Story by: Kevin Wheatley on March 20, 2023
Despite dropping for the third consecutive year, Kentucky’s rate of child abuse victims continues to outpace the national average.
The “Child Maltreatment 2021” report released this year by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Children’s Bureau found Kentucky’s rate of child abuse victims in 2021 was 14.7 per 1,000 children. That means about 15 kids out of every 1,000 children in Kentucky experienced some form of maltreatment during 2021.
Kentucky’s child abuse victim rate was about twice as high as the U.S. rate of 8.1 victims and slightly more than Indiana’s rate of 13.6 victims. Most child abuse victims in Kentucky, Indiana and the U.S. were younger than age 1.
Only five states reported higher child abuse victim rates than Kentucky in 2021: West Virginia Maine, Massachusetts, Iowa and Alaska.
Here’s how Kentucky and Indiana compared with the rest of the U.S. in key child maltreatment indicators:
Rates dropping may seem like good news, but experts believe the COVID-19 pandemic continued to impact the reporting of suspected child abuse or maltreatment.
The “Child Maltreatment 2021” report found that the number and percentage of school personnel reporting suspected child abuse or maltreatment continued to lag pre-pandemic data as states and school systems continued using virtual learning in response to COVID-19.
“While the recent declines in child abuse cases and victim rates might be celebrated, they deserve further scrutiny in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Melissa L. Currie, M.D., child abuse pediatrician and director of Norton Children’s Pediatric Protection Specialists, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine. “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.”
While Kentucky and Indiana families continue to experience pandemic-related and other stressors in 2023, experts have tips on how we can work together to reduce stress and prevent child abuse.
“Research has found that when families are stressed, children are at higher risk of being abused,” said Kelly L. Dauk, M.D., chair, Norton Children’s Hospital Child Abuse Task Force and pediatric hospitalist with Norton Children’s Inpatient Care, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine. “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.”
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. Calls are confidential. In Kentucky, everyone is mandated to report a reasonable suspicion that maltreatment has occurred. Reporting child abuse and neglect is the right thing to do, and it’s the law.
Here are some ways parents and bystanders can make a lifesaving difference: