By Polly Keary
That her child was injured by a caregiver was horrible. That the caregiver was a close friend made it even worse.
That is how Amy Barber of Monroe learned about the toll the abuse of a child can have on an entire family.
So that is why she is inviting others to join her in walking around the Evergreen Speedway track April 5 as part of the Million March Against Child Abuse, a nationally coordinated event intended to raise awareness about child abuse.
Barber did the walk for the first time last year, following the conclusion of a wrenching trial, as a way to help cope with the aftermath of the abuse of her own child.
“Our son got hurt by his babysitter,” said the mother, who works in insurance. “We were looking for an outlet to help us heal.”
Barber had no idea that her son was in any danger with his caregiver, she said. After all, the caregiver was one of her best friends. Barber and her husband, an avid racecar driver, were close friends with another racing couple, and when Barber’s son was born, the other woman asked if she could care for him sometimes.
“Then at the end of November, when he was five months old, we brought him in to the hospital thinking he had a stomach bug,” said Barber. “And he did. But he also turned out to have a skull fracture.”
The parents discovered the bump on the baby’s head while waiting to see their family doctor. That doctor sent them to Children’s Hospital.
Because of the nature of the fracture, which was found to have inflicted no lasting damage, the hospital did full-body x-rays to check for other injuries.
They found a fractured bone in his leg that appeared to be two to three weeks older. It was the kind of fracture that occurs from a fall.
The Barbers’ world turned nightmarish. The workers at Children’s Hospital were bound by law to report to authorities that the infant bore the signs of child abuse.
“He was actually taken away from us,” said Barber. “We had to leave him with CPS.”
They immediately started working with DSHS to regain custody of the child. Detectives interviewed people with access to the child.
Eventually, the caregiver admitted to dropping the child twice, but said that the injuries hadn’t been intentional.
The case went to trial. The woman was convicted of child abuse and is now serving time in Purdy, a prison for women.
Barber was horrified that her son had been abused by someone she trusted, and that she hadn’t noticed; fractures like the one to the boy’s leg don’t show, and she’d only discovered the bump on his head while they were at the hospital for the stomach complaint.
And as she thought about the matter, she remembered seeing bruises around her child’s wrist once, too.
“I was a first-time mom,” she said. “I was like, ‘it’s a bruise.’ I didn’t realize that babies don’t get bruises.”
In fact, some babies do bruise easily, but Barber wonders if there was other abuse of which she never learned.
The injury to her son wasn’t the only bad outcome of the case. Her social circle was divided because of the court case, and she lost friends.
An unexpected result was that Barber’s husband began to seek treatment to help him cope with abuse he himself had endured as a child.
“He’s been diagnosed with PTSD and he gets counseling and psychiatric care,” Barber said.
During the grueling experience, Barber also learned some things that shocked her.
“The ASPCA gets donations of hundreds of millions of dollars to help animals,” she said. “The largest 501C3 to help children gets about $5 million.”
Also, in spite of the fact that CPS took her child briefly, she emerged with a greater respect for what they do.
“People think CPS or DSHS sucks, and that they don’t do their job,” she said. “I’m sure there are people that don’t, but there’s people clawing by their fingernails to save kids.”
She also found out that a lot of times people don’t report abuse they see because they are afraid of what might happen.
“You have to report it,” she said. “You call 1 (800) END-HARM, and you report it.”
The Million March Against Child Abuse is not a fundraiser, and no one is collecting pledges or donations, Barber emphasized. Rather, she said, it’s about making other people more aware.
She is thankful that today her son is 19 months old, happy and healthy, with no lasting injury.
“We are all stronger now,” she said. “But we had to do something.”
So the Barbers started a new group called Racers Against Child Abuse, with a goal of raising awareness within the racing community.
And April 5, she hopes to raise awareness both in the racing community and the larger community, as well.
“We’re going to walk at about 6 p.m., right at the intermission,” she said. “We are going to walk one lap around the 3/8 mile track. And we are inviting any other child advocacy groups that want to come.”
To learn more, or to join the walk, see www.facebook.com/pages/Million-March-Against-Child-Abuse-MACA-Monroe-WA/597949383623095.