LAST week you saw facts and figures detailing extreme levels of animal abuse and neglect, plus the pitiful and shameful lack of government intervention or enforcement to address it. Chilling indeed, but hardly surprising. Equally unsurprising is the lack of any continuing interest on the part of local media and public officials. Events that can’t be ignored sometimes trigger fleeting and superficial attention or knee-jerk legislation, but that’s about all.
Now that we have that out of the way, for the moment let’s consider another social issue that should be – but is not – grounds for unrelenting public outrage and demands for action. I refer to child abuse and neglect, a subject with which we’re all very familiar because we read and hear about it nearly every day. No matter the face you choose to put on it, statistics clearly and painfully tell the story of another shameful facet of Guam society. The following information has been available through local media but garnered little comment and – much to their discredit – no appreciable reaction from public officials.
Drawing from recent media reports citing statistics released by Guam Child Protective Services, we find that for Fiscal Year 2011, “The number of referrals to CPS increased 113 percent, from 289 reports between October to December 2010 to 616 between January and March 2011. … The reports for the first quarter covered 409 children, and that doubled to 815 the following quarter.” As you can see, such reports often involve more than one child.
Neglect – failure to provide for basic needs of food, clothing and shelter – is the top cause for referrals, with the remainder involving physical abuse, sexual abuse and emotional abuse, in that order. When parental neglect puts a child at risk through action or inaction by others, these categories often overlap. Some have resulted in the death of the child.
Though FY2010 saw increases in all areas of abuse over 2006 baseline data, most alarming is the 46 percent increase in reported sexual abuse of children – as noted, a subject for local media on virtually a daily basis. It may be that escalating numbers actually reflect enhanced public awareness and willingness to come forward rather than any substantial increase in a pervasive societal problem that’s actually been there all along.
Committee Chair on Health and Human Services Sen. Dennis Rodriguez Jr. terms the growing abuse levels “concerning” and thinks they “need closer attention.” We agree, but would take it a step further and submit that it’s a sad and shameful commentary on our society. The senator is apparently willing to blame a stumbling economy and substance abuse for the problem. The unemployed, it seems, are suspected of having a ready supply of “substance” and some extra time to engage in abusive behavior.
Good try senator, but we don’t buy that in its entirety. How about the pervasive absence of family planning? We seem to have an overabundance of those who thoughtlessly bring children into the world without the means to support them, much of it involving children having children.
What do we have to support this heretical notion? First, the statistics noted above. Secondly, the relatively low and declining income level among Guam’s rank and file. The 2010 Household and Per Capita Income Report shows the average Guam household size increased while per capita income decreased to $12,864 – less than one-third of the national average. Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly, another recent report shows Guam tied with Utah (with an average income of $32,473) for the nation’s highest birth rate. Draw your own conclusions.