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Kentucky Officials Seek Community Help To Address Soaring Child Abuse Rate

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Panelists talked about Kentucky’s high rate of child abuse and how the community can help address the problem during our discussion on WFPL’s In Conversation. Our guests were:

  • Courier-Journal Reporter Deborah Yetter
  • Kentucky Child Fatality Review Panel Member Dr. Melissa Currie
  • Kentucky Department of Community Based Services Commissioner Eric Clark

A five-part investigative series by Courier-Journal Reporter Deborah Yetter sounded the alarm on the issue and prompted Kosair Charities to donate $100,000 toward helping protect children. According to a report by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Children’s Bureau, Kentucky now has the highest rate of child abuse and neglect in the country. Yetter said cases of child abuse have grown more severe over time, and many abusers used to be victims.

“Most of these adults have been victims of abuse and trauma in their own lives dating back, in many cases, to their own childhood,” Yetter said of people who get treatment through the Family Recovery Court. “It’s a generational thing. And so they’re getting help for that, maybe, for the first time.”

The nation’s opioid epidemic is also playing a role in Kentucky’s soaring number of child abuse cases.

Dr.Melissa Currie is a member of the Kentucky Child Fatality Review Panel, which meets meets every month to review cases. Currie said drugs are involved in more child abuse cases, and many people are not reporting them.

“We see drug abuse and substance abuse issues in the majority of the cases that we’re seeing,” Currie said. “It tends to lead, as Deborah [Yetter] mentioned, to more brutal abuse.”

Though the state is aware of these issues, Kentucky Department of Community Based Services Commissioner Eric Clark said everyone must step in to address it. Clark said they struggle to retain social workers because of their workloads and other issues, so community members can help by volunteering with organizations or helping families of children in need.

“Support our workforce and our families and children, because we cannot take this load on our own,” Clark said. “I’m giving a passionate plea to the community right now to support our workers and come alongside and find ways to support them.”

Join us next week for In Conversation as we talk about marijuana laws and enforcement.

Kyeland Jackson is an Associate Producer for WFPL News.