Officer Chris Cole of the Storm Lake Police Department Saturday at the Storm Lake Library meeting room told members of Boy Scout Troop 286 how to recognize and avoid child abuse.
Cole's remarks preceded the troop's first badge ceremony. Troop 286, which was chartered in May, is sponsored by Tyson Fresh Meats Inc. of Storm lake.
Among the most severe cases he has seen, Cole told of instances in which parents have used electrical cords to beat their children. Parents should use time-outs to discipline children, Cole said, adding that any spanking that leaves a bruise constitutes abuse.
Another form of abuse is child abandonment, Cole said. Sometimes parents may lock children alone in their rooms if the parents want to rest, but the children may escape and later be found on the street.
Neglect is another form of abuse. Cole said he has seen cases in which children are not properly fed. Or, in some cases, parents may be under the influence of drugs or manufacturing drugs such as methamphetamine.
As mandatory reporters, police are required by law to report any case of child endangerment that they see. Cole said teachers and doctors are also mandatory reporters and, like police, are required to report any suspected cases of abuse to the Iowa Department of Human Services.
Often, police will receive a call and find nothing wrong has occurred. However, Cole said mandatory reporter laws are in place so children are protected.
"This is so no one slips through the cracks," Cole said. "We would rather investigate a hundred cases where nothing was against the law rather than have one case slip through the cracks where a child is beaten," Cole said.
In response to a question as to what age a child must be before the child is left alone, Cole said the situation can vary depending on the maturity of the child. Children 13 and over "are pretty well able to take care of themselves within reason," Cole said. Another factor is how long the child is left alone. While a 10- or 11-year-old can baby-sit siblings if a parent goes to the store, an extended parental absence is probably inappropriate, Cole said. He said he has seen cases where 13-year-olds were left alone for a week.
In any case, parents need to use their better judgment to determine when children can be left at home alone and for how long. "Most of the time, parents know their kids better than anybody else," Cole said.
Unfortunately, sometimes older children left in charge of younger siblings can forget they are taking care of their brothers or sisters and the younger children can wander off, Cole said.
Regarding drug prevention, Cole said parents should review situations with children in which they may be approached by someone who wants to sell them drugs. If children are taught how to get away from the situation, they will fare better if they are approached by a drug dealer, Cole said.