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Child maltreatment rates in Hartford twice the national average, DOJ-funded report finds

Pain to Parenting parent leader Delmarys Serrano makes a point to Regina Dyton, Principal Investagator, (top left on screen) during a meeting of the group that is the continuation of the 3 year Child Safety Forward Research Action study that took place at Saint Francis Hospital from 2018-2022 , funded by the US-DOJ Office of Victims of Crime at Trinfo Cafe in Hartford, Connecticut February 10, 2023.
Joe Amon
Connecticut Public
Delmarys Serrano, parent leader for Pain to Parenting, makes a point to Regina Dyton (top left on screen) during a meeting of the group that’s continuing the work started by the Child Safety Forward research action study. That study was conducted at Saint Francis Hospital from 2018 to 2022 and was funded by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime. The meeting took place at Trinfo Cafe in Hartford, Conn., Feb. 10, 2023.

Child maltreatment cases in Hartford – ranging from sexual assault to domestic violence – are nearly twice the state and national average, according to a new report funded by the U.S. Department of Justice. In response, parents are presenting a plan to help community members promote child safety.

Regina Dyton, the study’s principal investigator and a Hartford-based social worker, said the high number of cases doesn’t necessarily mean there are more instances of maltreatment – just that there is more scrutiny of parents of color.

“That's a real important thing there,” Dyton emphasized. “Many, many studies have shown – and child welfare agencies today nationally will tell you, including [in] Connecticut – that low-income parents and parents of color are much more likely to be suspected, reported and substantiated for abusing their children.”

Cultural differences are one reason, she said. For example, immigrant Black and brown parents often co-sleep with their infants. It is a generational practice endorsed by doctors in their countries of origin to promote bonding and a child’s emotional well-being. But in the United States, child welfare officials say co-sleeping is considered dangerous due to the risk of accidental strangulation or suffocation. Because of the lack of trust communities of color have in public health messages in the U.S., Dyton said they are more likely to face child welfare cases.

As a result, the study also that found parents of color, neighbors and bystanders choose to call the police if they believe a child has been harmed, versus calling child protective services.

Dyton approached parents in Hartford with data: There were 17.6 substantiated cases of child maltreatment per 1,000 children in Hartford, a rate that is two times the state and national average. So, the parents asked to better understand child safety through the DOJ study.

Jaritza Rosado and Pain to Parenting parent leader Delmarys Serrano during a meeting at Trinfo Cafe in Hartford, Connecticut February 10, 2023. The Hartford site is unique in its focus on shifting power to parents to affect individual, family, community and systems change. The continuation project was transferred to the Institute for Community Research, in partnership with Hartford Parent University and Voices of Women of Color. The current focus is on implementing a comprehensive curriculum that parents developed. The Pain to Parenting Educational Guide addresses 10 topics related to child safety and well being. Hartford Public Schools has agreed to have parents facilitate workshops in Hartford Public Schools
Joe Amon
Connecticut Public
Jaritza Rosado and Delmarys Serrano, parent leader for Pain to Parenting, take part in a meeting on child safety at Trinfo Cafe in Hartford, Conn. Feb. 10, 2023. The Pain to Parenting educational guide addresses 10 topics related to child safety and well-being. Hartford Public Schools has agreed to have parents facilitate workshops.

They also asked if the scope could be expanded beyond the request for proposal, which was limited to child maltreatment, to include gun violence, death by suicide and drug overdose.

The DOJ’s response was favorable, and now a panel of parents is carrying on the research, said Georgina Fuentes, a single mother in Hartford and a member of a panel of Black and Latino parents that’s developing solutions by listening to community members.

“A lot of the concerns are about keeping our children safe and keeping them away from guns and trying to make sure that anytime they need to talk to a parent that they can do so,” Fuentes said. “And if they don’t trust their parent, that they can also go to someone that they can trust.”

Fuentes said community members can be educated to help children in their neighborhood, and plans are underway to share the report with parents of students in Hartford public schools.

The group of parents was drawn from the Greater Hartford Family Advocacy Center at Saint Francis Hospital and Hartford Parent University, a grassroots advocacy and educational project for parents of children in Hartford public schools.

The DOJ initiative was launched at five sites nationally, including Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford. Others are: Cook County Health in Illinois, Indiana Department of Health, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and Sacramento County’s Child Abuse Prevention Council in California.

Sujata Srinivasan is Connecticut Public Radio’s senior health reporter. Prior to that, she was a senior producer for Where We Live, a newsroom editor, and from 2010-2014, a business reporter for the station.

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