In the past five years, five children have died in Cascade County due to neglect and abuse. Children are beaten, denied adequate nutrition, suffer broken bones and concussions, and are left alone to die instead of receiving adequate medical care. Children as young as a few months old are being harmed right here in our community, and it must stop.
There are punishments in place to bring a measure of justice to the abusers, but retroactive penalties are not enough. A jail term can put an abuser behind bars, but cannot undo the damage. They cannot heal broken bones. They cannot restore a traumatized mind and they cannot return a young life. We must give our police and county attorneys the tools they need to stop abuse before a child is hurt.
That is why I introduced Senate Bill 160 to the Montana Senate. SB160 expands the criminal endangerment law to include new felonies involving child endangerment. It makes failing to obtain medical care for a critically injured child, allowing a known abuser or sex predator to care for a child, driving while intoxicated with a child, and failing to meet a child’s nutritional needs punishable by law.
This bill will not solve the problem entirely. Citizens of our community must speak up if they see something wrong. Community members and organizations like the Dandelion Foundation must be supported so they can continue to educate the public about the problem. But this bill is a start. This bill sends a strong message that putting a child in danger is never acceptable, and allows police to intervene and stop possible child abuse before it begins.
There has been a mountain of human suffering in our community. Five kids. Five kids who will never be dropped off for school by their grandparents. Five kids who will not be blowing out the candles on their birthday cake. If we want to stop child abuse, the work begins today. With SB160, hope for our children rises again. The dream of a better life for abused children in Montana lives on.
Sen. Mitch Tropila, D-Great Falls, represents Senate District 12.