Progress and challenges in child abuse prevention

April 30, 2014
Jennifer Ranji is secretary of the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families.

While April is finally bringing some warmth and sunlight for us to enjoy, too many Delaware children live in the darkness of child abuse. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. While it is important that we recognize the accomplishments we have made in protecting children, we must also acknowledge the challenges that we still face, and re-dedicate ourselves to eliminating this threat to Delaware’s children.

More than 17,000 calls each year come into the Child Abuse and Neglect Report line operated by the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families. Of those calls that are investigated and substantiated, 9 percent are related to sexual abuse, 9 percent are for dependency, 26 percent are for physical or emotional abuse, and the remaining 55 percent are founded for emotional or physical neglect.

Over the last several years, we and our partners have made system changes to improve the reporting of, and response to, child abuse cases. Child advocates, law enforcement, the Department of Justice, Family Court, DSCYF, the General Assembly, and others have taken steps to improve communication, strengthen laws, enhance training, and expand resources to better help the children we serve.

We have heightened awareness of child abuse and the responsibility to report through training and public education. Prevent Child Abuse Delaware staff provide personal safety programs to children and school personnel in the state. Since 2011, just over 12,000 people have been trained in the Stewards of Children Program, which educates the public on child abuse prevention strategies and indicators of child abuse.

Any report of child abuse and neglect is now required to be made to the department’s Child Abuse and Neglect Report Line. Mandatory Reporting Trainings for medical professionals, law enforcement, educators, and the public are now available in person and online. These trainings are sponsored by the Child Protection Accountability Commission. Furthermore, CPAC and the Child Death, Near Death, and Stillbirth Commission conduct a child abuse awareness media campaign each April, promoting the website.

The penalties for failure to report suspected abuse have been enhanced, and civil and criminal laws regarding child protection have been reviewed and strengthened.

In 2012, new legislation was passed to increase the penalties for many child abuse cases. In addition, we have improved coordination among system partners throughout the state. An investigation coordinator position was created within the department to monitor cases involving death, serious injury, or sexual abuse of a child and to work with system partners to help identify what is and is not working well in the current system. Also, the Department of Justice has created a Child Victim Unit which is responsible for prosecuting serious injury and child death cases.

As a result of these multi-pronged efforts, calls to the Child Abuse Report Line have risen significantly in the past few years, from just under 10,000 in 2009 to a record 17,333 in 2013.

The growth is due to a number of factors, including a significant increase in the number of duplicate calls regarding the same case, as well as a large number of calls from individuals with concerns about children that do not rise to the level of abuse or neglect.

This increase in reports is evidence that the message regarding the need to call the Child Abuse Report Line is having an impact.

Our work is not nearly finished. It is critically important that we continue our efforts to improve responses in these difficult cases, and we will continue to do so.

We must also continue to invest in prevention and early intervention efforts, such as our deployment of behavioral health consultants who are now supporting students and staff in almost 30 middle schools statewide. Working with students who have concerns, these behavioral health professionals can identify potential problems early and help prevent these cases from rising to a level that requires a child welfare response.

The responsibility to protect children is shared by all of us, and it is essential that everyone stay informed and take action by calling the report line if they suspect a child is being abused or neglected. It is through all of our efforts - from child safety advocates and law enforcement to child care providers, family members and neighbors - that we can most effectively protect and support Delaware’s children.

  • Cape Gazette commentaries are written by readers whose occupations, education, community positions or demonstrated focus in particular areas offer an opportunity to expand our readership's understanding or awareness of issues of interest.

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