April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month

Assemblyman Blankenbush sponsoring legislation to strengthen child abuse laws

Recently, in the news, we’ve seen and heard the disturbing incidents of abuse inflicted on children. While these stories are heartbreaking, they also serve to remind us what we all can do to ensure these tragedies do not happen again.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and in recognition of this month, I’d like to take this opportunity to share with my constituents the simple things you can do to prevent child abuse.

Although a strong family bond is the best deterrent to child abuse, effectively intervening in the lives of children who are threatened by abuse is a shared responsibility. Strengthening the bonds within families requires community members and leaders to partner with parents. From schools to local social service agencies, we can work together to protect the well-being of our children by recognizing the signs of violence and creating safe, stable and nurturing environments that safeguard their future. In fact, here in New York state, medical professionals, social workers, law enforcement, educators and child care workers are required to report suspected child abuse to social service agencies.

To ensure that perpetrators of abuse are brought to justice, I am sponsoring legislation that would provide child victims of assault the same statute of limitations that is currently afforded to child victims of sex crimes. Currently, the statute of limitations on misdemeanor child abuse is two years and just five years on felony child abuse from the date of the crime. This legislation would provide for the statute of limitations to begin running when the child turns 18 or when the offense is reported to a law enforcement agency, whichever occurs first.

I am also co-sponsoring legislation that would require additional investigation when three or more claims of abuse or maltreatment of a child are made relating to the same person, and would require this person to be investigated and evaluated at least once a year for the next five years from the date of the last report. The tragedy of Erin Maxwell in Oswego County is an example of why such a law is necessary. When the Department of Social Services visited the Maxwell home on a tip, they claimed the guardians provided reasonable care and closed the case. However, months later, Erin was found strangled and her stepbrother has since been convicted of her murder. Police reports following her murder described Erin’s living conditions as deplorable and unfit.

An investigation review process would provide follow-up visits. Further, this would give state professionals the opportunity to work in cooperation with the county to evaluate the conditions under which children are living by revisiting the home.

April is a time to recognize the important role that communities play in protecting children. Everyone’s participation is critical. While there are certain professionals who are mandated by law to report suspected child abuse, anyone can call the state Child Abuse Hotline if you suspect abuse or maltreatment of a child. That toll-free number is 1-800-342-3720.