As a whole, the Commonwealth of Kentucky has led the entire nation with the highest rate of child abuse cases for the third straight year in 2020. According to data from Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, Department for Community Based Services, in 2018, Laurel, Knox, and Whitley counties were in the state’s top-20 counties when it comes to the number of children in reports to DCBS for suspected abuse and neglect. Knox County and Whitley County ranked 19th and 20th respectively, while Laurel County ranked fifth.
“We deal with these things several times a week,” Lt. Chris Edwards of the Laurel County Sheriff’s Office responded when asked about child abuse and neglect cases. “It’s very prevalent in our society and our local communities right now.”
Edwards said his department mostly deals with cases of child neglect, where children are found living in poor conditions. He attributes a majority of these cases to the drug epidemic sweeping throughout the region.
“It’s such a wide-spread issue and it’s so debilitating for the parent,” noted Edwards. “They’re unable to keep themselves in a position to take quality care of the children and the children suffer from it.”
Since the pandemic, Edwards said his department has received more welfare-check calls asking police to check on the status of a child. The department receives calls from neighbors, other family members, friends of the child, and local school systems.
“It’s difficult for the teachers, it’s difficult for the school administrators to not see some of these kids everyday because they don’t know how they’re doing,” he said. “Believe or not, school is a safe place for some of these kids,” he later added. “They go to school to get some of the things, obviously they’re there to get an education, but they get a lot of attention, a lot of love.”
Edwards said that sometimes police can stumble upon a child neglect case while working a completely different case. For example, he recalled going out on a call a couple of weeks ago in reference to a sexual assault case.
“We knocked on the door, it comes open, and you would not believe the living conditions these kids were living in,” he said describing that he saw several animals roaming around, locked in cages, both dead and alive. He also remembers seeing feces throughout the residence, along with trash stacked to the ceiling.
“You would not walk barefoot through that house. You wouldn’t walk through there without shoes on, even if you had socks on. That’s how disgusting the house was,” he said.
Sometimes when police are called to check on the welfare of a minor and they are found to be living in poor living conditions, or are experiencing abuse or neglect, children are often times taken from the custody of their parents. Cases can range from minimal social services involvement involving prevention plans like cleaning the residence to criminal charges.
In situations where the child has to be removed from the home, Edwards says police collaborate with social services in helping relocate the child with a family member who is able to pass background checks performed by social services.
“They generally try to find a family member, sometimes a grandparent, to provide the necessary care for the child until mom or dad, or whatever the situation is, can get themselves back together or back on their feet,” he said. “That’s not every case. That’s best case scenario when social services and law enforcement are involved. However, there have been cases where that just wasn’t possible.”
Even with the state’s high child abuse statistics, Edwards said he believes that there are people out there who want to help in resolving the issues surrounding child abuse.
“There are a whole bunch of people out there working to help the kids and do better by the kids, like the backpack club and organizations like that,” he said. “There’s a lot of people doing a lot of good for these kids, I just wish we could help more of them.”
One such organization is the Community Green Dot program. Expanded from an original program meant to prevent sexual assault on the University of Kentucky’s campus in 2009 via a pilot study for high schools, the Green Dot Program provides a curriculum to local community members with the aim to lower the rates of Power Based Personal Violence. That includes partner violence, sexual assault, stalking, child abuse, bullying and more.
“The reality is that our numbers of people being hurt in our community are off the charts,” said Angelika Weaver with the local Green Dot Program. “Law enforcement, social services, behavioral health specialists, victim advocates - there simply are not enough of us to make a dent in these numbers. We need help from the community.”
Weaver says that we, as a community, need to make changes to help prevent rates of child abuse and other personal violence from increasing. She says the community must take a stand in how it feels about these issues.
“We are either going to continue to tolerate violence and live with these numbers or we will need to come together to stop it,” she said.
Secondly, she says that once members of the community decide the rates of personal violence need to decrease, each person needs to figure out what they are personally willing to commit to ensuring the reduction of such rates.
“That's what Green Dot does, to help individuals see what violence is costing our community and to give everyone viable options to use should they choose to do so,” noted Weaver. “It's my belief that people do want to make a difference but they don't feel like their contributions are going to be 'big enough.' We don't need big, one-time contributions, we need thousands of small, consistent contributions.”
While the process to be certified in any of the Green Dot curriculums can be rigorous and expensive, Weaver says cities such as Corbin and Williamsburg have become Greed Dot cities, meaning they offer the curriculum to any businesses, agencies, or organizations working within the community for free.
“No one has to do everything, but everyone has to do something,” Weaver said. “If we all work together, we can bring about a future where things like child abuse, stalking, and harassment are just not tolerable.”
Report Child Abuse/Neglect
To report child abuse and neglect call toll-free any of the numbers listed below.
(877) 597-2331/(877) KYSAFE1
Call 911 in case of an emergency