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County sees rise in child abuse, neglect cases

August 29, 2017 · 

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Hardin County has seen a recent increase in cases involving child abuse and neglect, with a significant amount of those cases related to substance abuse, officials say.

Family Court Judge Pamela Addington has presided over family court cases for more than 13 years. She said from mid-June 2004, when was elected to the bench, to December 2004, she handled 423 neglect and abuse cases. For the whole year in 2005, that number was 739.

In 2015, there were 810 cases and in 2016, there were 860. This year, Addington and fellow Family Court Judge Brent Hall, who has been on the bench for 10 years, are on track to have more than 900 abuse and neglect cases combined, Hardin County Attorney Jennifer Oldham said.

From Jan. 1 through Aug. 14, Addington said she and Hall have had 759 child abuse and neglect cases.

In 2016, total family court filings reached 2,698 cases. Addington said the total cases of what they have done this year already is more than 2,000 and “we’re just a little over halfway point. We’re probably going to be really closely double.”

“We’ve had a significant amount of cases,” Addington said.

Hall said Hardin County’s numbers for Family Court filings have increased more than any other county in the state of Kentucky.

“Our numbers for family court filing have gone up. We’re the highest in the state as far as increase,” he said, noting the state average for increase is about nine percent, while Hardin County is about 40 percent. “It’s a huge increase in the case load.”

Assistant Hardin County Attorney Dawn Blair said she suspects a large contributor to the increase in family court filings is substance abuse.

“My gut is drugs,” she said, noting nearly 70 to 75 percent of all cases have substance abuse involved.

Oldham agreed. She said officials are “finding at the heart of many of our cases is drug use, drug addiction.”

Hall said “you can’t parent well and be on drugs.”

“We’ve known it has been the majority of our cases for a lot of years,” Hall said. “It’s sad. Our case numbers are going up because, probably, our drug numbers are going up. … It’s really disheartening to see our numbers go up like this. It’s really disheartening to see the same faces over and over again.”

Ashely Purcell, a local foster parent, said since March 2016 she has had 13 different children in her home, with the stay ranging from 48 hours to much longer.

“The majority of children we’ve had in our home were because of addictions,” she said. “I know from everything I’ve read, the drug addiction and opioids, meth all of it is just on a horrible rise and it is our children ultimately paying the price for it. And whether they are born being exposed to it, drugs, or addicted or born in an environment around it, they are still victims of drug use because it affects them long term.”

Blair said the impact of drugs on children is well documented.

“There are all kinds of studies on adverse childhood experiences. Those have all shown to have negative impact on kids in the long run,” Blair said.

With the rise in these cases, it also means there is a rise in the number of children who are entering the foster care system.

David Vice of CASA of the Heartland said although the number of children being removed from homes has gone up, on pace to exceed last year’s total, the number of social workers, CASA volunteers or attorneys representing those cases has not increased.

CASA volunteers are appointed by judges to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in court and other settings.

At 18, children have the choice to leave the state’s care or recommit to the state. If they choose to recommit, they have the option to stay in a foster home or live in a dorm or apartment. If they recommit to the independent living program, they still have rules to follow, which includes maintaining enrollment in school or employment. They are able to stay in the independent living program until they turn 21.

“A lot of kids will do that and go and those are the success stories we love to hear about,” Blair said.

Hall said of those who emancipate themselves with no permanent place­ment, within a year, about two-thirds will be dead, homeless or in jail.

One way to potentially help keep families together and possibly avoid those statistics is family drug court, Oldham said, noting no county in Kentucky has family drug court. She said the ultimate goal is to “reunify families and get people clean.”

Oldham said local officials are looking into revenue options to start a family drug court in Hardin County. According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, it “is a juvenile or family court docket of which selected abuse, neglect, and dependency cases are identified where parental substance abuse is a primary factor. Judges, attorneys, child protection services, and treatment personnel unite with the goal of providing safe, nurturing, and permanent homes for children while simultaneously providing parents the necessary support and services to become drug and alcohol abstinent. Family dependency treatment courts aid parents in regaining control of their lives and promote long-term stabilized recovery to enhance the possibility of family reunification within mandatory legal time frames.”

Oldham said she expects a family drug court to cost about $200,000 a year.

With this drug court, Oldham said “when children are in foster care because their parents are drug addicted,” they would have something “set up for actual treatment and actual monitoring through intensive drug screening and intensive management to get these families back together.”

“Right now, we have the concept, but need the money,” she said.

Blair agreed, saying family drug court would be “phenomenal,” in addition to more money for social services.

“The more barriers we can remove to help these families become self-efficient, the better off we’re all going to be,” Blair said.

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