who to go to.”
By reporting suspected abuse, he said, “You can save a kid a lot of misery and pain.”
Teachers also heard presentations by representatives of the CYFD’s Protective Services division and the juvenile justice division, the Arise Sexual Assault Services organization and the Oasis Child Advocacy Center.
Judy Roybal, a CYFD Protective Services case worker, reminded teachers of their obligation to report suspected abuse, but asked teachers to be sure they get the name of the person to whom they make the report and note times and dates.
Child abuse, she said, “usually involves someone in the household.”
Leigh Anna Eugene, representing Arise, said often even family doctors will miss physical signs of sexual abuse. Specialists at Arise, however, know some simple tests that will show abuse, even without obvious signs.
She also advised that when a child reports a sexual abuse situation, it is up to the adult receiving the report to stay calm.
“You have to be the rock,” she said. Later, she said, the adult who receives the report can express high emotions, but when dealing with a reporting youngster, adults have to remain steady.
Hank Baskett of the Oasis advocacy center, said his job as a forensic interviewer in child abuse case is to “empower the kids — let them know it’s OK report abuse.”
He also said that experience has taught him to evaluate the validity of what a child is telling him.
One sign of abuse that is overlooked, he said, is that children are dressed in a way that is inappropriate for the weather.
Tenth Judicial District Attorney Tim Rose said that the child wellness team, which originated from his office, has law enforcement, child welfare workers and educators “working as a unit” to deal with child abuse.
Matt Montoya, who coordinates the DA’s office involvement with the child wellness team, said the group has been meeting monthly, and said “some of the meetings have been not kind,” but that the meetings “get the resources from all agencies together” in one place to discuss policies, procedures and individual cases.
For teachers, he said, the task force means that “you have people you can go to” to deal with suspected child abuse.
Where to report suspected child abuse:
Tucumcari Police: (575)461-2280
Logan Police: (575) 487-2856
New Mexico State Police: (575) 461-3300
CYFD Protective Services: (855) 333-SAFE or (855) 333-7233. On a cell phone, #SAFE or #7233.
Arise Sexual Assault Services: (575) 226-7263