A grim North Carolina story that we all need to be aware of and confront

Summer should be about trips to the beach, going to Goodberry’s for custard and families gathering for reunion picnics.

That’s the ideal summer.

But for those who lose children, summer is a sad, awful reminder.

On Jan. 1, 5-year-old Karter Hines died the day after being airlifted to UNC Children’s Hospital in Chapel Hill, where he had emergency brain surgery. He had been assaulted and abused.

Karter Holloway plays in an undated photo.
Karter Holloway plays in an undated photo.

In October, 3-weeks-old Gunner Bliss died in Raleigh.

In December, 9-year-old Vinil Tiwari died in Morrisville.

Three Wake County children were dead in a span of three months. Parents have been charged with murder in each death.

The News & Observer’s latest reporting shows that the extent of children statewide being abused remains unclear. But we know it’s too many.

Former N&O reporter Colleen Hammond started our reporting months ago. When she left, Tammy Grubb had the difficult role of parachuting into the investigation.

Tammy is an experienced reporter and talented writer who had to summarize the complexities of how families deal with grief and whether there are systemic solutions.

A grim reality

The reality is more than 100,000 North Carolina children wake up to violence, substance abuse and neglect every day. Their parents often are struggling to meet basic needs. Yet Child Protective Services also is in crisis, with overwhelmed staff trying to provide services and not enough foster homes, experts say.

This is Tammy’s takeaway from the reporting: “There are many reasons for child abuse and neglect in North Carolina, and for the growing number of deaths. State officials and child advocates say more programs and services to address poverty, mental health and substance abuse will help some of those families, but they also recognize there will always be cases that defy solutions and sometimes end a child’s life. This story was important to write, because we all need to be aware of abuse and neglect in our communities and, if we can, try to help those families in need.”

I’d rather write something lighter today, especially with the Fourth of July looming (and our own beach trip.)

The Year of You

Let’s go back to Jan. 6. Many of y’all still had Christmas trees in the family room. (Not judging since Christmas decor in January is good by Dolly Parton.)

That day, my column declared 2024 should be the “Year of You” and outlined four N&O aspirations for subscribers:

  1. We want to continue looking after your interests.

  2. We’re concerned about childhoods lost.

  3. We want to spend more time with you.

  4. We want to highlight the uniqueness of you.

We’re at the midway point of the year, so let’s look at our progress in no logical order.

Goal No. 4 was about spreading the word of what makes the Triangle a special place. Since then, we’ve launched two initiatives. Uniquely NC is a subscriber-focused collection of moments, landmarks and personalities that define the uniqueness (and pride) of why we live in the Triangle and North Carolina. NC Inside Look takes readers behind the scenes to illuminate the people and places in our community.

Last year, The N&O staff was involved in eight community events and were speakers or ongoing guests of nearly 40 media partnerships, events or outreaches. We’re trending nicely on Goal No. 3 with six community events and more than 50 media partnerships, events or outreaches through the first half of 2024.

Elevating accountability journalism

Goal No. 1 was about elevating our accountability journalism — from breaking news to “reality” checks to quick-turn explainers to in-depth reporting on issues that matter across the Triangle and North Carolina. So far, The N&O team has launched:

I wish we didn’t have Goal No. 2 — that the realities of being a child in 2024 were truly about beaches, custard and picnics. And even thinking about Christmas in July.

But we have a responsibility to you, to this state, to our democracy, to report the truths.

“This is an issue that demands attention,“ Investigations Editor Catherine Clabby says.

“We are at a point where we are getting better at recognizing when children die from abuse or neglect in this state. But it’s also widely accepted that we don’t detect all of these awful deaths. … These stories are awful to confront, but vulnerable children need better protection.”

Thank you for caring.

Bill Church is executive editor of The News & Observer.