These are the steps that can be taken if you see signs of child abuse.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Police are still investigating a child abuse case that started with a fire call near 6th and Crestline. It’s an ongoing investigation some neighbors never saw coming.

Betsy Vitousek has lived nearby for 30 years. She sees renters come and go, stays friendly but minds her own business for the most part.

“We didn’t meddle in their business,” she said.

She noticed the family who had young children but never saw too many things out of the ordinary until Sunday afternoon. That’s when a fire started in her neighbor’s backyard. She quickly did what she could to help the fire department but is still dealing with a pile of trash that spilled over on her property.

“It’s scary as heck. Trust me on that one,” Vitousek said.

First responders quickly put the fire out but were more shocked at what they discovered inside.

Children ranging in age from six months to 12 years old were living in deplorable conditions including “food, dog food, garbage, cigarette butts and animal feces throughout” the immediate living area.

“Again, the floor was covered in garbage and animal feces, and there were even feces spread on the wall in the kitchen,” the fire department report says.

The children are in safe hands tonight as the investigation continues, but police say these conditions may not prompt criminal charges.

“Our main concern obviously, first and foremost, is the safety of children and dependent people,” said Nick Briggs, a Corporal with the Spokane Police Department. “Just because having a messy household or conditions which are deplorable doesn’t necessarily rise to that level.”

He said, in addition to the ongoing CPS investigation, they are looking into the specifics of this case. They don’t want to criminalize families, and every case has specific circumstances they look into. The goal is to keep families together, even if kids are taken out of an unsafe situation for a short period of time.

Child safety advocates at Partners With Family and Children say everyone can play a part in advocating for children by being observant and aware of your surroundings.

If you’re concerned, ask yourself questions such as:

  1. Are there changes in people coming and going from the house?
  2. Do the children have any marks on them?
  3. Are there adults around the home often?

“Just asking could really end up saving a young person’s life,” said Stephanie Widhalm, the Director of Children’s Advocacy Center at Partners with Families and Children.

If you’re concerned, you can put in a call to the children’s school or DCYF. If you feel safe and comfortable, you can also approach a neighbor or someone you’re worried about. Widhalm says opening up the door and showing someone you care can go a long way in the family opening up to you about any concerns or struggles they’re experiencing.

As always, if you ever see a child in immediate danger, call 911.

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