The number of children who were reportedly abused or neglected for the first time in Indiana in 2015 was higher in only four other states. A report titled “Kids Count” offers that disturbing finding along with a number of other unsettling statistics about Indiana’s children. More than thirteen percent of the Indiana children surveyed, for example, said they are living with a parent who has a drug or alcohol problem. The national average is ten percent. Listed here are other “highlights” of the report:

  • In Indiana in 2014, a verified case of abuse or neglect was reported every twenty minutes.
  • For every thousand Indiana children, sixteen were abuse or neglect victims.
  • Nearly half of the reportedly abused or neglected children were age five or younger.
  • In state fiscal year 2013, 14 Indiana children died due to abuse and 35 died of neglect.
  • In 2013, more than one in five maltreated Indiana children had a disability.

Parents who abuse drugs or alcohol and who in turn abuse their children – or at least put them in danger – are the leading cause of child abuse in this state, according to most authorities. Many officials point to the rise of prescription drug abuse and a new heroin epidemic. Rachel Tobin-Smith, executive director of SCAN Inc., says, “It’s the drugs. The drugs are making children vulnerable.”

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“There has definitely been an increase in the number of cases that have drug involvement,” according to James B. Wide, a spokesperson for the Indiana Department of Child Services. “However, we cannot just [attribute] that increase to heroin, as it really depends on geography. Some areas of the state have a bigger issue with cocaine, some meth, some prescription, and some heroin.”

HOW DO DRUGS CONTRIBUTE TO CHILD ABUSE IN INDIANA?

Heroin now comes cheap, and it is not hard to find. SCAN (it stands for Stop Child Abuse and Neglect) handled more than 800 cases last year involving families where substance abuse is an issue. Over and over again, Ms. Tobin-Smith and the SCAN staff found parents using heroin and forgetting to change diapers or even to bathe their children. “You might spend all your money on drugs,” Ms. Tobin-Smith told the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette. “And then there is no money for food or clothing.”

Statewide in 2015, more than 16,000 allegations of child abuse or neglect were reported to authorities. In response, Governor Mike Pence authorized the state Department of Child Services to hire 113 extra case workers for this year. All of those positions have now been filled. Still, Ms. Tobin-Smith insists that there is always a need for more social workers. “We can’t find enough people qualified to do the job.” she said.

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And while heroin is the “new” drug people are abusing – at least, new to Indiana in the 21st century – it is far from being the only drug linked to child abuse. Several years ago the state was aggressively fighting a methamphetamine epidemic. Ms. Tobin-Smith says it will take money for drug treatment and other programs to get people the help they need, but the state has done this before. “We’re beginning to wrap our heads around it,” she says.

While child abuse and neglect are routinely linked to drug and alcohol abuse, financial hardship is another top risk factor. If a child’s parent or caregiver is receiving public assistance, is unemployed, or is deeply in debt, child abuse or neglect is statistically more likely, and the link between public assistance and child abuse or neglect is disturbingly higher in Indiana than the national average. In fact, financial hardship or unemployment were factors in 98 percent of the maltreatment deaths of children in Indiana in 2014.

WHAT IS THE LEGAL DEFINITION OF CHILD ABUSE?

Child abuse will stop only when everyone understands precisely what child abuse is and how to respond to it. However, child abuse takes many forms, including sexual abuse and neglect, so a comprehensive definition is quite lengthy. The law in Indiana defines child abuse as what happens when “the child’s physical or mental health is seriously endangered due to injury by the act or omission of the child’s parent, guardian, or custodian.”

The intentional infliction of physical injury is the definition of physical abuse. Unexplained bruises, welts, burns, lumps, fractures, cuts or abrasions, and dental injuries may be indicators of physical abuse. Sexual abuse is defined as an adult using a child for sexual gratification or permitting another person to do so. Venereal disease, pregnancy, bruises around the genitalia or rectum, blood on the underwear, and recurrent urinary tract infections may be indicators of sexual abuse.

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Child neglect is defined as the continuing failure to meet a child’s basic needs for food, clothes, shelter, medical care, education, or supervision. Emotional abuse may be defined as the attitude or actions of a caretaker which are detrimental to a child’s sound and healthy personality development. Children who are unwashed, wearing torn or dirty clothes, underweight, violent, or withdrawn may be the victims of neglect or emotional abuse. Eating disorders, sleep disorders, and low self-esteem – including suicide attempts – are also indicators of neglect or emotional abuse.

WHAT DOES INDIANA LAW REQUIRE?

The law in Indiana requires adults with knowledge of suspected child abuse or neglect to report it. Failure to report when you possess that knowledge is a Class B misdemeanor. If the report is made in good faith, you will remain anonymous. Suspected child abuse or neglect can be reported to the Indiana Child Protective Services hotline, 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week, at 1-800-800-5556.

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If your own child is at risk from a spouse, an ex-spouse, or someone you cohabited with or dated, you need the advice and insights of an experienced Indiana family law attorney – immediately. You may be looking at a restraining order, filing for divorce, or a criminal matter that should involve the police. An experienced Indiana family law attorney will be able to offer the advice you and your child need in your own unique circumstances.

Everyone wants to stop child abuse, even though eliminating it seems like an impossible task. Child abuse can never be tolerated, and the rising number of child abuse reports in Indiana is a grave concern. Lawmakers and law enforcement agencies, the courts, educators, and community organizations need to focus now on reducing child abuse in Indiana before the numbers rise even higher.