MONROE — Almost every parent fears the nightmare that ensued for a Monroe couple when their child was abused.
Authorities initially pointed the finger at Nat and Amy Barber when their 5-month-old son suffered a fractured skull and a broken leg at the hands of a babysitter.
The abuser eventually landed in prison. Now, the couple wants stronger penalties for crimes against children.
They’re gaining momentum with their new nonprofit, Racers Against Child Abuse. The avid mini stock car racing enthusiasts are sharing their story and healing through their connection to the sport. They hope that it will help prevent abuse for another family.
The Barbers, both 40, were married for eight years before investing in the fertility treatments they needed to take on parenthood.
After their son, Sam, was born, the couple arranged to have a close friend care for him while they worked.
Amy Barber, who’s in the insurance business, took her first trip away from the baby in November 2012. Her friend kept Sam overnight.
The following day, Nat Barber, a truck driver, picked his son up. The child had a fever and was vomiting. He took Sam to a pediatrician.
The doctor found a skull fracture and sent them to Seattle Children’s Hospital. There doctors discovered the baby had a broken leg, which had happened two or three weeks prior to the head injury.
“When they told us that, I don’t know if either of us have ever cried that hard in our lives,” Nat Barber said.
The Barbers had no explanation for the injuries.
Officials from Child Protective Services, the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Social and Health Services were called in. Authorities interrogated the couple about the abuse.
“It’s a horrible feeling,” Amy Barber said. “I understand now that they’re just trying to protect the kids.”
Sam was removed from their custody.
“Walking out of that hospital was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Nat Barber said.
It was almost a week later when the couple learned the babysitter had reportedly admitted that she hurt the child out of frustration. Sam was returned to his parents.
Eventually, the babysitter was convicted. She is still serving her prison sentence.
The Barbers’ case is just one of 2.1 million reports involving 3.2 million children that CPS responded to nationwide in 2012, according to a U.S. Department of Health &Human Services Children’s Bureau report. Those cases included 1,640 children who died from abuse and neglect.
In Washington, a child is abused or neglected every hour, according to a 2013 report by the Children’s Defense Fund, a nonprofit advocacy organization that compiles data from the U.S. Census and other government agencies.
The Barbers are still recovering through counseling. Nat Barber said he has post traumatic stress disorder from being wrongly accused of hurting his baby.
Amy Barber copes with the stress by staying busy. She’s organizing Monroe’s first Million March Against Child Abuse. People are expected to march in support of abuse prevention and tougher sentencing for crimes against children in more than 100 cities across the country.
Monroe’s event is scheduled for about 6 p.m. during the April 5 races at Evergreen Speedway.
The Barbers are also working on obtaining 501(c)3 status for Racers Against Child Abuse. They met at the Evergreen Speedway and both of their families spent a lot of time there when they were growing up. They want to continue the tradition for Sam, who has recovered from his injuries and is looking forward to his second birthday.
The family is revving up their Volkswagen Rabbit for the races. They expect their return to the sport after the incident to help bring a sense of normalcy back to their lives.
The Barbers hope sharing their story will ease the fear people have of reporting child abuse, which could save lives.
“What we’ve learned through this is people don’t want to speak up about child abuse,” Amy Barber said. “Don’t be afraid to report it if you think you see it.”
Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to report abuse
Hotline:1-866-ENDHARM (1-866-363-4276), Washington’s toll-free hotline that will connect callers directly to the appropriate local office.
10 ways you can help
Volunteer time: Get involved with other parents. Help vulnerable children and their families. Start a playgroup.
Discipline children thoughtfully: Never discipline a child when you are upset. Give yourself time to calm down. Remember that discipline is a way to teach a child. Use privileges to encourage good behavior and time-outs to help a child regain control.
Examine your behavior: Abuse is not just physical. Both words and actions can inflict deep, lasting wounds. Be a nurturing parent. Use actions to show children and other adults that conflicts can be settled without hitting or yelling.
Educate yourself and others: Simple support for children and parents can be the best way to prevent child abuse. After-school activities, parent education classes, mentoring programs, and respite care are some of the many ways to keep children safe. Be a voice in support of these efforts in your community.
Teach children their rights: When children are taught they are special and have the right to be safe, they are less likely to think abuse is their fault, and more likely to report an offender.
Support prevention programs: Too often, intervention occurs only after abuse is reported. Greater investments are needed in programs that have been proven to stop the abuse before it occurs, such as family counseling and home visits by nurses who provide assistance for newborns and their parents.
Know what child abuse is: Physical and sexual abuse clearly constitute maltreatment, but so does neglect, or the failure of parents or other caregivers to provide a child with needed food, clothing, and care. Children can also be emotionally abused when they are rejected, berated or continuously isolated.
Know the signs: Unexplained injuries aren’t the only signs of abuse. Depression, fear of a certain adult, difficulty trusting others or making friends, sudden changes in eating or sleeping patterns, inappropriate sexual behavior, poor hygiene, secrecy, and hostility are often signs of family problems and may indicate a child is being neglected or physically, sexually, or emotionally abused.
Report abuse: If you witness a child being harmed or see evidence of abuse, make a report to your state’s child protective services department or local police. When talking to a child about abuse, listen carefully, assure the child that he or she did the right thing by telling an adult, and affirm that he or she is not responsible for what happened.
Invest in kids: Encourage leaders in the community to be supportive of children and families. Ask employers to provide family-friendly work environments. Ask your local and national lawmakers to support legislation to better protect our children and to improve their lives.
Source: Washington state Department of Social and Health Services