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Local officials share tips on recognizing, reporting child abuse

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By Mallory Bilger

In 2011, Spencer County had 163 child abuse and neglect cases reported, and the hope of local officials is that one day that number will be zero.
Spencer County’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services employees are working together this month with organizations across the nation to shed light on the issue of child abuse and neglect, with the goal that more citizens will be educated and empowered to report possible incidents to law enforcement and the cabinet.
The cabinet is working closely with the Spencer County Family Resource and Youth Service Center, led by Becky Wilson and Vonda Martin, to get the word out. Numerous businesses and government agencies are displaying blue ribbons and pinwheels to show support for child abuse and neglect prevention.  
Local cabinet supervisor Marjorie Schular said unfortunately Spencer County’s number of reported abuse cases has increased since she joined the cabinet in 2007. She said the county had three local children placed in the state’s custody in 2007, and now that number is 25. The number of Spencer County’s reported cases also rose by eight between 2010 and 2011 — and that is not including the cases that go unnoticed or unreported.
Substance abuse issues are connected to a large percentage of abuse and neglect cases locally, Schular said.
“We’re rescuing children from meth labs,” she said. “Meth is the thing now.”
According to the organization Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky, child abuse can manifest itself through physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and/or verbal abuse. Schular said it is important for anyone working with children or teens on a regular basis to be observant and take note if a child displays any of the following warning signs:
• unexplained burns, bruises, broken bones, black eyes
• unexplained or extended absences or being frequently late for school
• a fear of physical contact
• begs for/steals food or money
• lacks medical or dental care, glasses or immunizations
• is constantly dirty or has severe body odor
• has difficulty walking or sitting due to genital pain, itching or bleeding
• fears a particular person or displays intense dislike of being left somewhere or with someone
• has an unusual knowledge of sexual matters or expresses affection in ways inappropriate for a child of that age
• is delayed in physical or emotional development
• has attempted suicide
• reports a lack of attachment to parents or legal guardian

Also important are the signs of an abusive parent or guardian, which may include:
• gives conflicting, unconvincing or no explanation of a child’s injury
• describes the child as “bad, evil, different or difficult”
• uses hard punishment
• may have severe personal problems, including mental illness, substance abuse issues, etc.
• has a history of physical or sexual abuse as a child
• is abusing alcohol or drugs
• is unduly protective, severely limiting social interaction or is secretive/isolated
• constantly blames, belittles or berates the child
• overtly rejects the child

Schular said it is very important for everyone to know how to report suspected child abuse and neglect, noting that any reports will be kept confidential. The 24-hour child abuse and neglect hotline can be reached at 1-800-752-6200.
“It’s better just to call if you think something is going on,” she said. “(Signs include) bruises in areas where you wouldn’t normally see them, like the neck or the face; if they’re not very clean, their hair is dirty, or if there is lots of traffic in and out of the home.”
Schular said anyone locally who would like to make a report can also come into the office on Main Street in Taylorsville next to Bennett’s Hardware Store. She said office staff could make the call with the individual or help them fill out a report.
“It’s whatever is easiest,” she said.
Schular noted that every suspected abuse or neglect case would not always result in action from the state or law enforcement, but that it was important to report all possible incidents, as the report might save a child’s life. She said the cabinet must prove a preponderance of evidence and there is an appeal process if someone feels they have been unduly accused.
“We are wrong sometimes,” she said. “We’re never 100 percent right.”
Schular said that while child abuse and neglect were once extremely sensitive subjects, more people are talking out about them now. She said awareness has increased dramatically in the past several years.  
“More people are involved and aware that this is going on,” she said, noting that local law enforcement agencies and the Spencer County schools are major advocates in preventing child abuse and neglect.
Schular said an important fact is that abuse and neglect cases are not always caused by a parent’s desire to directly harm the child. She said some children are neglected because of a financial crisis or because there is a lack of proper parenting knowledge.
“Sometimes they just need some help,” she said.
Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky notes that abuse and neglect often stem from situations where the parent in question does not have a strong support system. It also notes that cases can be a result of the parent having an unmet emotional need, a drug or alcohol problem, a crisis or series of crises within the family, or the parents themselves could have been victims of child abuse.
Schular said child abuse prevention month is all about promoting awareness and helping make everyone in the community an advocate for children.
“Let someone know,” Schular said of suspected abuse and neglect cases. “Call the hotline. Make the call and maybe we can help the child.”