Baby steps 

On Monday, Fort Carson released the charge sheet for Pfc. Ian M. Smith, accused of killing a young child last June.

On Tuesday, Pfc. Jason A. Price was scheduled to appear for an evidence hearing in the murder of a 2-year-old last November.

While the timing is coincidental, the incidents fit into a larger pattern. According to the Department of Human Services, 10 children — six of whom were under 1 year of age — were killed in 2011 in El Paso County. Between 2007 and 2011, there were 30 deaths resulting from abuse or neglect of people 17 or younger.

These numbers have inspired a series of aggressive and passionate discussions under the banner "Not One More Child." Headed by County Commissioner Sallie Clark and District Attorney Dan May, the advocacy group has held a handful of meetings since January to discuss how to reach out to the community.

"The majority of the recent deaths of our littlest citizens have involved young parents or caregivers of very young children and were, in general, one moment that took the life of a child," Clark says. "Not one more child should die in El Paso Country due to abuse or neglect."

The fluid group of 50 to 70 advocates includes representatives from law enforcement and the military, DHS, hospitals and community groups such as Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and Safe Passage. Among other efforts, according to DHS public communications specialist Jennifer Brown, the group is helping replicate Memorial Hospital's "Crying Baby Program" in other local hospitals; preparing training and education materials for first responders; and helping medical professionals create a training program for pediatricians, who can reach out to parents at "well-baby" visits.

Chris Bandini, aka Christopher Chaos, was enlisted to create a public service announcement as part of his internship with Pikes Peak Community College's KEPC-FM 89.7. It encourages parents to take preventative steps before losing their temper: Set the baby down in a safe place, take a few minutes to unwind, lean on someone else. The PSA portrays an aggravated young father calling friends to come over for support.

Bandini says he strove to capture a moment grounded in reality. "Males ... are most often the aggressors," he says, "and the most common thing I could think of was someone who is really frustrated because he doesn't have sometimes that instinct that women have."

In 2011 alone, 12,327 reports of child abuse and neglect were received by DHS. Seventy-two percent of aggressors were parents or step-parents, and adults 25 and younger accounted for 54 percent.

But Sally Duncan, RN, trauma outreach and injury prevention specialist at Memorial Hospital, says every parent should be educated about the difficulties of parenting. "It's the hardest job you can ever have, to have a baby," she says. "And to know that in advance, and have a backup plan, and that we as a community will have backup plans for you — that's what I would like to see."

Funding, of course, will dictate just how sturdy a safety net the group can create, and Brown says members are researching grant opportunities.

Says CASA director Trudy Strewler, "I wouldn't mind if in 20 years, the headlines said, 'CASA is no longer needed.' We really need to end the abuse that's going on in our community."

Additional reporting by Kirk Woundy.


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