In 1983 April was proclaimed Child Abuse Prevention Month by the president. I don’t know how April was chosen but it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that we have a month where there is an extra effort made to stop this awful behavior that is so rampant in our society.
According to Children’s Bureau (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) there were 686,000 children abused or neglected in the fifty U.S. states, DC, and Puerto Rico. Of those, 1640 died. Many of those could have been prevented with good community programs in place such as early childhood development programs, parental support, and maternal mental health.
The Child Welfare Information Gateway provides some good information on how to help your community prevent child abuse.
This is a cause that is very near and dear to my heart. I have spent a great deal of my life fighting this battle. I worked as a child advocate for many years and I continue to do what I can to prevent child abuse. This is a cause you can join as well. There are many organizations joining in this fight this month. I noticed when I stopped at In N Out Burger (my favorite burger joint) they have a program this month where they are collecting donations and matching 3 to 1 whatever they collect up to $250,000. Many other businesses are doing similar things. This is one way to help, but for those of you who can, getting personally involved is the best way.
Teresa Burrell, Author, Attorney, Advocate
Author of The Advocate Series
Presently in California, the public is excluded from the dependency courtroom unless the judge gives special permission for a non-party to be there. Dependency court is where child abuse and neglect proceedings take place. For approximately 50 years the courts have been closed to the public primarily to protect the minor’s privacy. However, there is an argument that because of the “secrecy” of these courts children’s rights aren’t always protected.
Assembly Bill, AB 73, addresses this issue and suggests that California try a four-year pilot program in which the courtroom would be presumptively open to the public as opposed to being presumptively closed which means they are closed but can be opened at the discretion of the court. In the twelve years I spent in juvenile dependency court I never saw a case opened to the public. However, there was an occasional exception which allowed individual members of the public in the courtroom. With the courts open to the public, some cases would be closed at the discretion of the presiding judge most likely at the request of the child (or child’s attorney).
According to the bill, “personally identifiable information” would not be disclosed in open court and the court would still have the discretion to have the child testify in chambers.
Nationally, only Pennsylvania and Oregon have open courts in dependency. Fifteen other states have presumptively open courts. Fifteen have presumptively closed dependency courts.
The concern for both sides is essentially the same–the potential harm to children. Opponents argue we need to keep the courts closed because the children have a right to privacy. Proponents argue that opening the courts will result in more public awareness and interest in child welfare services resulting in better services for the children.
What are your thoughts? Should California open the dependency courts to the public?