March 5, 2013

Child abuse on the rise in Kentucky

Violence prevention group looks at statistics

By Magen McCrarey
Staff Writer

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — A drastic increase in Laurel County child abuse in 2012 brought the Violence Prevention Coalition (VPC) together on Thursday, Feb. 28 to discuss how they can put a stop to the abuse and neglect.  The 2012 statistics were recently released by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS), the Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) and the Division of Protection and Permanency (DPP).  

“DCBS is in the business of keeping families together. Nobody wants to take a child away unless they have to,” said Beth Smith, coordinator of the H.A.N.D.S. program at the Laurel County Health Department.

From 2011 to 2012, there were 75 more cases of child abuse/neglect that were investigated.  Altogether in 2012, there were 498 children,, four years of age or younger, who were found to be abused/neglected.

“That’s a high statistic,” said June Rawlings, director of Healthy Community Outreach at Saint Joseph London.

In Kentucky, child maltreatment is legally defined as “any act of commission or omission by a parent or other caregiver resulting in harm, potential harm, or threat of harm to a child, including neglect and failure to provide adequate supervision.”

Statewide, a harrowing 15,699 cases of child abuse/neglected were substantiated, according to the Commonwealth of Kentucky Violence and Injury Prevention.  From 2008 to 2012, there were 214 fatalities, while 99 of those cases were a result of physical abuse and 115 cases were the result of neglect.

Of the 99 physical abuse cases in the state, statistics show:

 •  44 percent had an inflicted head injury (Pediatric Abusive Head Trauma)

• Multiple injuries accounted for 33 percent of the physical abuse deaths or near deaths

• 7 percent of victims were intentionally suffocated

• 6 percent died from an intentional shooting

In the majority of child abuse cases in Kentucky since 2009, DCBS  officials said the caretakers had a substance abuse problem.  

“With meth and drugs, we’re already at risk with parents.  We have a very high percentage of pregnant teenagers and they are at a high risk for Shaken Baby Syndrome,” Rawlings said.

Smith said the health department’s H.A.N.D.S. pregnancy and parenthood program is free to the public, and many of her participants include teen moms. Although participants usually sign up for the program for incentives, such as gift cards and baby supplies, it doesn’t negate the fact the new parents are receiving critical information.

“Every time we’re in that home we are planting that seed of child development and home safety,” Smith said. “We tell families right from the start, ‘We are here to support you in the decision you want to make for yourselves as a family.’ That is our role,” Smith said.

Didi Hallman, assistant director for the Laurel County Life Center (LCLC), a help center for unplanned pregnancies, said her relationship with court-ordered moms and dads is key to making a positive impact locally.  

Often times, the community has focused on “dead-beat dads” but there are “dead-beat moms,” too, she stated.  The LCLC has recently expanded their fatherhood programs with a volunteer counselor just for fathers.  

“Honestly, we’ve seen more and more men come,” Hallman said. “We need to really make sure to find ways to include the dads, even if they’ve not had a good background, even if they’ve come through the foster care system, or even if they’ve had their own abuse issues in the past. They want to be a good father, and they want to be involved.”

The Violence Prevention Coalition (VPC) will meet again in April to further discuss community outreach programs related to child abuse/neglect for children four years and under.

To report child abuse or neglect  call the Laurel County Sheriff’s Office at 606-864-6600 or the London Police Department at 606-878-7004.  

For a parent support helpline, call 1-800-CHILDREN.