April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. This year, it comes with an extra sense of urgency in Hamilton County.
Our numbers are skyrocketing. We screened in 732 allegations of child abuse in the month of January, the largest monthly total in at least a decade. We screened in 699 reports during February. This followed a very busy last half of 2016, when we screened in 3,794 reports, 1,101 more than during the first half of the year.
Our involvement with these children is increasing, too. Our custody numbers and foster care numbers are hitting highs we haven’t seen since the early 1990s. We now have about 300 children available for adoption after that number held steady at 200 for more than a decade.
These are sad statistics. You will hear them a lot in April. We are running radio advertisements on iHeart Radio, Cumulus Radio and Radio One in an effort to draw attention to the high number of children being served and the need for foster and adoptive parents.
In short, we are asking people to do several things: Wear Blue on April 12 to draw attention to child abuse, consider being an adoptive or foster parent and, if being a foster or adoptive parent is too much of a commitment at this time, visit hckids.org to find other ways you can help.
Remember, these skyrocketing numbers don’t come without consequences: the trauma on these families in severe and long-lasting. The parents and children need in-depth services and treatment to recover and regain some normalcy in their lives. The other consequence is the cost to serve and care for these large numbers of children — it takes more than just our agency’s resources to help them. We need the community’s help.
The “why” behind these large numbers can certainly be correlated to the heroin epidemic, but the traditional reasons why we become involved with families – untreated mental illness, substance abuse of other drugs and domestic violence – still loom large. There is a good chance you know a family in this type of situation.
How can you help? Number one, ask the parent or the child if they need help. Maybe they need a break for a day, or for you to point them in the direction of resources that can help. Of course, if you suspect abuse, call 241-KIDS, our emergency child abuse reporting line.
There are other ways, too:
- Become a foster or adoptive parent
- Provide respite care to give foster parents a break
- Train to be a CASA or guardian ad litem
- Become a mentor through the Higher Education Mentoring Initiative
- Supportive letters, comments in media and social media
- Donate to the FAMILY Fund (hcjfs.org/familyfund)
I hope to see you wearing blue on April 12. More importantly, I hope you’ll take one of the above actions. We need your help now more than ever.