Child abuse prevention advocates worried about Kentucky’s child abuse rate

April is Child Abuse Prevention Awareness Month
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Kentucky outranks the nation in child abuse cases for the third year in a row.
Published: Apr. 6, 2021 at 11:56 PM EDT
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April is Child Abuse Prevention Awareness month.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Awareness month.(WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Out of every 1,000 kids in Kentucky, 20 of them have had some experience with abuse and neglect, according to national data. The recent report shows numbers from 2019.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Kentucky outranks the nation in child abuse cases for the third year in a row.

“Unfortunately, we lead the nation with that awful statistic,” Pam Darnall, CEO of Family and Children’s Place, said. “Indiana is now number 15.”

Abuse types range from physical to sexual to neglect.

“Having a baby, even with all the resources in the world, can be really stressful,” she said. “Then you compile that with a lot of our families in our community don’t have resources. Even with the pandemic, it magnifies the struggle that families without resources have. Even before the pandemic, lots of families were struggling with living wages, even having safe stable housing, having enough money to feed their children. Then the pandemic happens. All these stressors can really create, unfortunately, a perfect storm.”

Over the past year, Darnall says the number of child abuse reports across the state has gone down, but she doesn’t think that’s because the issue is getting better.

“Because schools couldn’t be opened, childcare centers were closed or at limited capacity, so children are not seeing those trusted teachers, trusted coach or friend they only see at school but now they no longer see this friend or school counselor,” Darnall said. "

She said teachers and school staff make up a large majority of child abuse reports that are made.

“We know child abuse hasn’t gone away and we also know that in many cases, the one thing that will help perpetuate child abuse is secrecy and isolation,” she said. “And so that’s unfortunately what our children have been living with.”

Darnall stressed prevention is key. Family & Children’s place created a program called HANDS, which provides voluntary in-home visitation for new and expectant parents. Darnall said it is a voluntary and free program available for families statewide.

“There is data that shows when families are in this program called HANDS, like your hand, that are 50% or more less likely to ever hurt their children,” she said. “When children die as a result of abuse or maltreatment, they are almost always under two and a half years old. That is why we at Family and Children’s Place invest in prevention.”

Norton Children’s Medical Group Pediatric Hospitalist Dr. Kelly Dauk agrees it’s all about prevention.

“Billing child abuse as a public health crisis is really important, especially since it’s something that’s 100% preventable,” Dauk said.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Awareness month.

Dauk said in the hospital, things they see range from an infant who isn’t gaining weight or has repeated medical visits over time that suggest lack of care.

“We might see a child who had injuries whether that be bruising, broken bones, blood on the brain,” Dauk said. “Unfortunately we also take care of kids who are sexually abused.”

Dauk said with physical abuse, there tends to be a disconnect between the caregiver’s level of expectation and the child’s level of development. She said a big issue they see is pediatric abusive head trauma in infants under a year old.

“Babies cry for hours a day and that is normal,” Dauk said. “That can really get under a caregiver’s skin, especially one who doesn’t have a lot of support. And that frustration can rise to where a baby is shaken, thrown, punched, or kicked. So one key method I would hope caregivers hear is that sometimes the best thing you can do for your baby who is crying — once you’ve checked all the usual things in terms of checking their diaper, do they have a fever, that sort of thing — is putting that baby in a safe sleeping environment and walking away. That could literally save their life.”

She said caregivers sometimes need to collect themselves so things do not escalate.

She recommends people keep an eye out for the TEN-4 bruising rule: specifically for kids four years old and younger, paying attention to TEN (torso, ears, and neck). The TEN-4 bruising rule was developed from a study done at Norton Children’s Hospital. It is now a rule used nationally.

“Babies who don’t cruise, really shouldn’t bruise so really, any bruising on an infant is concerning,” Dauk said. “So really any bruising on an infant is concerning, especially one who isn’t moving around a whole lot.”

In Kentucky, everyone is mandated to report a reasonable suspicion of child abuse. Dauk and Darnall both said if anyone senses there is child abuse happening, they need to report it.

“I understand it may cause anxiety to think about picking up that phone and making a report,” Darnall said. “But you just might be saving a child’s life. And that’s worth that little bit of anxiety to save a child’s life.”

In Kentucky, the number to call to report suspected child abuse is (877) KY-SAFE1 (597-2331).

The National Child Abuse Hotline, (800) 4-A-CHILD (422-4453), offers professional crisis counselors who can provide intervention, information, and referrals to emergency, social service, and support resources.

All calls are confidential.

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