[Column] Protecting our youth

3 min read479 views and 55 shares Posted December 29, 2020

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Recently our community was rocked by the horrific loss of a wonderful young boy by the name of Maxwell Shollenberger, then age 12, due to starvation, beatings, and imprisonment. Max’s plight has become a rallying cry for all of us to seek solutions to the barbaric treatment of anyone let alone a child.

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Palmyra experienced a similar incident a few years ago in which a young boy was rescued from his home after Pawsitively Pom Rescue was called to help place 27 Pomeranians. When they arrived and discovered a child was there under questionable conditions, police were called. Thank God, the young man is recovering wonderfully with his dad.

Due to the case of Maxwell Shollenberger, I began working with a local advocacy group (#justiceformaxwell) to find a solution or set of solutions to this horrific crisis of abuse. I pledged my support to the group and have been working with Aimee and Christi to begin the research and craft any legislative changes needed.

First and foremost, it is clear that the penalties for this abuse must be increased. As we engage the Judiciary Committee on the problem, our intent is to work with the DA Association and child advocates and senior advocates to determine which penalties must be increased and determine the expected impact of the changes.

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The second phase of the problem is more troubling because it may be so difficult to resolve.

We want to be extremely sensitive to parental rights, the complexity of the dynamics of family relationships, the primary goal of protecting children.

The goals of the legislation include how to provide updates and follow up actions for children who have “disappeared” from view, identifying systems to protect children to reduce the ability of a child to “disappear”, providing safeguards for parents, grandparents, caregivers, and, most importantly, the children themselves in the enabling legislation.

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Collectively we want to make sure that the proposed legislation solves the problem while not creating significantly more unintended consequences.

During our planning sessions, what we found was disturbing to say the least.

For instance, it apparently is relatively easy for a child to simply disappear and the problem is much more prevalent than one would expect. I was stunned how easy it is for “lose” a child in our community. The grandparents and other caregivers frequently cannot be a guarantee source of access.

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Once we started the discussions on the proposed legislation, I heard from a relative of Maxwell’s and she voiced support for our efforts as well as provided recommended solutions to help this horrific action to never happen again.

Our perspective is that we need to focus on:

  1. Being able to effectively, safely, and non-intrusively ensure that children’s welfare can be protected predominately by relatives
  2. Ensuring effective systems to provide medical and psychological assistance for parents experiencing extreme stress while protecting their children. Such assistance is likely to include counseling, financial, day care, and medical for those in need.
  3. Effective legal remedies for children where abuse or neglect is expected.
  4. Effective punishment for those convicted of abuse, neglect, torture, or death of another.

Maxwell’s Law will be a testament to him and those who did not know him but love him just the same.

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I received this e-mail from a person in New York which sums up our resolve.

“I want to thank you for what I am reading about your leadership in the Max Schollenbeger Bill. 

What happened to Max has haunted me from the moment I first read about it. As a father, this abuse is beyond anything I have ever heard and the casual evil of the father and step-mother is truly distressing….

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Max’s story has covered the world and elicited reaction and support from so many diverse communities. I myself live in New York but feel I need to do something to support this cause. 

If I can be of use on this matter, I will. I do know that I will certainly be a supporter of you (and your group) and wish you strength and success here.”

In my years of volunteering to help children with emotional and behavioral problems and developmental disabilities, the horrors many children experience are unfathomable.

I ask for your thoughts, perspective, recommendations and prayers as we work to craft a solution.

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Frank Ryan, CPA, Col USMCR (Ret) represents the 101st District in the PA House of Representatives. He is a retired Marine Reserve Colonel, a CPA and specializes in corporate restructuring. He serves as Vice Chair of the PSERS Pension Board and its Chair of the Audit/Compliance Committee. He can be reached at fryan@pahousegop.com.

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