- Your News
By ANDREA AGARDY
Contained in the dozens of pages of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth’s report on the State of the Child in Tennessee in 2011 are sobering statistics on child abuse.
The report is Tennessee’s component of the national Kids Count report compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private charitable organization dedicated to building better futures for disadvantaged children throughout the country.
The report lists statistics for every county in the state regarding the number of reported child abuse cases, as well as substantiated child abuse cases.
Reported child abuse cases
The statistics in the report on reported child abuse cases throughout the state were compiled from all reports of child abuse made to the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) in 2009, the most recent year for which figures were available. In addition to listing the number of reported cases for each county, the report also includes a rate, which is represented in the document as a percentage of the population between the ages of 0 and 17 years old.
Statewide, there were a total of 55,687 reports of child abuse in 2009, representing a rate of 3.8 percent of the child population.
The highest number of reported incidents of child abuse can be found in West Tennessee, specifically in Shelby County, where there were 6,031 reported cases, translating to 2.4 percent of children. Moore County had the fewest number of cases, with 30, affecting 2.3 percent of the children living there.
Coffee County had 642 reported cases of child abuse in 2009, affecting 5.1 percent of the county’s youngest residents.
Substantiated Child Abuse
The statistics included in this section of the report also date back to 2009 and are culled from DCS data. This section of the report also includes a rate calculation, which is per 1,000 children under the age of 18.
Statewide, there were 10,235 substantiated cases of child abuse, affecting 7 percent of the state’s children.
Once again, Shelby County had the highest number of cases with 2,243, resulting in a rate of 8.9. Pickett County was the only one of the state’s 95 counties to not have a single substantiated case of child abuse in 2009.
Coffee County ended that year with 181 substantiated cases, which translates to a rate of 14.4. According to the report, Coffee County has the fifth highest rate of substantiated child abuse cases in the state. Cocke County finished 2009 atop that list with a rate of 22.5.
Joyce Prusak, executive director of the Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center, cautioned that simply comparing the county’s statistics to the numbers for other counties does not provide a comprehensive picture.
“The one thing that I really want people to know is that when DCS talks about the number of reported cases is that a single case can involve more than one child,” she said. “So, when people see the numbers and think the reported case number looks low, there may in fact be over 1,000 children involved in those reported cases. A case does not equal one child.”
Prusak said Coffee County is very high in the number of substantiated cases per capita in comparison to neighboring counties and those of similar size.
“The substantiated case number is the one we rely on a lot because so many people would thank that our numbers would be lower than those in counties such as Davidson (Nashville) or Shelby (Memphis) but in fact, this illustrates that isn’t the case.”
According to the report, Davidson County had a substantiated child abuse rate of 4.9 in 2009, and Shelby County’s rate was 8.9.
“We have what I like to call a double-edged sword,” Prusak said. “People ask me all the time if abuse is really that bad here or if it is just the fact that more people are aware of the issue and make reports because of the awareness efforts we do. Although I’d love to say that is the case – and I’m sure some of the increase in reports is due to awareness – the fact is still that abuse is happening and it is happening in high numbers. The substantiated case numbers show us that.”
When asked why Coffee County’s child abuse statistics were so high, Prusak responded, “I really don’t know. I wish I had the answer.”
“I really sigh I knew because that is the number that is so concerning,” she added. “However, we have been near the top of the list for the past few years the report has come out so, unfortunately, this is not new and definitely nothing we can be proud about as a county.”
Prusak said there are many factors that contribute to child abuse, for example drug use and an overall lack of resources for families.
“Part of it may be that we do a good job within our county of identifying the children who are abused, so the rate appears higher,” she said.
The Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center is launching a new program to ensure that adults throughout the community know how to go about reporting abuse and what steps they can take as individuals to eliminate the risk of child abuse. Tennessee’s law about reporting child abuse is very strong, requiring anyone who knows or even suspects a child is being abused to report it to authorities. Schools and other organizations may have their own reporting practices and policies in place, but witnesses are still required to file a report with authorities directly. Reports can be made by contacting the statewide child abuse hotline at 877-237-0004. Callers can remain anonymous.
The complete State of the Child in Tennessee in 2011 report is available online at http://www.tn.gov/tccy/kc-soc11.pdf.
Andrea Agardy can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.