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Friday, May 18, 2012

Please Do What You Can And Join The Fight Against Child Abuse, Neglect And Dependency

Editorial | Join the fight against child abuse, neglect

Momentum continues to build for a concerted, regional effort to spare children from abuse and neglect that too often results in their deaths.

And make no mistake — death is a kind term for the violent batterings, bruises, broken bones and fractured skulls that kill children as young as a few months old. More chilling is the forensic evidence of previous abuse injuries — healing fractures, scars, blood on the brain — that some of these small children have endured in their short and tormented lives.

Wednesday’s announcement that a broad coalition of Kentucky and Indiana pediatric and child welfare officials have joined the fight is the latest welcome development in what appears to be a growing determination to fight a problem that afflicts families in the region year after year.

“Child abuse is completely preventable,” Dr. Stephen Wright, medical director at Kosair Children’s Hospital said Wednesday in announcing the latest effort that includes Kentucky and Indiana children’s hospitals, medical schools and others involved in the care and protection of children.

Last month, Kosair Charities — a separate entity from the hospital — and about a dozen health and child welfare officials announced they are launching an ambitious, 10-year effort in Kentucky and Indiana to eradicate abuse and neglect.

While rates of child abuse fluctuate, Kentucky reported 30 deaths in the 2010 federal Child Maltreatment annual report, the most recent available, and Indiana, 17.

Both groups expect to rely heavily on public education and awareness efforts. The goal of eradicating child abuse deaths and injuries is impressive but it won’t work without the involvement of other key players. They include:

• The public. Though few people seem to realize this, under both Indiana and Kentucky state law anyone who suspects a child is being abused or neglected is required to report it to the authorities. This means you are part of the system to protect children, not just social workers, day care workers, teachers or pediatricians.

In Indiana, people may report suspected abuse to state authorities by calling (800) 800-5556 and in Kentucky, (877) 597-2331. Reports may be made anonymously. Don’t be discouraged if you get can’t get through or get brushed off.

In Kentucky in particular complaints have surfaced about lengthy waits on hold or overworked hotline operators reluctant to take cases. Insist on speaking to a supervisor. Call police or local officials. Do something if you truly believe a child is at risk.

• State officials. State officials could better tackle the problem of child abuse and neglect by gathering more accurate data. Nationally, advocates estimate that as many as half all child abuse or neglect deaths aren’t even counted — misclassified as deaths from natural causes or accidents.

Kentucky could start by returning to a clear, research-based annual report of child abuse and neglect fatalities it is required by law to produce. Last year, amid mounting criticism of its handling of the case of Amy Dye, a nine-year-old Western Kentucky girl fatally beaten in her adoptive home, the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services produced — three months late — a “Cliffs Notes” version, paring down detail and data of past years.

More astoundingly, it omitted the abuse or neglect deaths of at least eight children even though some were high-profile criminal cases that resulted in charges ranging from abuse to murder, including that of Amy Dye. Cabinet officials have offered various excuses for this, none of which made a lot of sense to lawmakers who blasted them for the report.

• Lawmakers. Lawmakers need to do more than criticize. They need to figure out what they can do to get involved in this effort. Budget cuts have left the state with shrinking numbers of social workers and rising caseloads. Other cuts have left virtually no services for poor families to get help.

Jefferson County judges can no longer give poor parents bus tickets to get to counseling or visitation with children. Kentucky can no longer afford to pay for drug testing for most parents in the family court system even as judges say drug addiction is a rising factor in child abuse and neglect.

The goal of eliminating child abuse deaths and injuries is worthy but will take far more than the work of hospitals, doctors and child advocates.

Until the community takes it seriously and works for change, the deaths and injuries will continue unabated.

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