Foundation continues Beau Biden’s efforts to help protect kids

DOVER — The late Beau Biden, attorney general of Delaware from 2007 to 2015 and son of former Vice President Joe Biden, had many passions, but few things were more dear to him than protecting children.

After Mr. Biden’s untimely death of brain cancer in 2015, his family and the Delaware Community Foundation partnered to launch a nonprofit in his honor.

“Our mission was and remains that we will carry on Beau’s legacy of child protection,” Executive Director Patty Dailey Lewis, who served as director of the Family Division in the Delaware Department of Justice under Mr. Biden, said last week.

Since its formation in 2015, the Beau Biden Foundation for the Protection of Children has trained nearly 5 percent of Delaware adults in recognizing and preventing child abuse, held conferences for law enforcement and social workers, pushed for new laws, educated youth on online safety and more.

The foundation has hosted events in 15 states and recently announced a partnership with Special Olympics International to keep the organization’s athletes safe from physical and sexual abuse.

“They have to always be looking ahead of the curve and that’s kind of what we’re trying to do with this,” said Angela Ciccolo, the chief legal officer and board secretary of Special Olympics International.

Individuals with intellectual disabilities are more likely to be abused than those without such differences, and several cases that came before the Department of Justice during Mr. Biden’s tenure “really moved him,” Ms. Dailey Lewis said.

Mr. Biden always had an interest in protecting the vulnerable, she said, and that only intensified after the 2009 arrest of Lewes pediatrician Earl Bradley, who used his practice to prey on mostly toddler-age patients for more than a decade. Bradley was charged with raping more than 100 children and was convicted in 2011 of 14 counts of first-degree rape and five counts each of second-degree assault and sexual exploitation of a child. He is currently serving life in prison.

In 2010, with the Bradley investigation ongoing, Mr. Biden opted not to run for the U.S. Senate seat his father held for 36 years.

“I have a job to finish,” he said in October that year as he sought a second term as attorney general.

As attorney general, he launched the Child Predator Task Force in 2007. It recently surpassed 350 arrests, the majority of which have ended in convictions through plea agreements.

In 2011, the Department of Justice and several nonprofits announced a plan to train at least 35,000 Delawareans, or 5 percent of the First State’s adult population, to identify and stop child abuse.

The foundation has continued the effort, and the target should be met next year, Ms. Dailey Lewis said.

But, of course, there’s far more to do after that.

“Beau would never let us stop at 5 percent,” Ms. Dailey Lewis said.

According to the foundation, 10 percent of children are sexually abused, and most of those don’t report it. National Children’s Alliance reported approximately 683,000 children were abused or neglected in 2015, with about 1,700 dying from the mistreatment.

While those figures will never be reduced to zero, organizations like the Beau Biden Foundation are committed to trying.

The Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families received between 6,500 and 9,000 reports of abuse and neglect every fiscal year from 1996 to 2009. In the one that ended June 30, 2011, one week after Bradley was found guilty, about 14,000 reports were received.

Five years later, almost 21,000 reports were made to the agency over 12 months.

That increase is driven in large part by greater awareness sparked by the Bradley case and by efforts of advocates to better protect children — advocates like Mr. Biden.

“That was very important to Beau, giving voice to the voiceless,” Ms. Dailey Lewis said.

Collaborative efforts like the agreement with Special Olympics International are an important part of spreading the word and combating mistreatment of children.

“We are so honored to be a part of their commitment and believe that, together, we can work to end child abuse in all forms by strengthening their existing athlete protection policies and working to ensure their athletes compete and thrive in the safest, most inclusive environment possible,” Hallie Biden, Mr. Biden’s wife and the co-chair of the foundation, said in a statement.

‘A legal and moral obligation’

During Mr. Biden’s time in office, the state created a specific crime of child abuse and instituted extra protections for youth with intellectual disabilities.

More recently, the foundation has advocated for a 2016 bill known as Erin’s Law, which requires schools to educate students, staff and parents about sexual abuse.

Currently, the organization is trying to start a nationwide discussion on mandatory reporting laws. Delaware lawmakers beefed up the First State’s laws in that area in 2010, but some states still have few requirements for reporting sexual abuse, Ms. Dailey Lewis said.

“What we’ve seen across the nation with regard to the mass victimization of children is there are plenty of adults who knew,” she said, citing the U.S. Gymnastics case.

Larry Nassar, the team doctor for U.S. Gymnastics and a professor at Michigan State University, had been accused by several women and girls of molesting them but remained employed by both organizations for years. The accusations did not come to light until 2016, and members of both U.S. Gymnastics and MSU have since resigned or been fired.

Nassar is serving a minimum of 100 years in prison.

Sadly, that’s far from the only instance of adults not doing enough or even covering up sexual misconduct — see the 2011 Pennsylvania State University scandal involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

Delaware law currently requires individuals to report child abuse or neglect to authorities. Failure to do so could lead to a penalty of up to $10,000 for a first offense.

“The important, critical piece is that every citizen is responsible,” Mr. Biden said in 2012. “We’re taught so much in society sometimes to mind our own business, that good fences make good neighbors.

“This is an area where I beg to differ. This is an area where a child’s welfare is all of our business. A child’s safety is all of our business. That’s what we have a need to communicate.”

The foundation’s driving principle can be summed up by a quote from Mr. Biden: “As adults, we have a legal and moral obligation to stand up and speak out for children who are being abused — they cannot speak for themselves.”

Mr. Biden’s wife wanted to ensure his work would not be abandoned with his death, and so she helped spearhead the launch of the foundation. In addition to working with other organizations and government bodies, it’s also aided by former Vice President Biden and other members of the Biden family.

Mr. Biden may be deceased, but his memory and his work lives on.

“Nobody, nobody has a right to abuse a child,” his father said in a March 2017 speech at halftime of a Delaware Blue Coats game, where he advocated for expanded resources to watch for and stop child abuse.

“They can’t protect themselves. You and I have an obligation to protect them. It’s the moral obligation of our time. It will be the measure of how we are judged as civilization.”

 

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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