Tough economy puts kids at risk

We all know the downswing in the economy has meant a surge in unemployment and mortgage foreclosures. Nothing new there.

But sitting quietly but anxiously in the wings are child-protection advocates who are watching for any new corresponding increases in the number of child abuse and neglect reports as the tensions at home build.

Fortunately, Kentucky, unlike other states, has not seen an increase in the number of cases of abuse and neglect, according to Anya Armes Weber, public information officer for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

"Our research team has analyzed child abuse data recently by region and has found no impact of the economy on an increase in referrals or substantiations of abuse and neglect," she said. "We can tell you that there is no trend at all that would suggest an impact of the economy on child abuse and neglect cases."

And advocates would like to keep it that way. With more eyes watching, more hands willing to help and more resources available to rescue struggling families, more children can be protected.

To increase the numbers of eyes, hands and resources, Friends of Children: A Community Partnership, is sponsoring a workshop to reach out to the faith community to get them more engaged in protecting children.

The workshop will feature an overview of Child Protective Services, information about reporting and confidentiality and how churches, temples and synagogues can become better refuges for distressed families and children at risk.

"We want the faith community to provide a safe place for children," said Marion Gibson, director of the Strengthening Kentucky Families Program. "They can raise their awareness of the signs of abuse or neglect."

Friends of Children: A Community Partnership is a collaboration of the Department of Community Based Services, community organizations, volunteers, school personnel, places of worship and other groups committed to working for child safety. Originally two separate but related organizations, Friends of Children and the 40505 Community Partnership for Protecting Children merged a few months ago.

CPPC was established by a grant in 2005 because the 40505 zip code had the highest number of child-abuse and domestic-violence referrals. Several months ago, 40517 took a slight lead, said Curt Ehrmantraut, a volunteer working with Friends of Children.

The workshop also will give those in the faith community a chance to ask questions and hear about the needs in their community, including the disproportionate percentage of minority children in out-of-home care, mostly in Fayette and Jefferson counties.

According to the national Children's Defense Fund, child abuse or neglect occurs every 40 seconds in the U.S. Nearly 60 percent of those victims suffered from neglect.

In 2008, there were 739 child victims of abuse or neglect in Fayette County, Weber said, the second highest in Kentucky behind Jefferson County. That's about 12 of every 1,000 children in Fayette County. There are currently 705 children from Fayette County in out-of-home care.

"The problem is countywide," Ehrmantraut said.

Worship centers can require those who work with children to have training in recognizing signs of abuse, he said. Plus, the centers can observe the two-adult rule, mandating that two adults be in each room with children.

"There are a variety of resource materials out there to help the faith community develop their own child safety plan," Ehrmantraut said.