“Yes, the children are safe.”

That was the word Becker County Sheriff Todd Glander gave late Thursday afternoon about the condition of seven children whose illnesses were detailed Wednesday in a disturbing story of their alleged neglect.

Two Ponsford residents are facing felony and misdemeanor charges of neglect or endangerment in that case.

The story, which appeared on the Feb. 5 Tribune front page and on dl-online.com and social media, raised concern among residents.

Heartbroken. Sickened. Tragic. These were some of the responses on Facebook, where the story has been shared more than 300 times.

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We at the newspaper had many of those same emotions when reading this story. The descriptions listed in court records, of the various illnesses and conditions suffered by these seven children, are devastating. According to court records, social workers observed the children were living in poor conditions, and suffered a variety of health issues, including skin infections, staph infections, dental issues, lice, and sores and scabs, among other problems.

Glander is in his second term as county sheriff, but has been in law enforcement in the area since 1988. He said that “this is definitely one of the more serious cases” of neglect he has seen.

Becker County Sheriff Todd Glander
Becker County Sheriff Todd Glander

As editor, I must try to weigh the newsworthiness of stories such as these. Most of our court reports go inside the newspaper, save some of the most severe sorts of crimes and accidents.

In this case, the sheer amount of people affected by the story raised it to A1. It wasn't just the publication of a routine court story, an item of process or interest. Instead, this is a disturbing case in which the public must be made aware.

Communities must talk about how we protect each other, especially our most vulnerable.

At the same time, we have a responsibility to be fair to those people accused (remember, these are charges; no one has been tried yet, let alone convicted of a crime), and to those who are victims. In this case, the newspaper also must make sure that the children’s privacy is protected.

That issue of privacy is likely frustrating for some in our community. There are a variety of reasons folks are reluctant or prohibited from offering even the most bare-boned information.

But, as Glander said, the children are being taken care of. That's one question.

There is one other giant question folks have, too.

What can we do?

So what can we -- me, you, all of us -- do to help or offer relief?

"If people see or hear of similar situations or situations where something like this is happening, please don’t be silent," Glander said. "Tell somebody immediately." He suggests reaching out to law enforcement or Becker County Human Services.

Being aware of the common signs of neglect is a start. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, there are some things to watch for:

  • The child is frequently absent from school.

  • The child begs or steals food or money.

  • The child lacks needed medical or dental care, immunizations or glasses.

  • The child is consistently dirty and has severe body odor.

  • The child lacks sufficient clothing for the weather.

  • The child abuses alcohol or other drugs.

  • The child says that there is no one outside of school to provide care.

The Minnesota Department of Human Services offers guidance on reporting child neglect or endangerment: “Reports of alleged child maltreatment can be made to local child welfare agencies. These agencies respond to reports alleging child maltreatment in family and some licensed, or required to be licensed, settings under Minn. Stat. 626.556, subd. 3c.”

Most of us will not encounter such extreme situations, the kind where we can step in and offer immediate help.

However, there are so many others who could use help but maybe haven't been on the front page of the newspaper.

Paying attention and, as the sheriff says, contacting authorities may be the most important thing we can do.

Resources:

Contact Detroit Lakes Tribune Editor J.J. Perry at 218-844-1466, jperry@dlnewspapers.com or follow @jjperry on Twitter.