Number of children abused or neglected in Colorado rises
The number of abused or neglected children in Colorado has risen over the past three years, even as the numbers in other states have declined — with 36 children killed by abuse in 2009, up from 27 in 2007.
After a dip between 2006 and 2007, the rates of confirmed child abuse and neglect in the state have increased: from 8.3 per 1,000 in 2007, to 8.6 in 2008, to 9.1 per 1,000 in 2009, the latest year for which statistics are available.
In 2009, 11,339 of Colorado’s 1.2 million children were maltreated, 641 more than the previous year, according to data collected by the Colorado Department of Human Services child welfare division and provided by the Kempe Center, which treats abused children.
During the past two years, 1,236 additional children were abused and neglected compared with 2007.
It is not uncommon for more children to get hurt by adults when a stalled economy piles stress on a family, child welfare experts say.
Still, states across the country — states where the economy is as bad as or worse than it is in Colorado — reported decreases.
That leaves state officials and child advocates stumped.
“Are there more abused kids in Colorado, and if so why? That’s not an easy question to answer,” said Lloyd Malone, executive director of the state’s child welfare division.
Regardless of the cause, state leaders should take notice of the trend, said Dennis Kennedy, executive director of Mount St. Vincent Home.
“I hope we can use this as an opportunity to make a concerted effort to really address this,” Kennedy said.
Mount St. Vincent works with the state to treat children emotionally and psychologically damaged by severe abuse.
Nevertheless, there might be a bit of a silver lining in the Colorado numbers, state officials say.
The increase might reflect a new effort to bring consistency to child-abuse investigations across the state and to set clear thresholds for what is and is not abuse or neglect.
That theory is bolstered by statistics Malone cited showing that as the number of confirmed cases was going up, the number of overall calls alerting investigators to suspected child abuse held steady.
That means that investigators confirmed abuse in a higher proportion of referrals.
It could be that retraining efforts have helped investigators do a better job of recognizing abuse and neglect, Malone said.
The state and county agencies that investigate child abuse came under intense scrutiny in 2007 after several high-profile murders of children whose treatment had been previously investigated by various human services departments.
One result was a training academy for new child abuse caseworkers, said Ki’i Powell, the division’s research and evaluation manager. Another was greater state supervision of county practices.
Neglect is by far the most common form of child abuse.
Physical and sexual abuse accounts for about 20 percent of all cases, said Dr. Antonia Chiesa of the Kempe Center’s Child Protection Team.
Avoiding budget cuts
Chiesa said the team treated 494 abused children in 2009, an increase of more than 22 percent from the previous year.
County agencies charged with protecting children are consistently stretched thin. But as revenue shortfalls buffet government departments across the state, those that investigate child abuse are hanging on, Malone said.
“Our former governor and our current governor . . . have done a remarkable job in the face of horrific budget issues to protect the counties from significant cuts in child welfare,” he said.
Chiesa said if there is anything the public can do to counteract the trend of the past three years, it is to speak up.
“Talk to our leaders and legislators and say it’s important, and that in these tough times, we must maintain resources for our most vulnerable population, which is kids.”
-Karen Auge. Photo: Commerce Wire