A startling revelation of this country is that there were laws to protect animals before there were laws to protect children.
In 1873, in New York City, Mary-Ellen Wilson was 9 years old when a church worker, Etta Wheeler, found her shackled to her bed, grossly malnourished, scarred and badly beaten. Mrs. Wheeler was so appalled by what she saw that she went to authorities to report this horrifying incident. The rights of the parents were paramount and the authorities would not intervene.
Mrs. Wheeler would not give up and petitioned the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) stating that Mary-Ellen deserved to be treated as well as any animal. The girl was removed from her home on the basis that she was a member of the animal kingdom.
In 1874, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Child-ren was founded with child protection as its primary focus. Although we have come a long way in protecting our children, we still need to strive harder. When dealing with the issue of child abuse, we all agree that children need to be nurtured, loved and protected from harm.
Not only is child abuse a social issue but it also has an economic impact. The expenditures related to this issue are many times overlooked. Without proper intervention, children will not heal from their trauma, they will go on to have higher rates of mental illness, higher rates of juvenile and adult crimes, drug and alcohol addictions and possibly become abusers themselves. The annual dollar figure for these societal impacts is estimated to be in the billions of dollars.
Although April is celebrated nationally as Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month to raise awareness of this problem, it needs to be addressed every day. To report suspected child abuse or neglect in Allegany County, please call the Allegany County Department of Social Services at 301-784-7122 or the 911 emergency number after hours. A social worker from that agency is always on call, 24/7, including weekends and holidays.
You may be interested in knowing that Mary-Ellen went on to marry, had two daughters, and lived to the age of 92. Doesn’t every child deserve the opportunity to thrive and live to a ripe old age surrounded by their loved ones?
Carol A. Sangiovanni
Allegany County Task Force
on Child Abuse and Neglect