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Child abuse and neglect cases up in Nelson County

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Drugs cited as a likely contributing factor

By Kacie Goode

The number of children requiring services for abuse and neglect in Nelson County nearly doubled between 2017 and 2018, falling in line with several other counties in the Salt River Trail region, and an increase in substance abuse could be a contributing factor.

Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky, an organization that works to raise awareness of and prevent abuse and neglect in the state, received data from the Department of Community Based Services on the number of Child Protective Services and Concurrent/Domestic Violence reports made in Kentucky last year. The data was distributed this month to news outlets.

According to the report, there were 695 abuse and neglect calls made in Nelson County in 2018 that met criteria for investigation or assessment, and those calls involved 514 families. Within those cases, 304 children were determined to be in need of services or assistance, including home removal. The number is significantly up from two years ago, when 177 children were found to be substantially in need of help.

For Kate Mudd, executive director of the Nelson County Court Appointed Special Advocates, increased substance abuse and the rise of children in need locally go hand-in-hand. NelCASA trains community volunteers to assist children in court when they have been removed from their homes because of neglect or abuse. Of the 49 cases the organization worked last year, Mudd, a former social worker, said every single one involved substance abuse. She’s seeing the same issue this year.

“Right now in court, nearly every case we have, in general, nearly all of them include some facet of substance abuse or addiction,” she said.

While physical and sexual abuse remain issues, substance abuse was documented as a risk factor in more than 60 percent of reports statewide, and most of the cases Mudd sees locally are neglect cases because the parents or guardians are addicts.

“We are a very rural county,” she said, and those rural areas allow pockets of drug use and manufacturing. The county is also located between nearby larger counties with the potential to “funnel in drugs,” she said. Access to drugs and few resources available to prevent and treat leave the county open for an epidemic and with that, a direct impact on the community’s children.

“The drugs are getting worse in the city and Nelson County as a whole, and I think it most definitely correlates to the reports of child abuse and neglect going up,” Mudd said.

And the issue is one that not only leads to more kids being removed from homes, but also limits where they can be placed. Mudd said they are finding it more difficult to place children with grandparents and other immediate family members, because those people are also using drugs.

“We are utilizing fictive kinship more than ever,” she said, explaining that a child could be placed with a close family friend or another person they already have an established relationship with as an alternative to placement with strangers.

“It’s a more wholesome environment and they get to see mom and dad more,” than they would in standard foster care, she said of choosing the option, which benefits the kids and often motivates the parents to get sober.

Last year’s 49 cases was a record number for NelCASA, which grew from two to 14 volunteers. But there are too many cases locally for the organization to handle, leaving hundreds of kids going through the court system without an advocate in Nelson County because of neglect and abuse.

“It’s a huge issue to serve this growing number,” Mudd said, and it’s a number she anticipates will continue rising. “I am repeatedly asked by judges and lawyers if we can take on more cases, but we are filled to the brim. Each of our volunteers is taking on at least two cases and they are maxed out. To help more kids, we desperately need volunteers.”

Want to help?

Visit NelCASA’s new website, nelsoncountycasa.org and fill out a Contact Us form or message the group on Facebook at NelCASA of Nelson County.