Indiana is failing to prevent child abuse


Aim Media Indiana

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month across the nation, but people in Indiana particularly should pay attention to the mission of this month this year. Hoosier kids are in crisis.

Fact is, we have lots of work to do here in deterring child abuse. Perhaps more than any other state in the union. Our child abuse situation in Indiana is among the worst in the nation in multiple measures of child abuse.

Last year, a report from the federal Children’s Bureau found that for every 1,000 children in Indiana, 110 had been referred to child protective services in 2021. That is the third-highest rate in the 50 states plus the District of Columbia, according to the report Child Maltreatment 2021.

Looked at another way: Statistically speaking, in any Indiana classroom of 20 kids, two or more of them were the subject of a child abuse investigation in 2021.

Disturbingly, a child younger than age 1 is likelier to be a victim of abuse in Indiana than in any other state, the Child Maltreatment report says. Out of every 1,000 infants, 65 were victims of abuse, according to the report. That number is more than 20 times higher than the state with the lowest infant abuse rate, Pennsylvania, and more than two and a half times the national average of 25.

Given all of this, it should come as no surprise that this same report said Indiana’s child abuse investigators and caseworkers had the second-highest caseload in the nation, measured by completed reports.

Tragically, none of this is new. We have been dealing (unsuccessfully) with a chronic state of unacceptable child abuse and neglect in Indiana for close to a generation now.

It has been 10 years since the Indiana General Assembly, amid scandal at the Department of Child Services, created the Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana. This group’s website says its vision is that “Every child in Indiana will have a safe and nurturing environment and be afforded opportunities to reach their full potential and live a healthy and productive life.”

Whatever they’ve been doing isn’t working when it comes to preventing child abuse.

And it has been more than five years since former DCS director Mary Beth Bonaventura resigned with a public letter to Gov. Eric Holcomb saying, “I feel I am unable to protect children because of the position taken by your staff to cut funding and services to children in the midst of the opioid crisis.”

Bonaventura’s letter set off a political and media firestorm because it was frank, candid and spoke of festering crises. Despite reforms, statistics suggest things have only gotten worse for our state’s children.

Bonaventura’s parting letter also gave Holcomb this advice:

“Only once society has found a solution to opioid abuse and its consequences. Would it be appropriate to even think about cutting funding to child welfare? Remember, today’s children are tomorrow’s parents. What we do now will shape an entire generation.”

This Child Abuse Prevention Month, we urge Indiana’s leaders to boldly commit to breaking this state’s cycle of abuse. Hoosier kids deserve better.

If you see or suspect child abuse or neglect, report it. That’s the law. Call the Indiana Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 800-800-5556.

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