Protecting our children is nonstop task

By Tami Silverman

The number of cases of abused and neglected children in Indiana continues to grow, and 2016 marked the fifth straight year of increases statewide. For every 1,000 children in Johnson County, there were seven cases of child abuse or neglect in 2015.

While the statistics are staggering, the individual stories are heart-wrenching. April is National Child Abuse Prevention month, and clearly more needs to be done to protect our children.

Every adult in Indiana is a mandatory reporter of suspected child abuse and neglect. Many children in such situations understandably are too frightened to tell anyone what is happening. But how do you know what actions correspond to the legal definitions of abuse or neglect?

Indiana’s Child Abuse and Neglect Law lists definitions for child neglect, physical abuse, psychological maltreatment and sexual abuse. Prevent Child Abuse Indiana’s website, www.pcain.org, offers straightforward lists of physical and behavioral indicators.

Signs of neglect include persistent hunger, developmental lags and consistent fatigue, while unexplained bruises, bruises in various stages of healing, and marks on many surfaces of the body may be signs of potential physical abuse.

Sexual abuse indicators include the child having sexual knowledge advanced for his or her age, a preoccupation with the body, and acting out sexual behavior. Although each of these signs may be found separately, they often occur in combination.

The complexity of child abuse cases has increased in recent years. In 2016, Indiana’s child advocacy centers served more than 10,000 children for the first time. Historically, most of the cases centered on child sexual abuse. Today, cases often involve parental addictions, children witnessing domestic violence, and human trafficking. There also has been an increase in very severe neglect cases.

“We’re talking about the serious neglect cases where kids are locked in a room and forgotten,” said Emily Perry, founder, executive director and child forensic interviewer for child advocacy center Susie’s Place.

“Parents aren’t feeding them for days or weeks because (the parents are) strung out on drugs.”

In 2016, 52 percent of children removed from their home by the Indiana Department of Child Services were removed because of parental substance abuse. This is a 65 percent increase from 2013. In 2015, DCS substantiated 52 cases of sexual abuse, 20 cases of physical abuse and 211 cases of neglect in Johnson alone.

As all adults are mandatory reporters, it’s critical that we be familiar with how to report child abuse. A hotline report must be made if you have a reasonable suspicion that child abuse or neglect has occurred. You don’t need to have direct knowledge of abuse or neglect.

James Wide, ‎Deputy Director of Communications for DCS says, “That’s the main, core message. You don’t have to do a lot of deliberating and thinking about ‘Is this right? Is this wrong? Is that abuse?’ Just call. You just call.”

Hopefully, the increasing number of hotline calls are an indication that more Hoosiers are stepping up to help protect our children.

Horrific stories of child abuse and neglect could easily immobilize us. Yet our children’s safety requires action. As a caring family member, neighbor, teacher, coach or youth worker, you may be in the ideal position to see that something is not right in a child’s life.

Call the Indiana Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-800-5556. Locate your nearest PCAIN Prevention Council or Child Advocacy Center (www.incacs.org) to donate and/or volunteer.

April is designated as Child Abuse Prevention Month, but the work of protecting our children is something we must all do 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Tami Silverman is the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at iyi@iyi.org or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI.