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Local child neglect, abuse cases higher than state average in '16

by ANDREW MACIEJEWSKI - amaciejewski@wabashplaindealer.com

Wabash County’s 2016 child abuse and neglect rate is higher than Indiana’s state average, according to Indiana Youth Institute’s (IYI) 2018 Indiana KIDS COUNT Data Book. The IYI says the state’s opioid epidemic is negatively affecting Indiana children.

In Wabash, there were 24 cases of child abuse or neglect substantiated by the Indiana Department of Child Services per every 1,000 children in 2016, according to IYI reports. That’s higher than the statewide rate of 18.6 substantiated cases per 1,000 children.

The topic has taken hold in the Indiana General Assembly after the departure of former Indiana Department of Child Services director Mary Beth Bonaventura, who resigned in Dec. 2017. At the time, Bonaventura urged Gov. Eric Holcomb to stop cutting key staff while the state struggles with an opioid crisis.

“It is undeniable that the opioid crisis has placed more children in care over the past four years,” Bonaventura said in her resignation letter. “While this crisis is ongoing, additional funds and staff are needed to protect the innocent children that are being destroyed as a result. Only once society has found a solution to opioid abuse and its consequences would it be appropriate to even think about cutting funding to child welfare.”

In 2017, the percentage of children in Indiana removed by DCS because parents were abusing drugs or alcohol rose by 11 percent, bringing the total of IDCS removals due to substance abuse to nearly 60 percent, according to IYI reports.

Holcomb ordered the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group (CWG) to conduct an investigation into Indiana DCS, which is still underway.

Two progress reports have been released thus far, the latest of which highlights some of the challenges the department faces.

One issue is a shortage of services overall, particularly relating to substance abuse.

“CWG heard reports of an extreme shortage of qualified therapeutic service providers, especially in rural areas and in families served by child welfare who often benefit most from in-home interventions,” the report said.

Nearly 3 percent of children in Wabash County are in the foster care system, according to IYI reports.

Bonaventura said the state planned to reduce contract amounts by $15 million with local service providers who manage foster care placements. She said that would leave more than 1,000 families without court ordered services.

There were efforts to reduce staffing for family case managers and child welfare attorneys, too, she said.

The Indiana DCS is busy in Wabash County with 134 child neglect cases substantiated in 2016, according to IYI reports. Twenty-six of those cases were reportedly related to abuse.

DCS defines child abuse as “an action or lack of action by the parent, guardian or custodian seriously endangering child’s physical or mental health,” according to the Indiana DCS website. Examples include sexual abuse, physical abuse, manufacturing drugs where a child lives or allowing a child to commit a sex offense.

Child neglect is defined as resulting “from the inability, refusal, or neglect of parent, guardian, or custodian to supply a child with necessary food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education or supervision,” according to the Indiana DCS website.