April 1, 2007 in City

Let Summer’s tragic death be a catalyst

Steve Smith Editor of The Spokesman-Review

Summer Phelps was still alive late last year when, over a couple of cups of strong, black coffee, Mary Ann Murphy and I first discussed the possibility of a community-wide campaign against child abuse in the Inland Northwest.

Summer was still alive in January of this year when 35 people representing the newspaper, local nonprofit agencies, law enforcement officials and government child protection agencies gathered over a cold-plate lunch to imagine what such a community-wide effort might look like.

And she was still alive in February when that initial planning group expanded to nearly 50 people representing 25 or more public and private agencies; still alive when project partners chose the theme for the project, “Our Kids: Our Business”; still alive when Spokesman-Review artist Molly Quinn designed the project logo; still alive when other major area news organizations agreed to participate with us in this important effort.

Summer Phelps died March 10, the apparent victim of ongoing physical and psychological abuse characterized by police as the worst they had ever seen inflicted on a child.

She died having never experienced anything remotely like a normal childhood. She died just three weeks before today’s launch of an unprecedented monthlong project that we hope will enlist thousands of Inland Northwest residents in a no-holds-barred, no-compromise, no-surrender battle against the forces that threaten the well-being of our community’s most defenseless: our children.

Summer Phelps’ senseless, cruel and inhumane death now becomes a starting point, a catalyst, maybe even a rallying cry for those involved in the “Our Kids: Our Business” campaign.

We chose April for this project because it is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, as appropriate a time as any to launch such an effort. The campaign is not focused solely on the sort of extreme child abuse that leads to death. All forms of physical abuse, mental abuse, sexual abuse and child neglect are in our sights. In addition, the campaign intends to show that taking care of our children is a significant investment in our community’s future and a cornerstone of local economic development and job creation.

The project has two separate-but-related components.

First, area agencies – public and private nonprofits – will collaborate on dozens of community events highlighted by an April 13 luncheon featuring Boeing executive and child advocate Bob Watt.

The second component involves major local media outlets in an unprecedented example of collaboration, producing ongoing news reports and features that will make the case that child abuse prevention is everybody’s business. Media partners include the three major local TV stations, KREM, KXLY and KHQ; The Pacific Northwest Inlander; and The Spokesman-Review.

In this newspaper, “Our Kids: Our Business” content will run on Page 1 every day for the entire month. We’ll also provide a calendar of community events, lists of agencies involved in child protection, and phone numbers to call to give help or get help. Most importantly, the newspaper is sponsoring “A call to action.” (see Page A6 today). The name of every person who signs the call – promising to do at least one thing in the coming year to address the child-abuse crisis – will be published in the newspaper starting on April 22.

Murphy, executive director of Partners with Families and Children: Spokane, is the coordinator for the community organizations. Media coordinator is Carla Savalli, senior editor for local news at The Spokesman-Review.

In the days following Summer Phelps’ death, The Spokesman-Review published a list of 14 other area children who have died as a result of child abuse since 2000.

This project, unprecedented in its scope, is dedicated to Summer and to the 14 others denied a future. They were our kids. Their deaths are our business.

Steven A. Smith


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