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Child abuse is rising in the country and the state. Each county has its own procedures for investigating child abuse cases, including El Paso County. File Photo
Child abuse in the nation is growing at an alarming rate and the death of children due to abuse is climbing as well.

In July a congressional hearing took place in Washington D.C. regarding child deaths due to maltreatment. Experts testified why these types of deaths went undercounted. It was found that in at least three states deaths from child abuse were undercounted by 55 to 76 percent.

According to www.nationalchildrensalliance.org there was an estimated 1,770 child deaths resulting from abuse in the United States in 2009. During the hearing experts concluded that the number was likely closer to 2,500.

The National Children’s Alliance also states on their website that in that same year 44 states reported that more than three million children received preventative services from child protective service agencies and victims in the age group of birth to age 1 had the highest rate of victimization.

Colorado is not excluded from cases in which children have been abused. In fact there have even been several deaths as a result of abuse.

Recent Cases in El Paso County

Twenty-seven-year-old Melissa Alexander was arrested on suspicion of abusing her boyfriend’s 1-year-old daughter in early November. Alexander admitted to throwing a sippy cup at the little girl a week earlier but claims she doesn’t know what caused her to become unconscious on Nov. 14. She is currently being held in the El Paso County Jail.

On Oct. 28 Estella Toleafoa pled guilty to felony child abuse. In March Toleafoa left her nine-month-old in a bath of scalding water while she went to go buy cigarettes and chicken wings. The autopsy report indicated that the baby died from drowning and scalds. The baby’s father was serving in Afghanistan at the time. Toleafoa faces 24 to 48 years in prison.

On Oct. 24 Tonya and Bryan Ricks were sentenced each to a 25-year maximum prison sentence for starving their teenage son until he weighed 50 pounds. They also refused to get treatment for his seizure disorder. The couple pled guilty in September to child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury.

Two cases hit closer to home in the Tri-Lakes area. Genesis Sims was allegedly beaten to death by her father Hanif Sims and then buried in the crawlspace of the family’s Monument home by Sims and his girlfriend Monique Lynch. Sims is due to stand trial in January. Edward Jr. and Austin Bryant were also allegedly abused by their adoptive parents. The boys disappeared and there hasn’t been a paper trail on them since 2003. Their parents, Edward and Linda Bryant are scheduled to go to trial on fraud charges in coming months as they continued to receive a subsidy from the county after the boys went missing.

They have not been charged in the disappearance of the boys.

Could these circumstances have been averted? The two young men who accused the Bryants of abusing their adoptive children were children themselves at the time the alleged abuse took place and probably didn’t know where to turn. The Ricks were offered help by their church, their children’s school and the Colorado Department of Human Services but refused to accept any of the help.

Genesis Sims’ case was initially being monitored by the New Jersey Department of Youth and Family Services and was referred to Colorado after Hanif Sims moved his family to Monument. It is not known whether or not they received help.

What Happens When Abuse is Suspected?

El Paso County Department of Human Services receives calls of suspected abuse 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All calls are looked into.

“Depending on the concern for the safety issue or vulnerability of the child it will be assigned to a case worker,” Karen Logan, child welfare manager for the department, said.

Several group supervisors will evaluate the referrals and then determine which ones need to be investigated and if they need immediate attention or they can be looked into within three calendar days or five working days.

“It’s all based on what the level of concern is,” Logan said.

If there is an investigation Logan said they are required to go to the homes, schools and daycare centers to interview siblings, teachers, other adults in the house and the alleged perpetrators. They also gather information from police reports and DHS history. “We have to make a determination whether a child is safe or not. (Children) aren’t always removed from the home,” Logan said.

In fact DHS will do what it can to keep the family intact while providing services to help the family. If a child is removed they may go to live with a relative. “We try to find the least restrictive, most safe option,” Logan added.

After the investigation the results of the findings are either determined to be founded, inconclusive — meaning there wasn’t enough proof — or they are unfounded.

“A majority of our cases are unfounded in the county and statewide as well,” Logan said.

El Paso County, as with the rest of the counties in the state, is required to follow the Colorado Children’s Code which defines physical abuse as visible signs of injury. However each county may interpret the code different therefore some counties are higher than others when it comes to how many cases are founded.

Where Does El Paso County Stand?

Of the top 10 counties in Colorado El Paso County had the highest number of referrals for suspected child abuse in 2009, 2010 and 2011. In 2009 there were 11,114 and in 2010 there were 12,604 referrals. In 2011 as of August there were 10,049 referrals. Not all the referrals have been added for September and October.

In 2009 only 5,648 were referred over for investigation and 6,174 were investigated in 2010. As of August there have been 4,783 referrals investigated to date.

The number of actual founded cases in the county that were reported was significantly lower. In 2009 there were 688 founded cases and there were 794 in 2010. As of August 2011 there were 611 founded cases.

Adams County had the highest number of founded cases in the state for 2009, 2010 and 2011. The county had 1,251 in 2009, 1,186 in 2010 and so far in 2011 there have been 742. The number of founded cases combined so far this year is 4,017 for the top 10 counties which in addition to El Paso and Adams includes Arapahoe, Boulder, Denver, Jefferson, Larimer, Mesa, Pueblo and Weld.

Child abuse is can be physical, neglect, emotional and sexual and crosses all racial, economic and cultural lines. People that see a child everyday and get to know that child and what goes on at home like a teacher or coach may be the ones to report suspected abuse.

How Does a School District Handle Abuse?

Bob Foster, director of personal and student services for Lewis-Palmer School District 38, said they are required by law to report any signs of abuse. “That’s something as a district we take very seriously,” he said.

The call to DHS is usually made by a counselor or administrator. On occasion they will consult with the school resource officer if need be. Foster has a workshop for new teachers at the beginning of each school year to train them in what to do if they suspect abuse.

“If you suspect it you report it,” Foster said. “It’s not our job to investigate it.”

If anyone suspects a child is being abused they can call the child abuse and neglect hotline at 719-444-5700.


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