As Steamboat continues to cope with tragic deaths of 2 children, local officials push child abuse prevention |

As Steamboat continues to cope with tragic deaths of 2 children, local officials push child abuse prevention

A thank you note from an adolescent abuse victim is framed inside her caseworker's office at the Routt County Department of Human Services. Local officials are hoping to raise awareness of how to prevent cases of child abuse and neglect.

— With the community still shocked and saddened by the recent deaths of two young children that were allegedly caused by a parent, this city’s annual proclamation that April is Child Abuse Prevention Month felt more poignant.

"In the last 12 months, we’ve had two deaths in our county that are believed to be attributable to child abuse or neglect, so this adds to our concerns about this issue in our community," Routt County Human Services Assistant Director Mike Sidinger told the Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday night in Centennial Hall.

Sidinger then described how the two recent tragedies, one of a mother who allegedly murdered her 9-year-old boy in Stagecoach and the other of a mother who police now think left her 3-year-old son alone for 92 hours before he died last month, are part of a broader issue here in Routt County.

Sidinger said last year, his office fielded 231 calls regarding possible child abuse and neglect.

Of those, he said the office found reason to investigate 117.

He said 40 of those were found to be abuse or neglect of a child, with 19 of them classified as minor, 20 as moderate and one fatal.

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"It is an issue for our community," Sidinger said.

He said the number of cases hasn’t risen significantly in recent years, and that the ratio of cases that were investigated actually dropped last year.

He attributed a slight increase in calls to awareness caused by the recent tragedies.

The most recent case of alleged child abuse that resulted in a fatality in Steamboat continues to weigh heavily on this community.

Many community members who have read about the allegations against mother Meghan McKeon have reacted with anger and sadness.

City Council member Scott Ford asked Sidinger on Tuesday night to help coach and educate the public here on the correct way to react if someone suspects a neighbor or a friend may need help with a child.

"I believe if anyone has a concern, they need to call someone, be it law enforcement or our office," Sidinger said. "It gets the concern off their back and onto ours."

He said not all calls necessarily will lead to intervention.

He also talked about the delicate work of caseworkers who field hundreds of calls each year.

"The Department of Human Services gets kicked one way or another sometimes," Sidinger said. "Some people believe our department is too involved in people’s families. We’ve been accused of taking people’s kids to give to friends. On the other hand, when a tragedy happens or someone believes a tragedy will happen, some people think we haven’t done enough. That’s our job, we deal with it."

Human Services Director Vickie Clark said local officials use this month to further push the message that help is a phone call away.

"I always look at this month to concentrate on the prevention piece and not being afraid to reach out to people when you see red flags or when your gut tells you something is wrong," she said. "We use this as a month to say don’t fool yourselves, it does exist. Child abuse and neglect does happen in our community, and the best way to prevent it is to catch it early. Nine times out of 10, it’s a family that is struggling and needs to be supported."

For more

To learn more about Child Abuse Prevention Month or to talk to someone about a concern in a non-emergency situation, call the Routt County Department of Human Services at 970-870-5533.

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