MEADOW LANDS – For Taylor Kehn, child abuse hit much too close to home.
But Taylor, 14, is doing her part to raise awareness and spare youngsters the same emotional and physical pain that was inflicted on her young niece, Emily Howard.
The eighth-grader has been selling bracelets, necklaces, ribbons, pens, pencils and blue ribbons in honor of Child Abuse Awareness Month to her junior high classmates in Chartiers-Houston School District.
On Friday at 5 p.m., she hopes to release at least 400 blue balloons, which she is selling for $1 each, from the high school’s football stadium.
“I don’t want other kids to go through it,” Taylor said. “I know what it’s been like to raise her and the issues she has.”
Emily suffered five broken ribs, two broken legs, a broken clavicle and a broken arm when she was assaulted by her mother’s boyfriend, Brandon Joshua Phillips, then 18, on three occasions over a five-day period right before her first birthday on Feb. 21, 2011.
In a report from the Pittsburgh Child Advocacy Center at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, a physician said it was inconceivable that the mother, Karli Raven Slider, then 20, did not seek medical treatment for her child. Slider is Taylor’s half-sister.
“This baby has been the victim of extreme violence,” the report states. “The fact that her caretakers, including any caretakers who did not inflict the injuries themselves, did not seek medical treatment for these injuries and allowed her to remain in incredible pain after these injuries occurred constitutes child abuse/medical neglect.”
The doctor also indicated on the report that he had never cared for a child who sustained so many fractures from child abuse.
All of the money Taylor raises will benefit A Child’s Place at Washington, a satellite collaborative children’s advocacy center at Washington Hospital that opened in January.
Sandy Kehn and her husband, Karl, are helping Taylor with her fundraiser, and Emily’s paternal grandmother, Paula Howard, started a Facebook page in honor of Emily and is soliciting donations on Taylor’s behalf.
“It was such a severe case of child abuse,” said Sandy, whose initial reaction was anger when she learned that her stepdaughter had let Emily suffer for so long. “I don’t understand that. My kids are everything to me.”
Emily’s injuries were discovered after she was returned to her father, Cody Howard, following a visit with her mother and her boyfriend. The injuries were reported to police by Washington County Children and Youth Services when the Howard family took her to Washington Hospital for treatment.
In addition to the broken bones, Emily had knuckle imprints on her forehead where she was punched, Sandy said, and she had to learn to walk all over again. While she was hospitalized, she was on a morphine drip.
Emily, 4, now lives with her father, but spends weekends with the Kehn family.
“When she first stayed with us, we couldn’t take her to any public places,” Sandy said, noting that for six months, Karl could not approach his granddaughter. “She was terrified of men,” Sandy said. “She had to learn to trust again.”
Sandy said Emily is doing a lot better, although she continues to have night terrors, and she recently became alarmed when she saw a man at the park. Even though Sandy said there was nothing suspicious about the man, “certain things will trigger something in Emily,” especially men who are similar in age to her abuser.
“I don’t know if Emily actually remembers everything that happened to her,” Sandy said. “I hope she doesn’t. I don’t want her to relive that.”
Emily and Taylor are more like sisters, and Emily adores her 9-year-old uncle, Zach. Without fail, every weekend when Emily arrives at the Kehns’ home, she’ll go to Zach’s room and say, “Boo!” Then she’ll go to Taylor’s room and again say, “Boo!”
“She’s definitely a lot of fun,” Taylor said.
Taylor had to explain Emily’s abuse to student government to receive approval for the fundraiser. It was hard, she said, but her classmates rallied around her.
“Most kids her age, things like this don’t affect them,” Sandy said. “Even if we don’t make a whole lot of money, it means something. No matter what, it’s something, and it’s for Emily. She never has to worry about somebody not loving her.”
Emily has a Facebook page, Don’t Hurt the Little Ones (https://www.facebook.com/DontHurtTheLittleOnes), that was started by her grandmother, Paula. Taylor also created a Web page for Emily, http://weliveontogether.webs.com.
Taylor plans on making the fundrasier an annual event when she moves to the high school in the fall.
“This is what I want to do to help Emily, to show her people do care,” Taylor said.