ELYRIA — At 2 and 3 years old, respectively, Brandon Williams II and X’zayvian Harris share a sad similarity for two toddlers from two different families.
Both Lorain boys died recently with police investigating their mothers’ intimate partners as the persons behind their sudden deaths. The chilling realizations leave Lorain County Children Services pushing hard on an educational campaign that started seven years ago. Advertisements and radio spots will soon start with the “Choose Your Partner Carefully” message.
“When you pick a partner for yourself, you are also picking that person for your child. We ask for parents to choose carefully,” said Scott Ferris, executive director of Lorain County Children Services.
The county agency had no prior involvement with either family. But Ferris said their deaths match data related to fatalities of children younger than age 5. Typically, the persons responsible are either the mothers, fathers or mothers’ boyfriends — in that order.
Andrea Hall-Miller, the agency’s continuous quality improvement manager, said children younger than 5 are especially vulnerable to violence with two key developmental milestones standing out: around 4 months of age and when it’s time to toilet train — between 18 months and 3 years old, depending on the child.
“A lot of adults have a lot of expectations about what a child should do or is capable of doing and become frustrated when they don’t live up to those expectations,” she said. “That’s why it is important to be vigilant about who is alone with a child, who is caring for a child.”
The “Choose Your Partner Carefully” campaign prompts parents to ask some tough questions in relation to a new love interest.
Does your partner…
- show anger or impatience when your child cries or has a tantrum?
- call your child bad names or put him down?
- think it’s funny to scare your child?
- stop you from bringing your child to his family’s events?
- make all the decisions for you and your child?
- tell you that you are a bad parent or that you should not have your kids?
- pretend that when he hurts your child that you are to blame or that it’s no big deal?
- tell you that your child is a nuisance?
- make your child scared by using guns, knives or other weapons?
Ferris said it’s not an exclusive inquiry parents should make before leaving a child with a partner. He said parents should know if their partner has been convicted of a violent crime or has a past criminal record related to crimes against children.
“There are a lot of public records available to help people find useful information,” he said.
Fatalities are not the only concern of county officials.
Two recent cases in Elyria involved serious injuries, said Elyria police Capt. Chris Costantino. One fact is true in both cases: Both children ended up in the hospital while in the care of a relative or caregiver.
“I wish there was a way for us to intercept and act before a child gets hurt,” he said. “We have a close relationship with Children Services and investigate cases of suspected child abuse often. Unfortunately, it is still hard to predict.”
The first Elyria case took place Jan. 31.
Then, a 2-year-old girl ended up in the hospital with second-degree burns to her back, left arm and legs. Isaiah Savage told police he was trying to clean up the toddler after she soiled her diaper. He placed her under scalding water without checking the temperature, Costantino said. He faces charges of child endangering and tampering with evidence, both third-degree felonies.
Costantino said the child’s aunt left the home to go to the store, leaving Savage to babysit.
“You can’t teach common sense, unfortunately,” he said. “Most people would put their hand in the water to make sure it was OK prior to putting a child in the tub. But this person, probably out of pure frustration, did not do that and this child was severely burned as a result.”
A few days later, Elyria police charged a mother and grandmother with felony charges after an 11-month-old girl tested positive for drugs.
Roxie McCall was babysitting her granddaughter when the infant ingested drugs, Costantino said. A blood test of the child showed her to have cocaine and marijuana in her system. Shanice McCall, the child’s mother, called 911 after she returned home from school, but lied to officers for hours with a concocted story about the baby hitting her head, police said.
Costantino said the child almost died at the hospital.
“The things we see every day — we lose sleep over this,” he said. “I wish there was a simple solution.”
Blessing House, Lorain County’s only emergency crisis center for children 12 and younger, aims to be the solution although they know they can’t be there for every family.
Business manager Donna Humphrey said they are not for day-to-day child care needs, but open their doors when parents — typically single mothers — are faced with emergencies (for example, hospitalizations, homelessness or abusive homes) and there is no one to care for their children. Last year, the nonprofit cared for 163 children.
“If we are not available or they don’t know about us, we fear they will leave the children with someone who is not safe,” Humphrey said.
Humphrey said women fleeing domestic violence have turned to Blessing House, where family advocate Lea Arcuri helps families develop safe plans and learn techniques to break the cycle of violence by choosing different partners.
“It’s not easy for them to break away from what they are drawn to, but their children’s lives depend on it,” she said.