CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - The goal for any parent is to keep their child safe.
But, too often, it's the child's home that's becoming a dangerous place for a little one.
"We noticed big bruises all over his back end, all over his back," said one Tri-State mother who wants to stay anonymous. This woman has a son who is now three-years-old.
She had been living with her now-ex-fiance for a few weeks when she says she came home from work one day and discovered bruising on her child.
"That's the first time that I left him alone with him for more than 30 minutes to an hour," the mother told FOX19 NOW.
FOX19 NOW is not identifying anybody involved, as the mother is concerned it could affect court proceedings.
She says her ex, who is not the child's father, first claimed the bruising happened during a trip to the playground with her son, but later said he'd spanked the child for talking back.
"I took him to the hospital anyway and they told me there that this was not an accident - that this was abuse," the mother said.
Stories with allegations just like this are becoming all too familiar.
"It became very quickly evident that you saw the person arrested was not the biological father. It was a pattern that was seen over and over in the coroner's office," said Cincinnati Health Department Medical Director Dr. O'Dell Owens.
Former Hamilton County Coroner, Dr. Owens is now Medical Director at the Cincinnati Health Department. During his time as coroner, this pattern of abuse became something he knew quite well, and he's not alone.
"The majority of kids that are physically abused are abused at the hands of a non-related caregiver - so, a mother's boyfriend," said Heidi Malott who is the manager of the Mayerson Center for Safe and Healthy Children.
That's what she's seeing in her office at Cincinnati Children's Hospital. Malott says her office sees about 500 cases of child physical abuse each year, and a majority of them follow this troubling pattern.
"I would say 75 percent involve an unrelated male caregiver," Malott said.
In 2010, Hamilton County Job and Family Services launched an awareness campaign on this issue called "Know the Warning Signs." At the time, numbers show 35 percent of child abuse deaths came from one of these unrelated caregivers.
As part of that campaign, JFS reports, "any kind of abuse or neglect to Hamilton County children by unrelated partners of their parents – 13.3 percent – is nearly 10 percent higher than national averages."
"We said, 'this is a problem.' We were higher than the national average in terms of children being harmed at the hands of the mother's boyfriend," said Moira Weir. She is the director of Hamilton County Job and Family Services.
Not much has changed today.
In numbers of child abuse deaths sent to FOX19 NOW by Job and Family Services officials since 2010, children killed by a mother's boyfriend in Hamilton County is now at 33 percent.
"At the end of the day it still says, 'What made you go to that measure to hurt this child,'" Weir asked.
That is the question.
"I think part of it is that they're not bonded to that child - they weren't there, they don't see them as their child - therefore they don't have that love," said Dr. Owens.
"So frequently the abusive incident is related to not being able to get the infant to stop crying and becoming so frustrated," Malott explained.
The mother of the young victim tells FOX19 NOW that her son has suffered a few developmental setbacks since the alleged incident, but they are both doing fine and things are getting better.
The mother has a protective order against her ex, who is due in court again soon.
"Just be strong. Just keep pushing on. Don't give up. Your child needs you. You have to be their advocate," the mother told FOX19 NOW.
Are you, or someone you know, in a situation where your child is being abused?
There is help out there, including through the Hamilton County Job and Family Services 'Know the Warning Signs' campaign.
They have a list of more than a dozen questions available to help you assess the relationship between your child and unrelated male caregiver or other partner, and to help you make a better decision in evaluating who you introduce to your child.
Some of the included questions are:
- Is your child afraid every time you leave?
- Do they cry uncontrollably?
- Does your partner get easily irritated or short-tempered when talking to the child?
- Does your partner show anger or impatience when the child cries or throws a tantrum?
- Does your partner hurt your child and blame you?
- Does your partner seem immature or have poor impulse control and need constant attention?
The Hamilton County Job and Family Services campaign also offers a database of services for childcare, abuse advocacy services and other assistance.