DAYTON, OHIO — Although the number of child neglect and physical and emotional abuse investigations declined in Montgomery County last year, sexual abuse cases slightly increased, officials announced.
But child abuse can be prevented if everyone in the community helps, Montgomery County leaders stressed at Thursday’s kickoff to Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month.
“We always want you to call, and call our (937) 224-KIDS number whenever you have a concern about possible abuse or neglect,” said Deb Downing, assistant director for children’s services at Montgomery County Department of Job and Family Services. “We have staff who are dedicated and trained to make those determinations as to whether or not investigation is warranted.”
The number of such investigations in Montgomery County fell from 3,621 in 2013 to 3,450 in 2014. And while neglect, physical and emotional investigations dropped, sexual abuse cases rose slightly. Overall, officials said the numbers are consistent from year to year.
Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck Jr. said that nationally, an abuse report is completed every 10 seconds, nearly 1,700 children in the United States will die as a result of abuse or neglect in 2015 and that 30 percent of children who are abused will abuse their own kids.
“These are kids that are never given a chance,” Heck said at the gathering at Haines Children Center at 3304 N. Main St. “And that’s just so tough, I think, to really understand unless you deal with it every day. These are not just stats, but these are living people. These are children that you’re dealing with and helping to make a difference.”
Montgomery County Commissioners Debbie Lieberman and Judy Dodge and CARE House director Libby Nicholson joined Downing and Heck at the event. They were surrounded by case workers and other children services employees.
Thousands of calls of suspected abuse or neglect come into children services and are evaluated each month. Downing said, “Sometimes, those calls are just … we can connect people with community services so that we can strengthen them and get them the services they need.”
Downing said the causes for child abuse and neglect vary but reflect problems in society.
“Of course drugs are a huge issue in our community, but it’s (also) family isolation, not having support systems, the stresses of modern-day life,” she said. “If a parent is having drug or alcohol issues, oftentimes that becomes their priority rather than tending to the needs of the children,” Downing said.
Some calls result in connecting families with resources.
“Our focus is on working with that individual family and trying to strengthen that family and … what services are needed to help them, and of course sometimes despite our best efforts, you know we can’t help that family and so we have to make alternate plans for the child,” Downing said. ”A lot of our cases never rise to the level of a criminal prosecution, so those criminal cases are really the most extreme cases that we deal with.”
Heck echoed others’ comments that it takes someone to take a stand and have courage to report child abuse.
“It takes all of us,” Heck said. “Not just children services case works, not just law enforcement, not just the cops, not just prosecutors, it takes all of us to be involved if we’re going to prevent child abuse and hold those responsible for child abuse …. and bring them to justice.”