Other options for children suspected of being abused - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Other options for children suspected of being abused

ATLANTA (CBS46) -

When Emani Moss, 10, was found dead in a trash can after police say she was starved and possibly abused by her father and stepmother, a Department of Family and Children's Services report revealed that there had been a growing case file on the girl since the beginning of her life.

With six complaints about her care, her grandmother Robin Moss, said DFACS needed to do more to save the girl.

So, what else can adults do if they suspect a child is being abused?

Going to court to save a child suspected of being abused

Atlanta Child Abuse Attorney Jody Miller said the next best thing to do is to try to go to court. A family member can go to juvenile court to get temporary custody of a child, like Emani's grandmother did. Miller adds that it helps to collect evidence of abuse to help build your case.

"Pictures, audio recordings, video recordings, absolutely, all of that is very helpful and can make a big impact," Miller said.

But, she said, juvenile courts are "courts of reunification" and always try to put parents back with their children.

"Unless it's determined that it's in the child's best interest for non-reunification that's generally the goal," Miller said. "And there is a parenting plan for the parents to do. And the goal again is the reunite the parents with the child."

That's what may have happened with Emani - whose stepmother Tiffany Moss was charged with abusing her and was told to take parenting classes. Emani was not removed from the home because DFACS determined the "risk of harm had been reduced."

Miller said parenting plans are often prescribed but don't always work.

"Obviously if the abuse is so bad, I don't know that anybody of that character changes overnight," Miller said.

Instead, Miller said, another option that an adult can do if they suspect a child is being abused is to try to stay involved in that child's life.

"The best advice I can give that person is to try and stay in that child's life or talk to other people that are in the child's life so that if they see continued or new signs it can be addressed again," Miller said.

Educating children so they can save themselves

Another way to help children who you suspect may be victims of abuse, is to educate them about what abuse is and why it's OK to speak up.

Erin Merryn is a sexual abuse survivor who is pushing for Erin's Law to be approved across the country. It would require schools to give age-appropriate sexual abuse education to children.

But gone are the days of "good touch, bad touch" lessons, Merryn said. Instead, it's important to teach children about the "safe touch, unsafe touch" - to avoid confusing them when they are adults.

Most importantly, Merryn said it's crucial to teach children that they should speak up.

"Without teaching kids this, the only message they get comes from the perpetrators," Merryn said. "'This is our secret, no one will believe you I'll hurt your family, I'll hurt you.' So, with the threats and the brainwashing, kids stay silent."

Merryn suspects this may have been the case with Emani, too. In a DFACS report about Emani, she was quoted as saying when asked about being sexually abused, "If I tell anyone then I would not be able to see you anymore."

Merryn said that should have been a red flag to investigators.

"They need to investigate it more. Why? Why are you telling us this?" Merryn said. "Asking the kids to give more details, because obviously this kid - she's saying that because she has been told what will happen to her if she speaks up and tells."

Erin's Law has passed in Georgia and will be reviewed by a committee in December to see the best way to implement it, Merryn said.

Meanwhile Emani's father, Eman Moss, and stepmother, Tiffany Moss, are charged in her death.

Copyright 2013 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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