ENGLEWOOD — Guest speaker the Rev. Rod Myers, pastor , from Believers Against Abuse and Neglect of Kids, reached out to spiritual and community leaders in Englewood at the Just Neighbors meeting Tuesday at St. David’s Episcopal Church to help improve the lives of children and their families.
According to the Florida Department of Children and Families, there were 1,440 child protective investigations in Charlotte County in 2012, and 2,754 in Sarasota County.
Myers, who’s from Central Church of Christ in Sarasota, started BAANK following the 2004 rape and murder of 11-year-old Carlie Brucia, who was found in a wooded area on the church grounds after being abducted at a car wash 2 miles away. A memorial garden was built in the area and annual rallies with 500-1,500 people have been held in her name, but for Myers, that wasn’t enough.
“The focus of the group is to bridge the faith community with child welfare,” Myers said. “We do faithbased, court-approved parenting classes for people who are working to get their children back. We have four classes operating and more will come in the future.”
Myers said the rallies have stopped this year as BAANK’s involvement expands. The organization is working with the Safe Children Coalition, a subsidiary of the YMCA, which has a contract with DCF for the 12th Judicial Circuit.
“We’re trying to bring awareness to what’s going on with the children today between neglect, abuse and human trafficking,” said Pat Knox, an outreach minister at St. David’s. “(Children) are our future. If we don’t do something now, it’s going to be too late.”
Knox said networking is the key.
“We have a lot of good services out there,” she said. “We have a lot of people. Our elderly don’t know what’s going on, but younger people tend to know what’s going on because they’re more attuned to their technological resources. The older generation (does) not know how to find the information, nor (understands) what’s available.”
Myers said two major reasons why children are abused are parent drug abuse and domestic violence — which often are related.
“Different kinds of abuse are involved in many of my cases,” said Juanita French from the Guardian Ad Litem office in Charlotte County, which provides child advocacy. “There’s always something to be learned. There are more and more kids who come into the court system. Many of these cases get swept under the rug. There’s such a great need of taking care of our children.”
BAANK is recruiting supervisors for parents who can see their children only during monitored visits.
Myers also discussed progress in regard to child welfare such as Florida House Bill 1355, which was prompted by the Penn State child sex-abuse scandal. The legislation, which took effect in October, makes it illegal for anyone involved in school activities, from students to staff, to willfully and knowingly fail to report any sexual abuse. The measure carries a fine of up to $1 million per incident and potential criminal charges.
“When there’s domestic violence, children are the hidden victims,” said Sue Todd, a victim advocate from the Center for Abuse and Rape Emergencies in Englewood. “It’s everybody’s issue. Children don’t have a voice, and we can help them with prevention and awareness.”
If you are a victim of or suspect child abuse, call the Florida Abuse hotline at 800-96-ABUSE (2-2873).