Kentucky child abuse rate highest in U.S. for 2nd year

Simple ways parents and bystanders can make a lifesaving difference in child abuse prevention

For the second year in a row, Kentucky had the highest child abuse rate in the country — and it’s not even close.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Children’s Bureau “Child Maltreatment 2018” report — released this year — shows more than 23 out of every 1,000 Kentucky children suffered some type of abuse. By comparison, the second-worst state (West Virginia) had a rate of 19.1 per 1,000 kids. The U.S. average is 9.2.

The good news for the commonwealth is child abuse deaths dropped for the fourth year in a row. Six children died in 2018, compared with 10 the year before and 15 in 2016.

“Hopefully we can attribute the high abuse rate and lower death rate to everyone doing a better job of recognizing and reporting abuse,” said Erin R. Frazier, M.D., pediatrician with Norton Children’s Medical Group – Broadway and medical director, Norton Children’s Prevention & Wellness. “Still, we, as a community, need to do even more to support and educate so that situations don’t escalate to the point of abuse.”

Indiana saw the opposite trend. Its abuse rate improved from 18.6 to 16.4. However, Indiana had the nation’s second-highest death rate. Eighty children died from child abuse in 2018. That’s more than double the number of deaths in 2015, when Indiana saw 34 fatalities.

Indiana and Kentucky child abuse statistics

2018 abuse cases 2018 abuse rate (per 1,000) 2018 deaths 2018 death rate

(per 100,000)

Kentucky 23,752 23.5 6 0.59
Ranking 10th 1st 37th 46th
Indiana 25,731 16.4 80 5.1
Ranking 7th 9th 7th 2nd
U.S. 677,529 9.2 1,678 2.39


Numbers from “Child Maltreatment 2018” report

Rankings are from 1 (worst) to 52 (best) and include Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. 

“Child abuse is always 100 percent preventable, and its impacts leave thousands of innocent kids with permanent physical and emotional damage,” said Kelly Dauk, M.D., chair of the Norton Children’s Hospital Child Abuse Task Force and pediatrician with Norton Children’s Inpatient Care, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine. “Everyone needs to work together to break the chain of this epidemic.”

Report suspected child abuse

In Kentucky, the number to call to report suspected child abuse is (877) KY-SAFE1 (597-2331). In Indiana, call (800) 800-5556.

How to prevent child abuse

Many cases of child abuse occur when a baby is left with an unrelated caregiver.

Here are some tools to help prevent potentially abusive situations.

Establish a safe place: If you feel like you’re going to lose your cool, put the child on his or her back in a safe place — tell the caregiver where your child likes to go and is comfortable, such as in the crib.

Leave a list of things to check when baby is crying: Dirty diaper? Hot or cold? Hungry? Frustrated? Scared and needs a hug?

Distraction, distraction, distraction: Be sure your sitter knows your child’s favorite toy or distraction. Sometimes there’s that one toy, book or cartoon that can short-circuit a tantrum.

Fun and games: Write down your child’s favorite game. Sometimes there’s that silly game that turns things around. Blowing raspberries, tummy kisses, etc. Make sure everyone knows what it is this week.

Avoid the crash: Encourage your caregiver to stick to nap times and bedtimes.

Accidents happen: If your child is toilet training, be sure the caregiver knows that there may be accidents, and that’s OK. Simply explain what to do with any soiled clothing and what to do if the mess gets spread around.

Know the number: Write down some phone numbers of people the caregiver can call in a time of frustration, if you’re not available. Having someone else to talk to often can help calm someone down.

Child Abuse Prevention
Children’s Protection Specialists

Is It Abuse?

Even if you’re not sure, you are required by law to report suspected abuse or neglect. Anonymous calls are accepted.

Kentucky: Call (877) KYSAFE1 (1-877-597-2331)

Indiana: (800) 800-5556

If a child is in immediate danger, call 911.

Norton Children’s Pediatric Protection Specialists

Child Protection Team

Team members are available 24 /7

(502) 629-6000

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