Donovan McKee was a vibrant 11-year-old, whose life ended tragically on Feb. 12, all because he was left in the care of someone he should not have been.
According to reports, McKee was brutally beaten in his Knoxville home for a period of eight hours, when left with Anthony Bush, McKee’s mother’s live-in boyfriend. During that time, McKee was beaten with sticks and hit in the head and all over his body, while his mother was at work and his younger brother, who was not harmed, witnessed it all.
Allegedly when his mother arrived home and found her son beaten, Cynthia McKee waited more than an hour before calling the paramedics. Finally, after calling authorities, her son was rushed to Children’s Hospital, where he died hours later.
Now, Bush, who allegedly admitted to the beating, is charged with endangering the welfare of a child and criminal homicide; and Cynthia McKee is charged with involuntary manslaughter and endangering the welfare of a child, but worst of all has lost her son, all because she did not take the time to choose her caregiver carefully.
McKee’s story happens far too often, and because of that, the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, in partnership with A Child’s Place at Mercy, Family Resources, Center for Health Equity, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, Pittsburgh Police and The Fred Rogers Company, is raising public awareness through their “Choose Your Partner/Caregiver Carefully—Your Baby is Counting On You” campaign for April’s Child Abuse Prevention Month.
“Every year for more than a decade the Department of Human Services has partnered with various organizations to bring awareness to child abuse prevention. Carefully choosing a partner, a caregiver or a care giving partner can impact a child’s safety,” said Karen Blumen, director of the office of community relations, Allegheny County DHS.
The campaign is being used to encourage parents to make sure that the caregivers they choose are knowledgeable, mature and responsible enough to care for their child.
According to the 2010 Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare’s Annual Child Abuse Report, the most recent report, 33 children died in Pennsylvania from abuse in 2010; there were 24,617 reports made in Pennsylvania in 2010, with 3,656 being substantiated; and reports had decreased to 14.9 percent, compared to 15.6 in Pennsylvania. In 2010, Allegheny County had 1,506 reports made and 108 of them substantiated. According to the report, of the reported cases in 2010, girls were 67 percent and 33 percent were boys.
Dr. Mary Carrasco, director of A Child’s Place at Mercy at Pittsburgh Mercy Health Systems, said very young infants and children were most at risk for deaths caused by abuse. The largest percentages of child deaths due to abuse are children under 5, with most being under 1-year-old.
A Child’s Place provides care for children who are suspected of being abused or neglected, with offering healthcare to foster children; conducting child abuse evaluations, such as interviews with children and siblings, and reviewing photos; and providing education on child abuse.
The most common categories of child abuse are sexual, physical, neglect, mental and emotional abuse. Dr. Carrasco said there are many signs of abuse, but it just depends on the type. Signs of abuse can be as obvious as bruises and lacerations to kids being afraid of being around certain people or just no significant signs at all. But she stresses parents paying attention. When it comes to physical abuse, she said, most know, but choose to pretend or ignore it.
Dr. Carrasco said a large number of abuse or children’s deaths are caused by intimate partners of parents or grandparents, people who may have more access to the child, which is something she says most people are shocked to find out.
“Be careful who you leave your child with. Some of those people (the caregivers) have had prior episodes, and not necessarily hurting the child, but the mother. Listen to your gut,” she said.
In a story on McKee’s family on KDKA-TV’s website, his aunt said that Bush had showed signs of being abusive and controlling. She said he had broken her sister’s jaw a few years ago.
To raise awareness, county DHS and its partners have created two brochures to help parents determine whether their partners or caregivers are responsible individuals.
The brochures, which can be found on the DHS website, suggests questions that parents should ask themselves, what behavioral signs one should look for, information that should be provided to caregivers and more.
Blumen said when choosing a caregiver, parents should look for someone with experience, who is patient enough to care for children,who understands that young children need to be watched constantly and who know to never shake a child.
One of the most controversial issues of recent years has been whether spanking is just a form of discipline or abuse. While Dr. Carassco did not want to get too much into the controversy, she said, “Personally, I never use spanking. I do not think it is effective, on the other hand, I do not think a light swat is harmful. It is more how it’s done and when it’s done. I think time out or taking away (the child’s) privileges is more effective if done right.” She also added that spanking until marks are left or using items is not okay.
Blumen said that spanking is a parent’s decision and that the decision of corporal punishment should not be left up to the caregiver, but that DHS encourages the use of other disciplinary methods by parents instead.
While it is important to pay attention to the signs of child abuse, it is just as important to report it. Reports can be made anonymously and by calling 412-473-2000, a hotline that is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Both Dr. Carrasco and Blumen emphasized the importance of making a report. “The DHS needs the community to be aware of situations where children are in danger,” said Blumen.
Dr. Carrasco said ignoring the signs can be costly and that “individuals have a responsibility” to make a report. “How would you feel if you were responsible for a child’s death?” she said.
(For more information on child abuse and the campaign, visit http://www.alleghenycounty.us/dhs/capm-overview.aspx or call the Parenting WARMLINE at Family Resources at 1-800-641-4546.)