April is child abuse awareness month, and the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services is reminding Kentuckians that it’s the law to report suspected child abuse or neglect.
“Protecting our children should be everyone’s number one priority, and during the month of April, we are raising awareness about the warning signs of child abuse and how to report it,” Gov. Steve Beshear said. “The cabinet works year round to educate our families and investigate every aspect of abuse. Together, we can make Kentucky a safer place for all our children.”
To report child abuse, Kentuckians should call 800-KYSAFE1. Calls are anonymous. If the report meets the criteria for abuse, an investigation is conducted within 24 hours in most cases or, if the child is suspected to be in immediate danger, they are conducted within the hour.
Callers should try to know the child’s name, approximate age, address, parents’ names and location of the child when the call is made. They should also have names and phone numbers of other people who have information about the suspected abuse.
The ultimate goal is to reunite families when circumstances improve. “We want children to return home to a stronger, safer family,” said Jim Grace, assistant director of the Department for Community Based Services’ Division of Protection and Permanency.
The cabinet’s handling of child abuse investigations and its reluctance to release records pertaining to child abuse deaths and near deaths has been a hot-button issue in the past year. The Courier-Journal and Lexington Herald-Leader both sued the cabinet for refusing to turn over records and a judge twice ruled the cabinet was wrong not to do so. Since, it has released hundreds of pages of records, but has chosen to redact, or omit, some of the information therein. In January, Beshear acknowledged the cabinet had been accused of “operating under a veil of secrecy in a supposed attempt to protect inept workers and a poorly designed system.” Legislators have since heard hours of arguments about the issue, and a bill that would create an external panel to review child abuse cases involving fatalities and near-fatalities, while imposing more secrecy, is one of the few measures that could pass the General Assembly when it re-convenes for one day next Thursday to end its legislative session.
In its effort to increase awareness about child abuse, the cabinet offered strategies for parents to prevent abuse, including:
• never discipling a child when a parent’s anger is out of control
• never leaving a child unattended, especially in a car
• learning the signs of physical abuse, nothing bruises, cuts, burns or other injuries a child can’t explain
• teaching children the difference between “good touches,” “bad touches” and “confusing touches”
• listening to a child when he or she doesn’t want to go with something
• noting a change in a child’s behavior or attitude
• teaching children what if he or she gets lost
• teaching children the correct name for private body parts
• being alert for talk that indicates premature sexual understanding
• paying attention when someone shows an unusual interest in a child
• making sure a child’s school or daycare will only release him or her to a designated person