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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Child Abuse Cases Up By 22 Percent

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Child Abuse Cases Jump 22 Percent

The number of reported Child Abuse and Neglect cases in Charlotte-Mecklenburg County rose 22 percent between 2004 and 2009, according to a study released Wednesday.

Researchers found there were 12,232 reports of abuse or neglect between July 1, 2008, and June 30, 2009 - about 2,200 more than during the same time span from 2004 to 2005.

The findings were revealed during a press conference by UNC Charlotte's Urban Institute and the Council for Children's Rights, who jointly initiated the research.

The jump in reported child abuse and neglect left child advocates baffled. They said they could not explain why there was such a "significant increase," which outpaced the overall growth of the youth population and statewide trends.

"We tried to track down the answer," said Brett Loftis, executive director of the Council for Children's Rights. "We called (Mecklenburg) DSS and they said, 'We don't know.'"

A jump in reported neglect signals that high unemployment, home foreclosures and other fallout from the nation's economic downturn played a role, Loftis said. The definition of child neglect includes a failure to provide adequate food, shelter, clothing and other necessities, he said.

Anxiety about finances increases stress for adults and often leads to inappropriate discipline, Loftis said.

The study results mirror other assessments that find North Carolina does a poor job protecting children from abuse and neglect.

Action for Children North Carolina, a Raleigh-based child advocacy group, issued a report last year that graded the state on child health indicators such as immunizations, substance abuse and insurance coverage. For child abuse and neglect, North Carolina received a D.

Activists say the state doesn't spend enough money to hire social workers or pay for programs to combat substance abuse and domestic violence, which are often linked to child abuse.

North Carolina spends $43.12 per capita on child protection, less than all but eight states, according to a study released last year by Every Child Matters, a Washington-based advocacy organization. Rhode Island spent the most at $181.34 per capita, while South Carolina allocated the least at $14.72 per capita.

"People tend to think of child abuse as over and fixed" because public awareness has increased, Loftis said. "You have to move from awareness to doing something to fix it."

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg County study found:

Children younger than 5 were most likely to suffer abuse and neglect. Some 40percent of the children who were reported as victims from 2008 to 2009 were younger than 5.

>A disproportionate number of victims were African-American. More than 50 percent of reported cases of abuse and neglect involved African-American children, although the group comprises roughly a third of children in the county.

Officials said the figures do not necessarily mean African-Americans abuse and neglect children more often. They said there is a connection between poverty and abuse. And they said, some groups do not report incidents because they fear police or the government.

The number of reported sex abuse cases decreased 20 percent. There were 79 reported cases in 2008-09, compared to 98 in 2004-05.

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Sources: McClatchy Newspapers, WCNC, Google Maps

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