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August 29, 2012

Former judge talks about need to protect children

TERRE HAUTE — A retired judge who has seen her share of neglected children and dysfunctional families commended the Girl Scouts of Central Indiana for their efforts to help children.

But she had harsh words on Tuesday for state officials who she said are leaving children in abusive homes where they are dying.

“I’m about ready to get ugly-acting in Indianapolis,” Senior Judge Viola Taliaferro told the audience of the Women’s Equality Day Luncheon hosted by Girl Scouts of Central Indiana at the Terre Haute service center.

Taliaferro serves on an interim study committee that is examining the state’s Department of Child Services and its efforts to “keep children safe.” Sadly, she said, while she was at the group’s first committee meeting in Indianapolis last week, a 3-year-old child was beaten and later died. Neighbors reported the abuse to police twice that day, she said, and a case worker allegedly dismissed a police officer from the scene while leaving the battered child in the care of her mother’s abusive boyfriend.

The child, later found unresponsive, was taken to a children’s hospital where she died the next day.

That kind of inaction by a state agency charged with protecting Indiana’s children is frustrating and infuriating to Taliaferro.

“I was on the bench 15 years,” the retired Monroe County judge said. “One child died with illness.”

She said that if she saw an abusive mark on a child, then the child was removed from the home.

“You can’t stoop too low if stooping low means you’re helping a child,” Taliaferro said.

She said the current policy of DCS is to leave a child in an abusive home, with an effort to get services and counseling to the family. But she said she believes in removing the child to a safe home, and terminating parental rights when appropriate.

“I’m very, very disturbed about the way our children are being treated,” she said.

People often talk about children being the future, Taliaferro said, but she clarified that children are the present, and actions taken now affect their futures.

Programs like Girl Scouts open doors for children, she said, noting that she was not a Girl Scout herself, but she had loving parents who kept her engaged in worthwhile activities that molded her in the same model of Girls Scouts — to be a girl of courage, confidence and character who makes the world a better place.

She also commended the Girl Scouts for encouraging women and men to vote in every election.

“This is one of the most crucial election years we’ve had in a long time,” Taliaferro said, noting that she doesn’t care which candidate a person votes for, as long as they vote.

The Equality Day luncheon coincides with the 92nd anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gives women the right to vote.

Several of the women at the luncheon dressed in period costumes from the 1920s and marched around the Girl Scout meeting room to represent the suffrage movement that pushed for women’s voting rights.

The right to vote is the greatest privilege a person can have, Taliaferro said. As a child growing up in Virginia, her parents had to pay a poll tax to vote. Statistics today show that 34 percent of women do not vote.

But the Girl Scouts promote voting through a green button campaign that declares, “I promised a Girl Scout I would vote!”

And, a study shows that many of society’s successful women today were influenced in their childhood by membership in Girl Scouts, according to Deborah Hearn Smith, chief executive officer of Girl Scouts of Central Indiana.

Anyone wanting more information about volunteering or joining Girl Scouts can go online to www.girlscoutsindiana.org.

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.

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