Most often children die at hands of young men




Most often children die at hands of young men

By Dawn Gagnon
BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — Fathers and father figures are most often the perpetrators of severe physical abuse of children, including cases that result in death, according to law enforcement and child abuse authorities in Maine.

On Feb. 23, Damien Christopher Lynn became the first Maine child to die this year as the result of severe abuse. He is the 12th child under age 18 to die as the result of homicide in the state since 2005.

According to authorities, Damien Lynn suffered injuries including brain trauma, a broken arm and broken ribs.

The man police have accused of killing the boy, Edgard Anziani, was the boyfriend of Damien’s mother. He lived on and off with the mother and child for four months before the homicide, according to court records. Anziani, who is from Lawrence, Mass., was arrested by federal authorities Monday in Bladensburg, Md. He waived extradition and is expected to appear in a Bangor court next week.

Statistics maintained by the Maine Department of Public Safety show that 12 children have died as the result of homicide or manslaughter over the past five years. The numbers show that the youngest, the most vulnerable, are most at risk. Eight victims were under age 3, and most of the children died at the hands of a parent, stepparent or the partner of a parent, according to Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety. Click here to see a list of Maine homicide victims under age 18 from 2005 to present.

“We average about 24 homicides over the course of a year, and in a typical year, we usually have at least a couple that are children,” McCausland said.

The exception was in 2008, McCausland said, when five children were murdered in Maine.

“The vast majority are children who died at the hands of a young man, usually the father or the mother’s boyfriend,” he said.

Dr. Lawrence Ricci of Portland, the state’s only child abuse pediatrician and an expert often consulted by law enforcement officials and others for his 22 years of experience in the field, agrees.

“That’s certainly the case in Maine, and it’s certainly the case nationally,” Ricci said Friday in a telephone interview.

In Maine and in the United States, the perpetrators of serious physical child abuse or homicide are most likely fathers, next are nonbiological father figures such as stepfathers or mothers’ boyfriends, and then sitters, Ricci said.

Mothers are the fourth-most-likely perpetrators and “well down on the list,” he said.

The dozen children who died as the result of severe physical abuse “are just the tip of the iceberg,” Ricci said Friday. Ten times as many Maine children end up in the hospital because of severe physical abuse, and 10 times more are injured but never taken to the hospital, he said.

Common risk factors for child abuse include parents who have been victims themselves; parents who have been in the child welfare system, such as foster care; parental drug and alcohol abuse; criminal history and prior child protective history, Ricci said.

Maternal depression and socioeconomic stressors also are factors, he said.

“Those are some of the big ones,” he said, adding that poverty plays a large role in the problem.

“My colleagues around the country and I have seen almost a doubling in the last two years of significant abuse of babies, we think because of the economic downturn, both because of the economic stress it puts on families directly and because of the loss of available support services,” Ricci said.

“When you can’t provide the basic support services for families, the babies suffer,” he said, adding that the state has had difficulty providing those services.

To that end, Ricci and other child advocates in Maine are hoping that the recently launched “Period of Purple Crying” program, which now operates largely through donations and volunteers, will have an impact.

The educational campaign seeks to teach new parents that prolonged, intense crying often is normal and that parents and caregivers need to give themselves a break when the stress that results from the crying threatens to overwhelm their self-control.

A similar program introduced in upstate New York a few years ago brought about a 50 percent reduction in the number of serious injuries from shaken baby syndrome, Ricci said.

Though the “Period of Purple Crying” program has been available at hospitals in many parts of Maine for more than a year, Ricci said it is still too early to say how effective it has been.

One service that Ricci said he would like to see one day in Maine is long-term home visitation that would specifically target high-risk families. Ideally, the service would be provided until the child reaches school age before development problems from abuse and neglect have a chance to set in.

“Once they do, they are almost impossible to reverse,” he said.

Though it likely wouldn’t have saved Damien Lynn, state law requires a long list of professionals to report suspicions of child abuse and neglect or when a suspicious child death occurs.

The list includes law enforcement officials, clergy, municipal and state officials, school staff and bus drivers and bus attendants, medical and emergency medical professionals, social service workers, mental health providers, child care workers, summer camp personnel, domestic violence counselors, sexual assault counselors, film and photographic print processors, court-appointed guardians or advocates and any other person who is responsible for the care or custody of a child.

Those who are legally required to report suspicions of abuse also must make a reasonable attempt to take color photographs of any areas of trauma that are visible on a child, the law states.

To report child abuse or neglect, call the Maine Child and Family Services hot line, which is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The toll-free number is 800-452-1999, and the TTY line for the deaf and hard of hearing is 800-963-9490.

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