Kentucky continues to lead the nation in child abuse and neglect for the third year in a row, according to the latest report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Based on that data, the state’s child abuse rate was 20.1 cases per 1,000 children — the national average was 8.9.
The latest report covered the federal fiscal year 2019. Kentucky also led the country in child abuse rates in the 2017 (22.2 cases ber 1,000 children) and 2018 (23.6) reports, and ranked second for a few years prior.
No other state in the three most recent reports topped 20 cases per 1,000 children.
“It’s everyone’s problem. It’s not an isolated problem for the families experiencing it. It impacts all of us,” said Erica Wade, Executive Director of The Center of Owensboro-Daviess County. “We need to come together as a community to support each other, support our families. It’s been a really year. We were already in rough standings before this year, and if we thought that was bad, then I’m sure this is another dip.”
Wade and others from The Center took part in an annual event hosted locally to help raise child abuse awareness and offer prevention tips and resources.
The “Stand Against Child Abuse” event — put on by the Community Collaboration for Children (CCC) — was held as a drive-thru event this year in the parking lot of Towne Square Mall on Friday.
Kristy James, CCC program coordinator, said child abuse isn’t something that can be ignored and the data proves just how big of an issue it is in Kentucky.
“It’s definitely a hard topic to discuss,” James said. “It’s not something we can ignore. It’s why these events are very important. They bring awareness. I think a lot of people just don’t know the resources we have. Families might have a need and that may be stressful. In those stressful situations they may feel like they’re not supported. With these events, we can let them know there is help out there.”
Rosemary Conder, Executive Director of CASA of Ohio Valley, said in many cases abuse stems from a lack of knowing how to get help.
“We know a lot of the time, abuse and neglect is not because parents don’t care about their kids,” Conder said. “A lot of the time it’s because they need help on how to be a parent or to get the resources to lift them up so they don’t abuse and neglect their kids.”
She said it can also be easy to miss signs of abuse without the proper education.
“I think a lot of the time we’re in a protective bubble. We don’t realize what it looks like,” Conder said. “A lot of the time what we see is generational problems where if the child was abused, then they grow up to be an abusive parent because they don’t know what (the signs of abuse and neglect) look like.”
Like Wade, Conder said child abuse is everyone’s problem.
“It’s in your church, it’s in your school, it’s in your neighborhood. If you think it’s not in your family, if your children are in school, it’s one of their classmates,” Conder said. “It does affect you in that respect. We really are called to be our brother’s keeper in every respect to prevent it. The more we talk about it and make people understand it, the better our community will be.”
Wade stressed the importance for anyone who suspects child abuse to speak up.
“If you can break these cycles and speak up and change the life for even one child, the ripple effect can go on for generations,” she said.
James said despite the unique format this year, there was still plenty of community support. And while much of the information is geared towards adults, there’s also a key message for the children too.
“Letting kids know there are safe places they can go,” James said. “There are safe people they can talk to who will listen if something is going on.”