Editorial: Who's minding the kids?
Written by JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN Sentinel-Tribune Editor   
Wednesday, 15 January 2014 10:43
Jan Larson McLaughlin
We didn't shake them. We didn't hit them. But somehow, we as a community failed to protect two young children from the abuse that ended their short lives.
We failed to see that at a time in life when most children are cuddled and caressed, Emma and Carter were being burned and beaten.
In the last two months, two men have been sentenced for their roles in the deaths of the Bowling Green children.
Brian Steinmiller, the father of 3-month-old Carter, was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Nathan Brenner, the boyfriend of 2-year-old Emma's mother, was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
Those sentences offer little satisfaction to those familiar with the cases. And some have pointed a critical finger at the county prosecutor's office for settling for plea agreements with both men.
These were not cases where a parent had one momentary lapse of calm or composure. The autopsies revealed both children were victims of multiple offenses.
Carter suffered ongoing abuse during his three months of life. When he died, the medical examiner found 23 rib fractures, burns on one hand and one foot, a broken arm and skull injuries. The father admitted that he burned the baby in an attempt to get him to stop crying.
When she died, Emma had cigarette burns on the back of her head and the sole of her foot. She was reportedly left alone in the bathtub once and had to be revived. Brenner used "taco time" to punish the child - wrapping her in blankets so tight she was unable to move and, at times, draw breath. She survived those abuses, but ultimately died of blunt force trauma to the head.
To some, the sentences aren't even close to rendering justice for Emma and Carter. They point at the fact that the county prosecutor's office initially charged the men with murder, but entered plea bargains for lesser charges.
Wood County Prosecutor Paul Dobson explained that concerns about the quality of the evidence led to the plea agreements. The last result Dobson wanted, he said, was to see the defendants walk out of court free men. And putting them away for lesser prison sentences was better than risking immediate release.
But another question is troubling me.
In both of these cases, the mothers previously had children removed from their care. That leads me to wonder - why would we think that a person who has difficulty parenting in the past will have any better results in the future unless something has drastically changed? How many chances do parents have to get it right, and at what cost?
Our legal system often puts strict limits on people convicted of animal abuse. There have been local cases where the defendants are forbidden from owning animals again.
Do children deserve any less protection?
I realize that any suggestion of trampling on parental rights raises the hackles of some. I also know the pendulum of social services is currently stuck in the far corner of favoring parental rights over what seems best for children - often tying the hands of those charged with protecting children from harm.
And any intervention by governmental services monitoring the lives of children will undoubtedly be paid for by taxpayers.
I am left with no answers, but so many questions.
I just know that when parents don't protect their children, that job must fall to someone else. And in the cases of Emma and Carter, we failed miserably.

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