You Can Make a Difference

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

If you’ve ever worked or volunteered with children or youth, you know the job is not just about teaching, childcare, or giving parents a break. Unfortunately for many children, school or church is the only place they get a good meal or even a snack. Though staff and volunteers may be unaware, this may be the only time those young people feel safe among trusted adults.

This was never more apparent than when news broke of the Hart family tragedy.

In late March, their SUV crashed off a cliff near Westport, Calif., killing the parents and at least four of their six adopted children. The other two remain missing as of this writing but are believed to have been inside the SUV. The county sheriff and lead investigator, Tom Allman, says the crash was intentional.

But let’s go back. In 2010, while living in Minnesota, one of the children told a teacher that her mother hit her with a fist in her stomach, leaving bruises. The teacher told social services and police. Six months later, Sarah Hart pleaded guilty to assault and was sentenced to probation. A week later, the six children were pulled from their public schools, never to return.

The family moved several times, and while living in different places, were the subject of numerous claims by neighbors of the children’s mistreatment. A few weeks before the crash, one of the children showed up at a neighbor’s house asking for food. When the child started asking for food multiple times a day, the neighbor called child protective services. This call was made three days before the fatal crash.

Systems do break down, and in this story, they seemed to. Though the parents were seemingly home-schooling the children, they weren’t registered as required. There is no federal database that tracks home school enrollment, and children can avoid the supervision that those in traditional schools receive. But many of the caregivers for the Hart children did see something and did say something, and that should be an example for all who serve.

In your work or volunteering, if you see signs of abuse from caregivers, report it. These include:

  • Frequent moves
  • Wearing the same clothes, or unkempt general appearance
  • Seclusion from school, neighbors, and church activities
  • Food used as a means of control by caregivers
  • Unexplained burns, bites, bruises, or broken bones

These are not the only indicators of abuse. For more information about the signs and symptoms of abuse, visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway.