Ky. outpaces national average for child abuse victim rate, health officials warn

Health officials warn that Kentucky’s rate of child abuse victims continues to outpace the national average.
Published: Mar. 30, 2023 at 11:36 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 5, 2023 at 4:21 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Ahead of Child Abuse Prevention Month in April, health officials warn that Kentucky’s rate of child abuse victims continues to outpace the national average.

The “Child Maltreatment 2021″ report was released this year by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Children’s Bureau, stating Kentucky’s rate of child abuse victims in 2021 was 14.7 per 1,000 children.

The data means around 15 children out of 1,000 in Kentucky experienced some form of maltreatment that year.

According to the report, the national average victim rate for 2021 was 8.1, nearly half what was reported in Kentucky.

Indiana came in slightly lower in the 2021 report with a victim rate of 13.6.

Data showed only five states reported higher child victim rates than Kentucky: West Virginia, Maine, Massachusetts, Iowa and Alaska.

Norton Children’s Hospital said the victim rate dropped from 2020, but the pandemic continued to impact reporting of suspected child abuse.

“The pandemic likely affected the number of suspected child abuse cases in 2021 as fewer professionals trained to identify and report signs of child maltreatment were able to interact with children as schools and day cares intermittently closed based on their COVID-19 protocols,” Melissa L. Currie, M.D., child abuse pediatrician and director of Norton Children’s Pediatric Protection Specialists said in a release.

Norton Children’s Hospital said parents or guardians should take care of themselves physically and emotionally to help deal with stress and prevent child abuse.

“Research has found that when families are stressed, children are at higher risk of being abused,” Kelly L. Dauk, M.D., chair, Norton Children’s Hospital Child Abuse Task Force and pediatric hospitalist with Norton Children’s Inpatient Care said in a release. “Caregivers must take care of themselves physically and emotionally and ask for help if they are struggling. We all have a responsibility to help those who are struggling and report concerns for child safety and well-being.”

Norton Children’s Hospital provided several tips to help prevent child abuse cases:

  • If you feel yourself about to lose control with a child, it’s OK to step away. Listen to your favorite song, take a few deep breaths or call a friend.
  • Keep a list of friends’ and family members’ phone numbers to call for support.
  • Learn the TEN-4 bruising rule: Children under age 4 should not have bruising on the torso, ears or neck. Infants who are not mobile rarely have any bruises, anywhere on their bodies.
  • If you know a parent who may be feeling stressed, offer to babysit so he or she can have a break for an hour or two.
  • Offer to run an errand for a neighbor with small children who has difficulty getting out of the house. A small gesture like that can greatly reduce stress for the parent.
  • If you see someone about to raise a hand to a child, you can help the situation. Even saying something like, “I remember when my child acted like that,” can break the tension and protect the child.

Kayla Casey of StepStone Family and Youth Services believes abuse can lead to long-term problems for victims.

“It’s going to be really hard for them to connect,” Casey said, “and trust and build those relationships if they’ve been traumatized by the people were supposed to take care of them.”

StepStone is a Louisville-based that works to find foster families, often for victims of abuse.

Casey said the number of people looking to be foster parents has not kept up with the number of children needing a new home.

Kentuckians can report suspected child abuse by calling (877) KY-SAFE1 (597-2331) or by dialing the National Child Abuse Hotline at (800) 4-A-CHILD (422-4453).

Learn more about StepStone Family and Youth Services by clicking or tapping here.