Kentucky’s child abuse rate outranks rest of country for third year in row; Indiana leads nation in deaths

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Children’s Bureau Child Maltreatment report shows Kentucky had more than 20,000 abuse cases.

For the third year in a row, Kentucky has the highest child abuse rate in the country.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Children’s Bureau “Child Maltreatment 2019” report — released this year — shows Kentucky had more than 20,000 abuse cases, meaning about 20 out of every 1,000 children in the commonwealth experienced some type of abuse. By comparison, the second-highest state (West Virginia) had a rate of 18.7 per 1,000 kids. The U.S. average is 8.9.

Indiana saw the opposite trend. The Hoosier state’s abuse rate improved from 16.4 to 14.7. However, Indiana had the nation’s highest death rate. In Indiana, 116 children died from child abuse in 2019.

Here’s how both states compared with the country overall:

2019 abuse cases 2019 abuse rate (per 1,000) 2019 deaths 2019 death rate

(per 100,000)

Kentucky 20,130 20.1 12 1.2
Ranking 10th 1st 33rd 39th
Indiana 23,029 14.7 116 7.4
Ranking 9th 15th 3rd 1st
U.S. 656,243 8.9 1,809 2.5

Numbers from “Child Maltreatment 2019” report

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

COVID-19 could lead to more abuse

Experts are concerned the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to a spike in child abuse numbers for 2020. The pandemic left families faced with financial, emotional and other stresses — combined with spending long periods of time isolated at home with a lack of structure and support. These stressors can lead to potentially dangerous situations.

“Research has found that when families are stressed, children are at an increased risk of being abused,” said Kelly L. Dauk, M.D., chair, Norton Children’s Hospital Child Abuse Task Force and pediatrician 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. Maintaining connections with friends, family and others in the community is important. It takes support from the whole community to stop child abuse. We all have a responsibility help those who are struggling and report concerns for child safety and well-being.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers the following tips on how to support your family during times of high stress:

To Report Abuse

In Kentucky, everyone is mandated to report a reasonable suspicion that maltreatment has occurred.
Kentucky: (877) KYSAFE1 (1-877-597-2331)
Report online during business hours
Indiana: (800) 800-5556
If a child is in immediate danger, call 911.

  • Engage your children in constructive activities. Bored or frustrated children are more likely to act out.
  • Help children with their fears. Kids who are old enough to follow the news may be afraid. You can acknowledge the fear and discuss all the things you are doing to stay healthy, such as washing hands, wearing masks and staying home to avoid germs.
  • Know when not to respond. As long as your child isn’t doing something dangerous and gets plenty of attention for good behavior, ignoring bad behavior can be an effective way of stopping it.
  • Catch them being good. Children need to know when they do something bad — and when they do something good. Notice good behaviors and point them out, praising success and good tries.
  • Give them your attention. The most powerful tool for effective discipline is attention, which reinforces good behaviors and discourages others. When parents are trying to work at home, this can be particularly challenging. Clear communication and setting expectations can help, particularly with older children.