Our View: Our children deserve better

Kentucky ranks first in the nation in a terrible way according to a recent report.

The most recent Child Maltreatment Report, issued in late March by the the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, reveals Kentucky has the highest rates of child abuse in the nation.

According to the report, Kentucky had 22,410 child abuse victims in 2017, the last year for which data is available. That equates to a rate of about 22 victims per 1,000 children in the Commonwealth, which is more than twice the national average rate of nine.

There were also 10 child fatalities attributed to abuse in Kentucky in 2017.

Data for the “Child Maltreatment” report has been collected every year since 1991 from child welfare agencies in all 50 states along with Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.

Data is provided through the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, which clarifies that child victims are counted if a state is able to determine a “substantiated case” of abuse or neglect.

Kentucky’s rate has increased annually from 2013 (17.3 percent), with a more than 27 percent increase over the four-year period. In 2013, there were 17,591 cases of abuse reported in the state. In 2016, when the rate was 19.8, and 20,010 cases were reported.

More than 15,000 of the victims in 2017 were first-time victims, meaning more than 7,000 children were repeat victims of child abuse that year.

Of the cases reported in Kentucky, most (21,313) were attributed to neglect. There were 487 cases of medical neglect, 1,533 cases of physical abuse, 44 cases of psychological maltreatment and 852 cases of sexual abuse — and many of these cases involved more than one of these serious issues simultaneously.

More than 3,000 of Kentucky’s cases of child abuse involved alcohol abuse by their caretaker and nearly 12,000 involved drug abuse. 

Also according to the report:

— Nationally, evidence indicates children are most likely to be abused by their parents.

— Children in their first year of life have the highest rate of victimization at 25.3 per 1,000 children of the same age in the national population. In Kentucky, 3,090 cases were reported in children younger than 1 year in 2017.

— “Child fatalities are the most tragic consequence of maltreatment,” according to the report. “For 2017, 50 states reported 1,688 fatalities.”

This deplorable rating really comes as no surprise as even in Clark County there is an evident problem related to child abuse.

“Clark parents arrested for child’s ‘filthy’ living conditions,” “Father pleads guilty to shaking infant,” “Mother charged after children ingest cocaine,” and “Clark man arrested for sexual abuse” are just a few of the headlines from this newspaper in the first four months of 2019.

While many die each year, and others are treated, there are likely thousands more cases in our state where the abuse goes unreported.

These children survive, but are destined to deal with the negative ramifications of their childhood abuse for the rest of their lives — often prohibiting them from becoming well-functioning, healthy, productive adult citizens.

April is Child Abuse Awareness Month, a time dedicated to honoring and remembering the lives lost too soon to abuse and neglect. The month also serves as an opportunity for the community to band together to raise awareness, educate about risk factors and indicators and advocate for children.

It’s a problem that has no easy solution, but one that must be addressed from multiple angles and quickly.

We can all take part in reversing this negative trend and helping survivors.

The most important things we can do are advocate and educate.

Learn about the indicators of abuse. There are many, including unexplained bruises, cuts, welts, scars, fractures and burns.

There are also behavioral indicators, like aggressiveness or withdrawal.

Other obvious signs are children who are frightened of their parents or say they are afraid to go home. Be mindful of children who report being extremely hungry, who exhibit bad hygiene or dress inappropriately for the season.

Watch for children in your community who are often unsupervised, especially for long periods of time or in potentially dangerous scenarios.

Report potential abuse to the police or by calling the Child Help National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4ACHILD.

Encourage your legislators to support laws that protect children and strengthen punishments for abusers.

Additionally, our state must continue fighting against addiction, including drugs and alcohol. They play a huge role in the quality of life for our families and children, and as this research indicates, contribute to child abuse and neglect in our state.

Our state needs to also allot more funding for DCBS and other child welfare programs. There are shortages of qualified social workers and foster parents to help these children find their way out of abusive homes and into loving, safe places.

Finally, we need to improve access and funding for programs for parents, including parenting classes, HANDS programs, educational programs and other assistance programs to reduce the burden of stress many parents, especially first-time, young or low-income parents feel, which might result in abuse or neglect.

Childhood should be fun. It should be s time of growth and learning. It’s a time to be nurtured and loved.

Our children are our future and they deserve better.

Be mindful. Speak up. Stop abuse. Report it. Be an advocate. Help make the world a better place for children.