The Medford couple accused of neglect and mistreatment for locking their three young children in a filthy bedroom are free after their bail was reduced from $1 million to $10,000.
As the case winds through the justice system, local child-care experts discuss the effects of neglect and hope to shed light on what the community can do to better protect all of its children, and also offer support to struggling parents.
Neglect is the most common form of child maltreatment, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. If you suspect child neglect, call DHS at 541-776-6120 or police.
"The true measure of a community is how do we respond to this kind of a situation," said Mary-Curtis Gramley, executive director of the Family Nurturing Center. "These children, all children, need and deserve our support."
Kassandra Lynn Regain, 23, and Jeramy Allen Hon, 29, have pleaded not guilty in Jackson County Circuit Court to a dozen counts of mistreatment and neglect charges related to their four young children, who range in age from 6 months to 4 years.
Each parent faces three counts of criminal mistreatment and three counts of child neglect after Medford police responded to their home in the 2800 block of Anita Circle earlier this month following up on an anonymous tip that the children were severely neglected.
Officers discovered all the children were being left unattended in a locked bedroom for hours at a time, police said.
The youngsters were urinating and defecating in a heater vent because they did not have access to a rest room, said Medford police Detective Diane Sandler.
At the time police intervened, the infant had significant diaper rash, and the other children showed signs of neglect, she said.
Gramley's relief nursery provides therapeutic early childhood education and parent education and support. There is a "golden window" of early age brain development that, if optimized, can set a child on a path that will benefit the child — and society — for life, she said.
"I see what happens to the children (who are neglected)," Gramley said. "I see how they struggle."
Without commenting specifically on this case, Gramley said she had concerns about any child who has suffered neglect.
"This is an exceedingly troubling situation," she said.
There must be a reasonable assessment of the family, and specifically the children, to determine whether there was prolonged neglect, Gramley said.
"There needs to be a wake-up call about child neglect," Gramley said. "Neglect is different from a burn or a broken bone. It is possibly more impacting."
Neglect can have an even greater negative effect upon a child than sex abuse, said Marlene Mish, executive director of the Children's Advocacy Center.
A child who is neglected has caregivers who fail to provide the necessary care, protection and nurturing that are essential for the physical and emotional well-being and development of a child, Mish said.
Children who are neglected have difficulty making friends, showing empathy, relating to others and even may show antisocial behaviors, she said.
"Taking this to its logical conclusion, a neglected child becomes an adult who has an inability to form or sustain lasting relationships, because he never had one in the first place," Mish said. "He will have low self-esteem. Think about it: If the one who is supposed to love you doesn't take care of you, you must not be worth much."
That is the message of neglect. And it can be generational, Mish said.
"A child who has been neglected learns to call neglect 'normal,'" she said. "If neglect is 'normal,' it can play out again and again."
The children of Hon and Regain have been taken into custody by Department of Human Service workers. They are currently in a "safe environment" with a family member, said Sandler.
Gramley said resources for providing the kind of support necessary to help struggling parents and children who have suffered neglect are stretched thin, and, for many, not readily available. Enrollment at the respite nursery has steadily increased over the past five years. Last year the center provided referral services to more than 400 children, and had 75 children enrolled in its classrooms.
But there is a waiting list at the Family Nurturing Center. Gramley and her staff struggle to "triage" cases as the need for services increases not only at the center, but also throughout the other social service agencies who are struggling with reduced budgets and under-staffing, she said.
"We need to have a dialogue about what is and isn't available. What we did and didn't do. And what we can do about rebuilding lives," said Gramley.
Sandler said friends, family members or neighbors who witness neglect should call authorities promptly.
"We have a community that is still fearful to report," she said. "As a community, we need to be willing to call DHS, to call the police. Be calm, have your information ready and be prepared."
Prompt reporting can result in intervention which not only saves children, but can also save families, provided they are able to get the proper support systems in place, Sandler said.
"Numerous people were aware of what was going on in this house," Sandler said. "Had this family had intervention a few years ago, things might be looking much different now."
Bail for Regain and Hon was initially set at $1 million on Nov. 11 by Judge Tim Barnack. But it was later reduced to $10,000 by Judge Tim Gerking by mutual agreement of the defense and prosecution, Sandler said.
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.