Vigo County isn’t the only Wabash Valley community with a high rate of abuse and neglect, according to a recent study.
In 2015, Vermillion County ranked 11th highest among Indiana’s 92 counties, with an abuse/neglect rate of nearly 36 per 1,000 children under age 18, according to the recently released Kids Count in Indiana 2017. The state average was about 17 children per 1,000 children.
Parke County ranked 50th among 92 counties, with an abuse/neglect rate of nearly 17 per 1,000 children.
“Vermillion has seen a huge increase ... and definitely outpaced the rate of the state and Parke County,” said Katie Kincaid, one of the presenters during a seminar in Clinton hosted by the Indiana Youth Institute and Valley Professionals Community Health Center.
The seminar focused on youth issues in Vermillion and Parke counties. In 2010, Vermillion’s child abuse/neglect rate was 19.2 per 1,000 children; the 2015 rate represented a decline from 2014, when it was 43.8 per 1,000 children.
Kincaid asked the audience, which consisted of about 30 people who work for youth-serving agencies, about possible reasons for the high rate of abuse/neglect. “We see a lot of drug use,” said Andrea Williams, local office director for the Indiana Department of Child Services in Vermillion and Parke counties.
The drugs being abused include meth, heroin and prescription pills, according to audience members.
“I think you hit the nail on the head. Drugs are a big player here,” Kincaid said, not only in Vermillion County, but statewide.
When DCS removes a child from a home, it records the reason, and “in more and more cases, drugs and alcohol abuse on the part of the parents are being cited,” Kincaid said. In 2013, it accounted for less than a third of cases, while in 2016, it represented more more than half of the cases.
Williams said drug use often tends to be generational, which creates challenges when trying to place a child with another family member; those family members — aunts, uncles or even grandparents — may have substance abuse issues as well.
“It continues to cycle through the family, making it difficult to find those stable care-givers who kids are familiar with,” Williams said.
Kincaid cited other parent risk factors for abuse, including lack of understanding of child development; stress; isolation; and personal history of abuse or neglect.
She noted that statewide, reports of neglect and abuse to DCS have increased from 155,867 in 2012 to 202,493 in 2015. While that likely is due in part to increased cases, “It can also reflect increased awareness and more people being aware of the fact they should report and how to report,” she said.
Anyone over age 18 in Indiana is a “mandatory reporter” if they “have reason to believe” a child is a victim of abuse or neglect, Kincaid said. Those reporting don’t need to “know for sure” or be able to prove it, she said. If they suspect abuse/neglect, they should call the DCS hotline at 1-800-800-5556 or text [SMS]: 741741.
Also, citizens or those reporting should not attempt to investigate, which is the job of the Department of Child Services. “It’s our role to report, and let DCS take it from there,” Kincaid said.
Broc Leslie, principal at Ernie Pyle Elementary, praised the DCS office for creating awareness and educating school personnel, and the public, about the reporting process. He also noted that local schools have hosted a program called Strengthening Families, offered by Hamilton Center.
Vigo County had the third highest child abuse/neglect rate among 92 counties, at nearly 42 per 1,000 children under age 18.
During the seminar, those attending also discussed data related to education, poverty, mental health and violent relationships.