April is National Child Abuse Awareness Month. According to the 2016 US Census estimates, the Arkansas state population is just shy of 3 million. Of that, there are nearly 706,000 children under the age of 18. With the state poverty rate at 19.1%, the poverty rate for children under the age of 18 is 27.2%, ages 5-7 is 25.5%, and children under 5 is a staggering 31.8%. This is important. Children in homes where the family has a solid foundation of support, whether it’s other family or the community, where they have adequate food, clothing, stable living conditions, and reliable transportation, these children have a lower rate of abuse than their counterparts.
The Child Welfare League of America compiled pertinent statistics regarding child abuse and neglect in Arkansas for 2015.
- Arkansas had 52,240 total calls to the hotline and to the office, and of these, 33,251 investigations were opened. That’s 64% of the total calls were considered to be factual and a case was opened.
- There were 9,204 victims of abuse or neglect in Arkansas. This was a 2.6% increase from the prior year. Of these, 55.3% were neglected, 22% were physically abused, and 20.7% were sexually abused. These statistics do not reflect that most kids suffer from more than one form of abuse if they fall victim.
- There were 40 child deaths resulting from abuse or neglect reported in Arkansas.
- The Federal Child and Family Service Reviews have shown the more time caseworkers spend with the children and families, the more likely the outcome is going to be favorable.
- However, the average caseload per worker is 30 kids, twice the recommended case load. This leads to overworked case managers, and high turnover.
So what’s the solution? What can we do as a community to help reduce the rates of abuse and neglect? Mandated reporters, such as teachers, physicians, childcare workers, mental health professionals, and law enforcement officers, are required to report the facts and circumstances that led them to believe that abuse or neglect has occurred to the Child Abuse Hotline. For others in the community, there is a long standing belief that it’s no one else’s business. This is false. Arkansas State passed legislature specifying which disciplinary actions are deemed abuse, and therefore illegal. You can see a comprehensive list here.
What can you do as a private citizen? If it’s an emergency, call your local law enforcement agency, whether that is the Sheriff’s Office or your municipal police department. If the child is not in immediate danger, you can call the Child Abuse Hotline. You only have to have suspicion of abuse, and your information will be given anonymously. The call taker will ask details about your suspicions, so have as much information as you can, such as the child’s name, age, address, and names of the parents. If you know which school the go to, that will help in the investigation.
It takes a village to raise a child. It our obligation as neighbors to look out for each other, especially the kids. Thank you for putting your trust in our department, to serve and protect you. It is an honor we work each day to live up to.
Sheriff Marty Boyd