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Abused Rock Hill baby showing signs of recovering

A baby shaken nearly to death earlier this year continues to improve.

Owen Carduff, now 6 months old, was removed from life support and taken into hospice care days after his father, 19-year-old Michael Carduff, was charged in his assault.

Today, months after his hospice stay, Owen is recovering. Even the hospice doctor couldn't explain Owen's recovery.

His grandmother, Charlotte Williams, said, "He's doing really well. He has a lot of his movement back. He's kicking, swinging his arms, laughing and giggling."

Owen is one of several area children abused this year whose parents face abuse-related charges. In one of those cases, a Rock Hill baby girl was killed after being injured by her father, police say.

Today starts National Child Abuse Awareness Month, and Owen's family and area officials urge those in contact with children to look for signs of abuse and neglect.

"The hardest thing is to recognize that there's anything happening, even if it's in your own home," Williams said. "It's good to learn to recognize signs of abuse."

Owen's eyesight, which was something doctors worried about when he was at Levine Children's Hospital in Charlotte a couple months ago, is returning, Williams said. Owen is tracking light and should be seeing normally in a few months, she said.

However, he still struggles to pick up his head and is fed from a tube, she said.

Mary Everhart, a retired law enforcement officer who investigated nearly 300 child deaths with the State Law Enforcement Division, works for the Children's Law Center at the University of South Carolina and trains people how to spot and interview a possibly abused child. She spoke this week in Rock Hill's Community Performance Center to a group of women - mostly educators - who have contact with children regularly.

"For there to be child abuse, there needs to be a child and an adult that did something or failed to do something that resulted in the child being hurt," Everhart said.

Most reported abuse happens to a child 3 years old and younger, Everhart said. And that's the case in recent York and Lancaster County abuse arrests.

Last weekend, a Catawba woman was charged with child neglect in a case where a toddler was taken to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte with injuries. The 1-year-old girl was bruised and had possible head and neck injuries that 22-year-old Meagan Shelley attributed to falls on cement and off a porch last week, according to York County Sheriff's Office reports.

Christian Brown, 23, of Indian Land was charged in February with unlawful conduct toward a child after his 2-year-old was hospitalized with first- and second-degree burns.

In January, Curtis Randall Sweatt Jr., now 27, was charged with homicide by child abuse in the Friday death of his 4-month-old daughter. Sweatt is accused of injuring the child before she died.

A few days later, Michael Carduff, was charged with unlawful conduct in the shaking of his son, Owen, that caused near-fatal injuries. Carduff remains in jail awaiting the prosecution of this case.

Owen is being cared for by a foster family while his mother works with the Department of Social Services, Williams said. Owen's mother is taking parenting classes and participating in therapy in hopes of being cleared by DSS to have full custody again. DSS could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

There are fewer reports of abuse of older children, Everhart said, but that doesn't mean it's not happening.

"They learn to tell stories to cover it up," Everhart said. "They often tell lies about injuries, and it's easier for someone to believe that than ask more questions."

But asking questions is all someone needs to do to identify possible abuse, she said. A lot of injuries to children are accidental, so people need to question the child about what happened.

Peggy Payne, executive director of Safe Passage, a domestic abuse advocate, said a dramatic change in a child's behavior is often a sign of abuse. Also, she said to look for warning signs such as bruises or becoming accident prone.

"Don't ignore the obvious," Payne said. "Even if it's a good family that goes to church. ... Abuse happens in all families. I want people to realize that if they feel something is wrong, they need to act. It could be only hope a child has."

Reports of suspected abuse should be made to DSS or a local law enforcement agency, Payne said.

In South Carolina, neglect is the No.1 reported type of abuse, Everhart said.

"Poverty by itself is not neglect," she said. It's failing to provide a basic need such as food, shelter or medical care if the family has the financial means to do so.

This year, there have been abuse charges in Rock Hill in cases where children were left home alone.

A Rock Hill man was charged in early March with unlawful neglect after he told police his 3-month-old daughter was alone in an apartment. In February, a 42-year-old mom was charged with unlawful conduct toward a child after her three children, ages 10, 9 and 6, were left alone overnight.

There's no law in the state that says how old a child needs to be to stay home alone, Everhart said, it depends on the circumstances.

For National Child Abuse Month, Williams said her family is making blue ribbons to pass out at Family Faith Christian Center in Rock Hill, where her husband is a pastor, to raise awareness.

"A lot of the community pitched in and prayed for Owen when he was hospitalized," Williams said. "Our prayer is to get him home and work with him to eat and drink like a normal child."

Signs of maltreatment

Sudden changes in behavior or school performance

Untreated physical or medical problems

Always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen

Overly compliant, passive or withdrawn

Comes to school or other activities early, stays late or does not want to go home

Signs of physical abuse

Unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken bones or black eyes

Injuries in the shape of an object

Bruises in various stages of healing

Attempts to hide injuries

Shrinks at the approach of adults

Signs of neglect

Frequently absent or late to school, scheduled events

Always hungry, begs or steals food

Consistently tired

Slow physical development or underweight

Lacks needed routine medical or dental care

Poor hygiene

Lacks appropriate clothing for weather

SOURCE: The Children's Law Center