EVERY HOOSIER ADULT IS A MANDATED REPORTER OF SUSPECTED CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT. TO SUBMIT A REPORT, CALL THE STATE’S HOTLINE AT 1-800-800-5556. IT’S OPEN 24 HOURS A DAY, 7 DAYS A WEEK, 365 DAYS A YEAR.
The number of cases of abused and neglected children in Indiana continues to grow, and 2016 marked the fifth straight year of increases. While the statistics are staggering, the individual stories are heart-wrenching. Recent cases include a 9-year-old dying from starvation in Vigo County, a 2-year-old boy beaten to death in Marion County, and a 1-year-old girl sexually abused and killed in Owen County. For every 1,000 children in Indiana, there were 17 cases of child abuse or neglect in 2015. April is National Child Abuse Prevention month and clearly more needs to be done to protect our children.
Every adult in the state of Indiana is a mandatory reporter of suspected child abuse and neglect. But how do you know what actions correspond to the legal definitions of abuse or neglect? The above cases obviously do, yet many cases are not so clear cut. Furthermore, many children in such situations understandably are too frightened to tell anyone what is happening.
Indiana’s Child Abuse and Neglect Law, Indiana Code 31-34-1, 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 both physical and behavioral indicators of each category of maltreatment. Signs of neglect include persistent hunger, developmental lags and consistent fatigue. Unexplained bruises, numerous bruises in various stages of healing, and marks on many surfaces of the body are all potential signs of physical abuse. Sexual abuse indicators include the child having sexual knowledge advanced for their age, preoccupation with their 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, with severe physical abuse often connected to parental drug and alcohol use and mental illness in the home. In 2016, the child advocacy centers in Indiana served more than 10,000 children for the first time through their multi-disciplinary investigative team model. Historically, the majority of 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 2,702 cases of sexual abuse, 2,175 cases of physical abuse and 22,015 cases of neglect statewide.
As all adults are mandatory reporters, it is 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 do not 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 willing to step up and 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 Prevention Council (www.pcain.org) 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI)