New AG vows to fight child abuse (Ky. ranks No. 1 in it); child-advocate groups want changes in state laws to protect children

Atty. Gen. Daniel Cameron spoke at a press conference about child abuse. (Louisville Courier Journal photo)
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Kentucky’s new attorney general called a press conference to declare his office’s commitment to partner with child-advocacy organizations and state and federal prosecutors to prevent child abuse, and to prosecute abusers to the fullest extent of the law.

“We are No. 1 in child abuse and neglect, and that has to stop, especially as we move into the new decade,” Attorney General Daniel Cameron said at a press conference with Kentucky Youth Advocates in Louisville Jan. 7.

Kentucky has ranked first or second for each of the past six years for child maltreatment and has ranked among the 10 worst states for more than a decade, Deborah Yetter reports for the Louisville Courier Journal.

Yetter reported in August, in a story titled “Tortured and Abused: Why Kentucky can’t stop hurting — and killing — its children,” that federal statistics show Kentucky has the nation’s highest rate of child abuse or neglect, with some cases so severe an independent panel has classified them as “torture.”

In September, Yetter reported that the number of Kentucky children killed or nearly killed from abuse or neglect is likely even higher than what the state reports to the federal organization that compiles the data. “In some cases, Kentucky social service officials decline to classify the deaths as caused by abuse or neglect, therefore keeping the numbers lower,” she wrote.

In 2017, Kentucky reported 16 deaths and 56 near-deaths of children from abuse or neglect. In 2018, 24,066 Kentucky children were victims of abuse or neglect, KYA said in a news release.

Substance abuse and addiction occur in as many as 70 percent of the cases investigated by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, Yetter reports.

Keith Inman, president of Kosair Charities, asked for the public’s help in identifying, reporting and helping prevent child abuse. Six years ago, Kosair founded the Face It Movement to end child abuse in Kentucky, which now includes more than 100 groups, Yetter reports.

Cameron said his office will develop a prosecutor’s manual to help commonwealth’s and county attorneys statewide better prosecute adults for abuse and neglect of children.

KYA Executive Director Terry Brooks said Face It will seek several changes in state law, including removing the clergy-penitent exemption for child abuse so clergy can report it to the authorities; clarifying rules around mandatory reporting of child abuse, to keep an agency from investigating itself; and tightening the rules for home schooling so that parents suspected of abusing or neglecting children can’t remove them from school and claim to be home schooling in order to avoid scrutiny.

KYA would also like to reform the county-coroner system, with more training of the elected officals and standardized systems of investigating and reporting child deaths, Yetter reports.

Learn more about Face It’s 2020 policy priorities at faceitabuse.org/policy/. If you suspect child abuse or neglect, make a report at 1-877-KYSAFE1.