RIP JohnMarquis Stepich
By Melanie Blow
An 8-year-old boy hospitalized with life-threatening injuries Monday has died, and his mother’s fiancé was arrested.To most people, the death of JohnMarquis Stepich is utterly shocking. To experts, it is tragic, but it embodies what happens when we don’t protect children by preventing abuse and trauma.
At least 1,500 children die directly from child abuse each year. Roughly a quarter of them are killed by their mother’s’ partner, and a quarter by the mother and her partner together. Indeed, mothers staying with partners who physically or sexually abuse their children isn’t unheard of, nor is it unheard of for mothers to cohabitate with known sex offenders.
As infuriating and shocking as these stories are, they are largely preventable.
The most common reason for a mother to form a relationship with a registered sex offender is, essentially, the sex offender fulfills her emotional and material needs. We want to say that a “good mother” would sacrifice her needs for her child’s. This is the ideal; it’s not always plausible, especially with desperate mothers. Maternal Home Visiting programs keep mothers from getting quite so desperate, they prevent kids like JohnMarquis from dying, and they do it in several different ways.
—– They make mothers self-sufficient. By providing mothers with intensive emotional support and the tools for economic self-sufficiency, participating mothers are more likely to make better decisions. They also facilitate mother-child bonding, which can be drastically impaired by a mother’s stressors. Mothers who bond properly with their babies are more likely to sacrifice their own material and emotional needs in favor of their children’s.
—– They teach non-violent parenting. Corporal punishment makes children behave worse; this has been proven many times. When a parent is struggling, doing anything that will make their children harder to parent is a bad idea. So is doing anything that normalized using pain or physical force against the child. Most fatal child abuse of non-infants happens because a child is spanked, they become harder to manage, so the parent progresses to more extreme corporal punishment, making the child’s behavior still worse, and starting a vicious cycle. This appeared to have happened in JohnMarquis’ case, as his body was covered with injuries indicative of abuse.
—–They catch problems early. Fatal child abuse is usually preceded by non-fatal child abuse, especially with a child as sturdy as an eight-year-old. A professional watching the goings-on in a household for hours each week will notice parenting that is cruel but not abusive, or abusive but not dangerous. And they can often use their relationship with the family to make that behavior stop.
—– They unclog CPS. About 20-25% of CPS calls concern infants. Since infants are the child population directly served by these programs, and these programs do such a good job at preventing abuse, universal access to them can be expected to slash the incidences of child abuse and reduce CPS caseloads and overall size. Unfortunately, nationally, only about 6% of eligible women have access to them.
It seems likely JohnMarquis’ mother knew of his on-going abuse. In cases like this, domestic violence sometimes plays a role in the mother staying in the relationship. And when domestic violence is an issue, The Quincy Solution, a group of best practices that prevent domestic violence crime in a community, is the solution.
I am always saddened when I hear about a child’s murder. I’m saddened because some little person will never get to experience the joys and epiphanies that make up life. I’m saddened because they always leave behind someone who will never be as happy again. And I’m saddened that we live in a society where children are valued so little that we choose not to prevent abuse.
COO, Stop Abuse Campaign
A survivor of incest, psychological abuse and a host of other childhood trauma, Melanie now uses her talents to prevent Adverse Childhood Experiences. Melanie has over a decade of legislative advocacy regarding children’s issues, and she has been published in newspapers, magazines and blogs all across the country.
Melanie has an ACE score of 6.
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