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Article updated: 4/3/2012 5:35 PM

Kane officials urge vigilance against child abuse, neglect

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Last week, an Elburn man was sentenced to 15 years in prison for severely beating his then-girlfriend's 23-month-old daughter in a St. Charles hotel room in fall 2010.

The abuse case of Molly Koch, who is in the care of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and likely has permanent brain damage, is half over as her mother also is charged with not protecting the girl from James Cooper, 29.

As Child Abuse Prevention Month begins, Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon and other child welfare officials are urging residents and parents to be aware and vigilant if they suspect abuse or neglect.

Lori Chassee, director of the Kane County Child Advocacy Center, which investigates crimes against children, said people need to get over the fear that a call to DCFS or the state's hotline at (800) 252-2873 will result in a child forcefully being taken out of his or her home.

"Every call does not result in punitive action. It's a request for somebody to look into the situation," Chassee said. "Sometimes fear of DCFS is a fictional weapon that is used to buy silence. Abuse prevention is a community and adult responsibility."

According to DCFS data, an average of 3,768 children in Kane County per year over the last five fiscal years were the subject of an abuse and neglect report. The agency conducted an average of 1,012 investigations per year in Kane County during that time, with a high of 1,170 in the 2009 fiscal year and low of 738 in the 2006 fiscal year. Data from the 2011 fiscal year was not available.

McMahon said children who are abused while younger than 17 are twice as likely to wind up in the criminal justice system themselves as defendants.

Most physical and sexual abuse against children is committed by someone they know in a one-on-one situation, and signs of abuse are a child becoming withdrawn, quiet and reserved, McMahon said.

"We want to make sure that kids are safe," McMahon said. "It's in the extreme circumstances where kids are removed. There are safeguards to that and rightfully so."

While not commenting specifically on the case against Cooper or Cathleen Koch, McMahon said his office has a history of aggressive prosecutions against defendants accused of child abuse and sex crimes against children. Koch, 30, of Elgin, faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted of aggravated battery of a child. Authorities argue she was responsible for protecting her child from Cooper and that she obstructed the investigation by covering for him.

Defense attorney Liz Lovig said Cooper's guilty plea does not mean Koch will plead guilty, too. "The (July 16) jury trial's still set," Lovig said.

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