A new report paints a sobering picture when it comes to child abuse and fatalities in Kentucky.
In 2016, the most recent year for which data was available, the bluegrass state had the second-highest rate of child abuse in the nation. The report is from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Children’s Bureau.
Kentucky reported 20,000 cases of abuse in 2016, or about 20 out of every 1,000 children. That's a six percent increase from the year before. The state experienced a 34 percent increase in child abuse cases from 2012-2016.
Dr. Erin Frazier is Medical Director for Prevention and Wellness at Norton Children’s Hospital in Louisville. She says she hopes the increase is the result of better education and reporting.
"I'm very hopeful that we're starting to learn to recognize signs of abuse and make reports early so that children are being protected before they actually have a fatal event," Frazier told WKU Public Radio.
While cases of abuse are up in Kentucky, the number of child fatalities in recent years has declined or remained steady. Fifteen children died from abuse in 2016, one less than the previous year.
On the other hand, the fatality rate has nearly doubled in neighboring Indiana. The Hoosier state had 34 deaths in 2015, but that number jumped to 70 in 2016. Tennessee also reported a spike in child abuse deaths. Forty-one children died in 2016 compared to 32 the year before.
Child abuse cases are on the rise in those states for a variety of reasons. In Kentucky, the opioid epidemic in Kentucky is contributing to the spike.
"When you have babies born to mothers in recovery from the opioid epidemic, those babies also tend to be a lot more fussy and cry more, so they are at higher risk of abuse," Frazier explained.
According to Dr. Frazier, Shaken Baby Syndrome is one of the most common forms of abuse that typically occurs in the first year of a child’s life.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Under Kentucky law, the public has a mandatory duty to report suspected abuse or neglect.