Jewish World Review Nov. 2, 2000 / 4 Mar-Cheshvan 5761
If you have been asking yourself
what you can do ...
COLUMBUS, Ohio | These reports have made
readers angry and upset.
The killing of 3-year-old P.J. Bourgeois by his
father and his father's girlfriend -- and the
subsequent early release from prison of his killers
by Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge
Nodine Miller, without objection by Franklin County prosecutors -- has
caused people to say: "What can we do to stop this kind of thing?"
Nothing can bring P.J. Bourgeois back. But there are several ways you can
help children who are being hurt by the adults who are supposed to be
nurturing them, or by the courts that are supposed to be protecting them.
- One of the finest programs in the United States to help abused and
neglected children from being forgotten in busy courtrooms is the Court
Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) organization.
CASA volunteers are carefully trained, and then are appointed by judges to
follow a specific child's case through the court, and to speak to the court on
that child's behalf. This is not a job to take on a whim; it requires hard work
and true dedication. If you are assigned to represent a child, and you become
lazy or distracted, you can be every bit as harmful to that child as a callous
judge or an unsympathetic prosecutor. But if you put your heart into it, you
can literally save a child's life.
There are CASA programs in every state except Vermont. If you would like
to inquire about joining, the telephone number is 1-800-628-3233.
- If you believe a child is being abused, there are hotlines in most states, set
up by child protective agencies. If you aren't certain whether you should
make the call, make the call. The person on the other end will listen.
If your directory assistance operator does not know the number of your local
child abuse hotline, call 1-800-4-A-CHILD. The person who answers will be
able to put you in touch with the right officials in the place where you live.
- If you'd like to learn more about how you can help children who are being
hurt, an excellent resource is the organization Prevent Child Abuse America.
Whatever questions you have, they are likely to know the answers -- and if
they don't, they can find out.
You can learn about this organization by using your computer
(www.preventchildabuse.org), or you can contact the group at
- We have all heard and read stories about child protective services workers
who go to a home where a child is being hurt, who leave without doing
anything . . . and before long the child is found dead.
After the fact, there is always criticism: Why did the workers not save the
child by removing the child from the home?
Removing a child from his or her home is not an easy process -- nor should it
be. It is a profoundly serious step that should never be undertaken lightly --
with good reason.
But there is another way to protect a child who is being hurt. If the child is not
removed, the person who is hurting the child can be.
What is often overlooked in these cases is that a crime -- a felony -- is being
committed against a victim: a child. Someone has the authority to get the
person committing the crime out of the house.
That is the police department. If you know that a crime is being committed
against a child, you can call 911 and report it. In some cities, the police are
enlightened and alert about the abuse and torture of children, and will react
quickly and professionally. In others, unfortunately, the police still believe that
these cases are none of their business -- that they are the business only of the
If you are convinced that a crime against a child is being committed, don't
allow the person who answers the 911 call to tell you to go somewhere else.
Get that person's name -- and demand to speak to his or her supervising
officer. Don't hang up until you know someone is looking into what you have
called about. At that moment, you are all the child has -- and your persistence
may, in some cases, be the child's only hope.
In the end, though, telephone numbers and child-advocacy organizations can
go only so far. There is a connective thread that ties all of these cases
together -- the killing of P.J. Bourgeois, and all of the other cases that break
our hearts. Understanding that common thread is the key to finally making
things better -- as we will explain on Sunday, as this series of reports
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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©1999, Tribune Media Services