Fewer local families are going to court, being investigated by the state or at risk of losing their children due to issues with abuse and neglect, but the number of cases and reports in Johnson County remains higher than other counties.
In the past few years, the rate of abuse or neglect, the number of court cases involving children facing those issues and the number of investigations by the state into those concerns have all dropped in Johnson County.
Some of those numbers have dropped significantly. For example, the number of substantiated neglect cases by the Indiana Department of Child Services was cut in half between 2010 and 2014, according to data from Kids Count, which compiles economic, education and social information on families and children in each county to help track children’s well-being.
But, when compared with other central Indiana communities, Johnson County’s numbers remain high, according to the report.
Johnson County’s rate of abuse or neglect fell from 10.5 children per 1,000 in 2010 to 5.6 in 2014. But both Hamilton and Hendricks counties, whose populations are larger, have rates of about half that, according to the study.
The reason why is not as easily found, officials said.
Each county is different, and each is facing different issues that contribute to their situation, said Leslie Wells, spokeswoman for the Indiana Youth Institute, which oversees the Kids Count data in Indiana.
And all cases may not be reported, which also would affect the overall numbers, said Julie Whitman, vice president of the Indiana Youth Institute.
But one factor that has been contributing to cases statewide is drug use, Wells said.
The Indiana Department of Child Services has seen a 70 percent increase in cases that involve drugs, she said.
Drug use has been a continuing issue in Johnson County, where all police are now carrying Narcan, which is used to reverse the effects of an overdose.
Heroin use has been especially an issue, and Johnson County Circuit Court Judge Mark Loyd said he would not be surprised if heroin use was higher here than in other counties with lower rates of abuse and neglect in the study, such as Hamilton County, he said.
Loyd has also noticed the numbers falling, such as the decrease in the number of child in need of services cases being filed each year. Those cases involve the court to decide what is best for a child who has been a victim of abuse or neglect, such as where they should live and what parents need to do in order to keep custody of their children. In fact, he has been able to work toward one court handling those cases, instead of multiple courts, since the numbers have dropped, he said.
But he isn’t sure what is causing those filings to fall, he said.
At the same time, the number of people that adult and juvenile probation officers are overseeing also has dropped, he said.
The question is whether that will continue, Loyd said.
Abuse and neglect rate per 1,000 children:
Child in need of services active cases (as of June 30, 2015)