Be vigilant about protecting kids

When a child dies at the hands of a parent or other supposedly responsible adult, a community is left to wonder what went wrong, who's accountable and how to keep the rest of its children safe from such abuse.

The scenario became a recurring nightmare in Wichita in 2008, when eight children under 5 died of abuse or neglect.

Now, area residents have two more heartbreaking cases on their minds during this National Child Abuse Prevention Month, with a weekend death still under investigation.

First 10-month-old Karsyn Young recently died in Wichita, after being left by her mother in the care of an ex-boyfriend. Karsyn had bruises up and down his body.

Then 19-month-old Vincent Hill of North Newton died, after alleged abuse so severe that there were "very few parts on this child's body that were not injured in some grievous way," as the prosecutor put it. The toddler had fingernails ripped out, cuts inside his mouth, a broken leg and collarbone, an eye swollen shut. The boy's mother and her boyfriend face multiple charges.

In Vincent's case, a neighbor had done what seemed the right thing, calling the state child abuse call center to report hearing a man yelling and a child screaming.

Yet no one from the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services or law enforcement visited the home to check on the boy. According to Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton, the call center found no indication of physical harm and decided against further investigation.

That left the sheriff to suggest people worried about a child's welfare should call 911, rather than the state child abuse call center — leaving Kansans to wonder whether the center is serving its purpose.

In addition to continuing to report suspected abuse, community members can help with other preventive measures, including by supporting the vital mission of the Child Advocacy Center of Sedgwick County to streamline the handling of the cases of 2,500 children a year who are victims of sexual and physical abuse or Internet crimes. The center recently received $120,000 from the county and has a commitment from the city of Wichita for $50,000, but is raising private dollars as well (including through an April 12 fundraiser at the west-side On the Border).

For its part, the Kansas Children's Service League recently re-established its Healthy Families program in the county, a community effort involving home visits and parent education. The agency's "Period of Purple Crying" initiative continues as well, helping prepare new parents at area hospitals and birthing centers to cope with a baby's crying. Many other programs and agencies remain dedicated to keeping kids safe, wherever they are.

One thing is beyond dispute, though: Victims such as Vincent Hill and Karsyn Young relied not only on the love and security of a parent, but also on a child-welfare system that fell tragically short — and that needs greater transparency and accountability. The community must redouble its vigilance toward the day that parents will think twice about hurting their children or leaving them in danger.