Child advocate says support system needs to change

Posted at: 02/06/2014 10:28 PM
By: Erica Zucco, KOB Eyewitness News 4

An advocate who works with children who have been through abuse says conversation in the wake of nine-year-old Omaree Varela’s death must focus on more than blame.

Police say Varela’s mother, Synthia Varela-Casaus, kicked him to death. Two officers are on leave while the department investigates their handling of a 911 call six months earlier that took them to Omaree’s home. The Children Youth and Families Department has been criticized for their handling of a previous report about the household.

But Krisztina Ford, who works with abused children through All Faiths, says it’s time to look forward, not back.

“Rather than pointing fingers at each other and who dropped the ball, I think coming together as a community - and again, opening that dialogue with all the players that are around this issue, providers, governmental agencies, the police department, et cetera- we can formulate a better answer so that this doesn't happen again,” Ford said.

Thursday, Mayor Richard Berry announced plans to create a task force on child abuse.

“It just breaks your heart,” Berry said. “It makes you mad.”

Ford says it’s critical the group look not just at how child abuse is reported or addressed, but at the factors that foster it, including people who are in and out of jail instead of mental health facilities, or have been abused themselves or never learned how to parent.

“We need to enter a dialogue about poverty,” Ford said. “About substance abuse, about education, health care and how people have access to it on a larger scale rather than just only on an individual basis.”