Child abuse investigator: “Be a reporter.”

WV State PoliceMORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The investigators and child advocates who work with abuse and neglect victims stress the importance of notifying authorities if you suspect trouble.

“Be a reporter. Be someone who can be counted on to turn something like this in,” advised Sgt. Adam Scott. He is the coordinator for the West Virginia State Police Crimes Against Children Unit covering most of our region.

Seven Taylor County children, 9 months to 8 years old, were removed from deplorable living conditions this week. Their parents were jailed on 7 felony counts of child neglect resulting in risk of injury.

Taylor County Prosecutor John Bord called it the worst case of child neglect he’s seen in a decade.

“It was a bad situation, just very, very bad. There was head lice and fleas and blow flies. It was terrible. There were dogs in the house, cats in the house. You can imagine the mess there was,” Bord said.

The children in Grafton were immediately hospitalized to be disinfected and checked for medical concerns. The Department of Health and Human Resources often works with agencies like Children’s Home Society in Morgantown. Andrea Peters is a social worker with that group. She said foster families are hard to come by – a challenge in the state – and it’s not an easy job.

“Typically when it comes to cases like this, the first 24 hours after the removal are the most crucial,” explained Peters. “You have to get doctor’s appointments in, dentist appointments in. Paperwork has to be signed. It’s a very high intense moment.”

A DHHR webpage indicates ANYONE can report suspected child abuse or neglect. A code enforcement officer called police for a welfare check in the Grafton neglect investigation after seeing human feces in the yard.

“We advise people when they see something like this, and this is exactly what happened in this case, report it to your local police authorities. They are mandatory reporters. So, not only do they conduct an investigation, they have to report to the department of human services,” Bord said.

Sgt. Scott, who trains troopers statewide on what to look for on child abuse calls, has as many as 10 cases he’s working at a time.

“People want to mind their own business in every aspect these days in every aspect, not just this type of thing. We need more people to call in if they suspect something. There are ways to call in and report something anonymously. They don’t have to give their names if that’s what they’re afraid of doing.”

Reports can be made to the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline (1-800-352-6513) 7 days a week, 24 hours a day or by calling local police or 911.

There are certain people the state deems as a mandatory reporter. That means they must notify police if they see or are made aware of child abuse or neglect. Among the mandatory reporters: health and medical professionals, teachers and school workers, members of the clergy.

According to the coordinator of the WV State Police Crimes Against Children Unit, abuse and neglect can have a lasting effect, especially if nobody intervenes early.

“It’s a long road for some of these children. Some of them recover from these types of abuses and some of them don’t,” explained Sgt. Adam Scott.

West Virginia law provides immunity from civil or criminal liability for persons reporting in good faith.

Department of Health and Human Resources workers must be familiar with Child Protective Services policy, foster care policy, adoption policy along with rules for proceedings in child abuse and neglect cases.

“The more you know, the more you know where to help, what you can do,” said Peters.

Sgt. Scott suggests more for long time support for children’s advocate groups:

“We need more coverage. We need more people out there to investigate these types of crimes, more funding for local child advocacy centers because not every county has one. Sometimes that’s a problem.” He advises listeners: “Just to contact their legislators and say hey, this is an important matter for us.”

The more advocates working together, the better the outcome for victims Peters said.

“Another win for us is when we go court and we finalize those adoptions and know that those kids are going to be taken care of for the rest of their life and they don’t have to worry about anything, it’s just amazing.”