Sunday, August 19, 2001

Are kids collateral damage?

A child is dead and police say the babysitter did it. Again.

        You can pick up the newspaper any day and find a horror story about a child left in the care of the wrong somebody. Mostly, they don't die. Shaken, scalded, beaten, sexually abused. But alive.

        Sometimes they take what they have learned at the hands of their adult tormentors and try it out on each other.

        We don't know the details yet of what happened Wednesday in a one-bedroom apartment in Northside. But we know Takeya Bryant died a terrible death. Authorities say the 8 year old was beaten and sexually assaulted. “She threw up out of her nose,” a cousin told the 911 operator.

Welfare to work

        This time, the accused is not a boyfriend or a friend of a friend of a friend. It's a 13-year-old relative, the same cousin who called 911. Takeya's 11-year-old brother also has been charged.

        “Nobody is born a murderer,” Patricia Eber says. “And it doesn't happen overnight.” Director of Family and Children First Council Ms. Eber is chairwoman of Hamilton County's Child Fatality Review Team. “The question I always ask is: Where was everybody?”

        The children were alone in a small apartment in Northside. The dead child's mother, African Evans, was working at one of her two jobs.

        She was not on welfare.

        Next week marks the five-year anniversary of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunities Act. President Clinton said when he signed it into law that he was ending “welfare as we know it.” It's also known as “welfare to work.”

        So, did the government pull the rug out from under parents? Did we force a generation of mothers into the work force without providing a plan for their children?

        Not entirely.


        “We've bent over backward to expand subsidized daycare in this county,” says Laurie Petrie, spokeswoman for Hamilton County's Department of Job and Family Services. “Parents pay on a sliding scale, based on income,” she says. “The form is simple. You can get information by phone.”

        But she says summers are tough. “Parents with school-age kids wind up with cobbled-together, casual situations that can fall apart quickly.”

        Still, the county assisted 9,000 families last year with $46.8 million in federal and state child care money. Isn't that enough?

        “Get real,” says Eileen Cooper Reed of the Children's Defense Fund.

        “As much as I love the work the county has done, we need to insist that the youngest of our citizens have safe, affordable, stimulating child-care environments. And we don't.”

        She cites low wages for child-care workers, says we should have a national policy on child care. “About 70 percent of children eligible for subsidies in this country are in unregulated care.”

        What about the parents? Isn't that their responsibility?

        She snorts. It's muffled. But a definite snort.

        “Nobody raises their children by themselves. Teachers. Clergy. Caregivers. Family. We all need help. And if we love children as much as we say we do, we'll take responsibility for them. The county is only government, doing our bidding. We need to look at our priorities. And question them.”

        If Takeya Bryant, age 8, could ask a question of her own, it might be, “Where was everybody?”

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