Report: Kentucky Child Abuse rate second
highest in the nation
Kentucky’s 2016 child abuse rate — more than double the national average — was the second highest rate in the nation.
Almost 20 of every 1,000 children in the state were abused, according to the “Child Maltreatment 2016” report released recently by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Children’s Bureau.
The reported didn’t come as a surprise to Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Madison County executive director Victoria Benge, who said Kentucky always is at the top of the nation in child abuse rates.
Benge said child abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level. In most cases, it isn’t one single circumstance that leads to abuse, she said.
Typically, it’s a combination of factors that cause high stress levels in the family, which could include a lack of education, money troubles, or a variety of other stressors. Drug abuse is a big determinant.
Family court judge for Madison and Clark counties Nora J. Shepherd said drugs are involved in almost every case she handles in family court.
The drug epidemic has drastically increased the case load in family court, Shepherd said.
Continual budget cuts have also put a strain on the system in place to protect children, she added.
Lack of support for social workers has resulted in lots of turnover and, now, state workers including child protection workers are looking at drastic changes to their pensions, leading some to leave.
Funding for Comprehensive Care, which provides counseling services, has been in decline for years, Shepherd said. People who need mental health services can’t get help.
“It’s probably underpinning our substance abuse issue,” Shepherd said.
When it comes to finding abuse and stopping it, everyone can play a role, Benge said.
In fact, anyone in Kentucky who suspects a child is being abused is required to report it by law.
In cases where people are suspicious but aren’t sure, they should make the call, she said.
“I think you can never be too cautious,” she said. “You’re better to be safe than sorry.”
“If you see something, you have to call,” she said. “You could be part of saving a child’s life.”
Learning the TEN-4 bruising rule can help people identify possible abuse, according to a press release from Norton’s Children’s Hospital. The rule says that children under 4 should not have bruising on their torso, ears or neck.
It’s also important for people to help stressed parents, maybe by offering to babysit for a while or offering to run an errand, the hospital release states. People can help prevent abuse also by simply de-stressing a situation with a statement such as “I remember when my child acted like that.”
Madison County has a number of organizations working on behalf of children, Benge said.
CASA uses community trained volunteers to advocate on behalf of abused and neglected children within the family court system. The organization’s main goal, Benge said, is to break the cycle of abuse.
Too often, children in the court system have people coming in and out of their lives.
“It’s so important for these children to have a person who stays with them,” Benge said.
Another Madison County organization that is instrumental in the fight against child abuse and neglect is the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS).
“They do fantastic work,” Benge said.
The social workers with CHFS investigate claims of abuse and neglect, and make referrals on the best course of action for the affected children.
The county attorney’s office prosecutes those accused of abuse or neglect, Shepherd said. Madison County assistant county attorney Jubal Miller has worked on family court cases for more than 20 years. Deputy circuit clerk Debbie Agee also has worked in the court for decades.
The HANDS program through the Madison County Health Department is another resource for families of young children. HANDS is a home visitation program that assists during their child’s first two years of life. A public health nurse and public health home visitors visit the home to introduce parenting skill development in areas such as recognizing babies’ needs and making the home safe.
Benge urges parents who feel overwhelmed to speak up.
“Just ask for help,” she said. “The state is very willing to help.”
According to Norton Children’s Hospital, parents on edge should realize it’s OK to step away for a moment and take a few deep breaths, or listen to a favorite song or call a friend. It’s important to keep a list of friends or family members to call for support.
Kentucky ranked far better in the report in the number of children (15) who died as a result of abuse in 2016; the state ranked 29th in the country. There were 1,750 deaths nationwide, according to the report.
The state saw a total of 102,990 referrals to child protective services in 2016, according to the report. About half (50.4 percent) resulted in reports.
In 2017, 509 children in Madison County were abused or neglected, according to CASA. A pinwheel for each was planted Friday outside the Madison County Courthouse as part of the annual child abuse awareness event put on by CASA and the Department for Community Based Services. The event is held each year in April, Child Abuse Awareness Month.
To report suspected child abuse in Kentucky, call 877-KY-SAFE1 (877-597-2331). Reporting can also be done online at https://prdweb.chfs.ky.gov/ReportAbuse/OutofHours.aspx. The national abuse hotline can be reached at 800-4-A-CHILD (800-422-4453).
For more information on the HANDS program, call 859-626-4257.
Child Maltreatment 2016 is the 27th edition of the annual Child Maltreatment report series. States provide the data for the report through the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS).