Make Kentucky a better place for children

Published 7:16 pm Thursday, August 8, 2019


The Advocate-Messenger

Kentucky ranks among the Top 20 worst states in the U.S. for children in many areas, according to a new study.

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The report, 2019’s States with the Most Underprivileged Children, comes from personal finance website WalletHub, and was released Wednesday.

In order to bring awareness to the condition of underprivileged children throughout the U.S., WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 26 key measures of neediness. The data set ranges from share of children in households with below-poverty income to child food-insecurity rate to share of maltreated children.

Kentucky ranked as follows on the report:

• 17th overall for most underprivileged children

  Seventh highest for the percent of children in households with below-poverty income

  First highest for the percent of maltreated children

• 20th for child food-insecurity rate

  17th for infant mortality rate

  15th for percent of children in foster care

• 19th for percent of children in single-parent families

The U.S. has the seventh highest rate of child poverty — over 29 percent — among economically developed countries. And according to the Children’s Defense Fund, a child is abused or neglected every 47 seconds.

“In an ideal world, all children would live worry-free and have access to their basic needs: nutritious food, a good education, quality health care and a secure home. Emotionally, they all would feel safe and be loved and supported by caring adults,” according to the report. “When all such needs are met, children have a better chance of a stable and happy adult life. But in reality, not every child is so privileged — even in the richest and most powerful nation in the world.”

Some states address the problems of underprivileged children better than others. Kentucky is not one of those states.

Perhaps the most alarming ranking from the report is that Kentucky continues to remain first in the nation — report after report and study after study — for children who are abused, neglected and mistreated.

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.

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.

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 a 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.