Warning Signs of Child Abuse

A sobering statistic from the US government: 872,000 children were victims of abuse or neglect in 2004.

Those are just the cases that were reported.

Unfortunately, many neglect and abuse cases are invisible or unrecognized – and go unreported.

A New York foster care and adoption agency put together a list of warning signs to aid in the detection and reporting of child abuse.

Besides obvious injuries on, or allegations by children, any of the following may be indicators of abuse:

  • a child who fails to thrive
  • a child who is improperly dressed for the weather
  • a child who wears ill-fitting clothing or clothing in poor condition
  • a child left without adequate supervision who has been injured by another child in the home
  • a child who has indicated that a parenting adult is withholding food
  • a parenting adult failing to provide adequate hygiene or seek medical attention for a child
  • a child suddenly exhibiting signs of depression
  • a child who is always tired
  • a child who is always late to school
  • a child who rapidly gains a tremendous amount of weight
  • a child who exhibits an unhealthy preoccupation with sex
  • a child whose behavior changes noticeably in any way

Too often, even when the signs are there, for whatever reason, no one makes the report.

Abuse recognizes no socioeconomic or racial borders. It can be anywhere, even where you least expect it.

Reports of abuse can be made anonymously and are confidential.

If you suspect that a child in Florida is being abused, the number to call is 1-800-96ABUSE.

Read more in this Long Island [NY] Press article: Speak Up – How To Recognize The Warning Signs Of Child Abuse.

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A New Tool for the Family Lawyer’s Toolkit

A relatively new tool wending its way across the nation are parenting coordinators.

An article from the Minnesota Lawyer gives an overview of parenting coordination as it has been adopted in Minnesota.

Interestingly, there are several notable departures from the Florida implementation.

For example, in Florida, parenting coordinators function only as mediators or facilitators. They do not impose their own decision if the parents are unable to reach an agreement.

And if no agreement is reached, the only consequence is that a report is filed with the court stating that no agreement was reached.

Also, in Florida, parenting coordinators are normally mental health professionals, and the court appointment is usually of a very short duration.

Parenting coordination is still fairly new in South Florida and has yet to gain widespread usage.

Parenting coordination is most likely to be used in high conflict cases, to help parents who can’t agree or communicate on anything, to work out exchange arrangements, visitation schedules and other parenting issues.

Could parenting coordination help in your case?

Read more about Minnesota’s version of parenting coordination in the Harvard University School of Government website article: Parenting coordinators: A new model to resolve parenting disputes.

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Child Custody Jurisdiction Dispute Pursued from Australia to Alabama

An Australia man will be coming to Alabama in an effort to have his baby boy returned to Australia for a custody decision under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

The baby’s mother is from Alabama, but met the man in Australia and joined him there to live for a year after their baby was born.

The mother alleges that the man is abusive and that she and the baby were in danger of physical harm from him. An Alabama judge agreed and granted her an order of protection from him.

Under the Hague Convention, custody decisions are generally made in the country of the child’s habitual residence.

But there is a well-established exception where the child would be in a dangerous situation in the place of habitual residence.

Read more in this Mobile Register article: Judge to hear international custody case – Case deals with child taken from Australia.

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South Carolina vs Texas in Child Custody Jurisdiction Dispute

Two poor, underage kids have a baby together in the state where she is from, South Carolina.

After the baby was born, they all spent time in Texas where he is from. Rough patch. Father files custody suit in Texas, but drops it.

Threesome returns to South Carolina.

Texas grandmother files custody suit in Texas and reports parents to social services in South Carolina. She alleged that the parents used drugs around the baby and that the maternal grandparents were drug dealers and worse. The parents couldn’t make the Texas hearing on just 3 days’ notice – so the Texas judge awarded custody to the paternal grandmother.

The maternal grandmother asked that the baby go into foster care rather than to the paternal grandmother in Texas. And that’s what happened.

The parents did get to visit their baby. The parents took all required parenting classes and drug education classes in an effort to get their baby back.

They hired a lawyer to challenge the Texas order based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Legally, the grounds for challenge were strong.

A South Carolina judge ruled that the Texas court did not have jurisdiction and that the Texas order was not valid. At a later South Carolina hearing, the baby was returned to her parents’ custody.

And then the Texas court held another hearing, again without the parents, and awarded custody to the baby’s paternal grandmother.

The Texas grandmother visited South Carolina. The parents allowed her to take the baby overnight to a motel for a visit.

And the paternal grandmother allegedly absconded with the baby to Texas.

The two states’ courts never communicated with each other in an effort to resolve the jurisdiction dispute. The parents never participated in the Texas proceedings. The grandmother never appealed the South Carolina proceedings.

If nothing else, this article illustrates the nightmare of “dueling custody orders”, which used to happen quite often. The uniform child custody jurisdiction statutes were intended to put an end to that though and, for the most part, have.

Unfortunately, for whatever reasons, neither the parties and their respective counsel, nor the judges in either state, fully utilized the tools made available under the child custody jurisdiction statutes to resolve the jurisdictional dispute early on.

Leading to chaos and confusion for all concerned.

Read more in this GoUpstate article: Part 1: Caught in the middle and Part 2: For area family, the legal wars begin and Part 3: Texas justice system now in control.

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Child Advocates Attack Routine Shackling of Florida’s Juveniles in Courtroom

Which criminal defendants are shackled in the courtroom?

In Florida, that would be juveniles, including young children facing minor charges.

Adults? Probably not.

Adults are protected by their due process rights and concern about possible prejudice in the eyes of the jury.

But most juvenile defendants are routinely shackled in Florida. Their cases will not be decided by a jury. They are treated as though they don’t have due process rights.

The Florida Bar is trying to end this practice of near-automatic shackling of kids in court. Broward and Miami-Dade counties have already altered their policies to eliminate routine shackling of juveniles.

Legislation is anticipated to initiate state-wide changes in the not-too-distant future.

Read more in this Jacksonville Financial News & Daily Record article: State examines juvenile shackling practice.

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A Different Point of View on Domestic Violence

A nonprofit association that dubs itself Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting (‘RADAR’) asserts that domestic violence laws, such as the federal Violence against Women Act, actually put women at greater risk of violence than they were before the statutes were enacted.

The organization further attributes to such laws the growing number of arrests of women on domestic violence charges and the rising number of protective orders taken out against women.

The group contends that domestic violence laws represent a governmental intrusion into people’s private lives and violate civil liberties, all for limited benefits.

According to a press release, the nonprofit characterizes itself as nonpartisan.

Read more about the association’s minority viewpoint in this PR Newswire press release: Domestic Violence Programs Lack Effectiveness and May Harm Women, Report Concludes and on the RADAR organization’s website.

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NY: Collaborative Family Law Meets with the Land of Fault-Grounded Divorce

Despite rumors of change on the horizon, New York state still hasn’t adopted “no fault divorce”.

But, despite the seeming inconsistencies, the chief judge has announced a planned collaborative family law center. Its goal: faster, cheaper, friendlier divorces.

There is even anticipated to be free legal services for participants who can’t afford attorneys of their own. That would represent a new variation of collaborative family law.

Under current New York law, however, divorcing parties are still facing a long haul, first through collaborative family law efforts to reach an agreement, then through a year of separation under the agreement reached.

Read more in this New York Times article: Chief Judge Plans Center to Ease Divorce Process.

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