Child abuse increased in hurricanes’ wake

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 10, 2005


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE — Child Advocacy Services pledges continued help for children as the cases for child sexual abuse have increased in the River Parishes over the past two months.

During the aftermaths of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, child abuse has been on the rise, especially sexual abuse. Five cases of child sexual abuse were reported in a two-week period in St. John Parish. CAS relates the rise to the devastation of the hurricanes.

CAS was created in 1993 to advocate on behalf of children who have been physically or emotionally abused and neglected, according to CAS Director of Community Partnerships Stewart Harvey.

CAS Chief Executive Officer John Wyble said CAS will continue to provide recovery for the children and the families who are trying to help the children rebuild their lives.

“CAS has always been about rebuilding lives,” he said. “And today we are continuing to serve the forgotten victims in our communities, abused and neglected children. Our agency advocates for children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse and/or neglect. We train volunteers to become Court Appointed Special Advocates who stand by the child’s side throughout the court process. Another of our programs is the Children’s Advocacy Center (located in Luling) where children who have been sexually abused can tell their story to a trained counselor.”

CAS works closely with law enforcement to preserve the testimony of the children on video and audiotape, which can also be used as evidence in the courtroom. Although many steps are taken to protect the children, especially during this time of need, Wyble worries that the areas will focus too much on the recovery of Katrina and on rebuilding communities and forget about the children in need.

“Child abuse does not go away in a time of disaster, he said. “In fact, statistics indicate that it increases as family tensions increase.”

According to Harvey the hurricane has only worsened the problems of child abuse. He also said, “according to the National Center for Disease Control, reported incidents of assaults on children has risen dramatically. In these tumultuous times, untracked and opportunistic predators are in a position to roam unchecked through communities and shelters.”

CAS services are provided in 10 parishes in Louisiana including the River Parishes, East and West Feliciana, Livingston, Ascension, Assumption, St. Helena and Tangipahoa parishes.

The current need during this increase of abuse is volunteers. CAS Regional Program Director Lakisha Hills said she is asking for help from former trained volunteers.

“Many of our current volunteers were displaced by the hurricane, so we really need more help,” she said. “Those everyday heroes who want to continue their part in the rebuilding process of this area are asked to consider channeling their passions and energies to work on behalf of our children.”

Child Services Coordinator Christa Sutton for CAS at the Madere Advocacy Center in Luling, said, “I have seen a dramatic increase in requests for educational presentations on how to identify and recognize symptoms of neglect and abuse in children from schools and daycare centers.”

Sutton offers daycare through fifth grade student’s prevention program presentations titled “What to do.” She said the presentation goes over many types of child abuse and how a child and their parents can identify and report different abuses.

Child Services Coordinator in the CAS LaPlace office Mary Gibson said by doing these presentations they are “giving caregivers and children the tools to identify improper behavior, arming them against abuse.”

She also said hurricanes Katrina and Rita have left deep psychological wounds on the members of our community.

“Adults who don’t know how to recognize the effects and symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome may end up directing their frustrations upon innocent children who are easy targets for release of anger.”

CAS has identified five of the most commonly asked questions and their answers:

Q: How do I respond to a child who reports his/her victimization?

A: Give the child reassurance that they did the right thing by reported the abuse and neglect. Respect the privacy of the child. The child will need to tell their story in detail later to investigators or a trained forensic interviewer, so do not press the child for details. Remember, you need only to have cause to believe abuse has occurred to make a report. Do not display horror, shock or disapproval of the parents, of the child, or the situation. Do not place blame or make judgments about the parents or the child.

Q: What information do I need to report?

A: If known, reports of suspected child abuse shall contain the name, age and address of the child and his parents or other caretakers. The nature and extent of abuse, including any evidence of previous abuse and any explanation given by the caretakers for injuries should also be reported.

Q: Will my report be confidential?

A: Reporters are not required to identify themselves when providing information on suspected child abuse and/or neglect, although it is preferred when case follow-up is needed, if the reporter gives his name, Louisiana law provided that the reporter’s name shall not be revealed. However, if the matter becomes the subject of court action, the reporter may be subpoenaed as witness and could be identified as the reporter.

Q: Can I be sued if I report?

A: Louisiana law provides that anyone participating in “good faith” in making a report of child abuse and who has reasonable grounds for making the report shall have immunity from any liability, civil or criminal, that might otherwise be incurred or imposed with respect to such a report.

Q: Who do I contact if I suspect child abuse?

A: An oral report shall be made immediately by telephone to the local child protection unit of the Department of Social Services/Office of Community Services (OCS) and if necessary (out of home perpetrator) to law enforcement.

Signs of child abuse and neglect are not always easy to notice, especially when some of the symptoms can be relevant to other conditions. Here are four types of abuse and their symptoms:

Physical Abuse

  • Unexplained burns, cuts, bruises or welts in the shape of an object
  • Bite marks
  • Anti-social behavior
  • Problems in school
  • Fear of adults

Emotional Abuse

  • Apathy
  • Depression
  • Hostility or stress
  • Lack of concentration
  • Eating disorders

Sexual Abuse

  • Inappropriate interest or knowledge of sexual acts
  • Nightmares and bed-wetting
  • Drastic changes in appetite
  • Over compliance or excessive aggression
  • Fear of a particular person or family members


  • Unsuitable clothing for weather
  • Dirty or unbathed
  • Extreme hunger
  • Apparent lack of supervision

For more information about abuse or anyone who might be interested in volunteering to help fight against abuse contact Mary Gibson at (985) 652-8384 or at 1-800-798-1575.

To schedule a prevention presentation, contact Christa Sutton at (985) 785-5226. Other information is provided on the website