Lawmakers say they want to do more to prevent child abuse in Kentucky after years of troubling reports ranking the state as one of the worst for child abuse.
The Legislature’s Oversight and Investigation Committee met on Thursday to discuss the findings and recommendations of the external review panel on child deaths and state near-fatalities, which, as it done every year, published another report this year, detailing substance abuse and mental health issues as the primary drivers of child abuse in the state.
Melissa Currie, a doctor at Norton Children’s Hospital and a member of the panel, said that since the panel was created 10 years ago, the state has not seen a drop in cases of abuse.
“No, absolutely not, we’re not seeing a huge drop in numbers. And we see cases getting worse and worse, ”Currie said.
According to the latest report – which includes data from 2019 – substance abuse was one of the main contributors to the most serious abuse, occurring in 18% of the cases examined by the panel.
Caregivers had mental health issues in 44% of cases and 65% of cases had previously been involved with the state’s social service agency, the Department for Community Based Services.
According to a federal child abuse study Released earlier this year, Kentucky ranks first in the country for child abuse (although the study advises against making comparisons because states have different reporting requirements and abuse laws).
Rep. Jason Nemes, a Republican from Louisville and chairman of the committee, said the state needs to do a better job funding the death review committee.
“We can actually fund and make sure you get the dollars that are assigned to you and maybe fund additional workers, social workers, investigators,” Nemes said.
Senator Danny Carroll, a Republican from Benton, said the state needs to do more to support social workers.
“I think we can all agree that our system in DCBS is inadequate. Simply because they don’t have the staff. It’s a problem, a problem in itself and we are failing in this area, ”Carroll said.
He also recommended requiring drug testing of parents in all situations of child death and near death.
The panel systematically makes recommendations such as expansion family drug courts that put parents through a year of drug rehab, vocational training and other programs without depending on incarceration.
But state funding is still tight in cash-strapped Kentucky. The only family drug courts in the state at present is a privately funded program in Jefferson County, and a federally funded program in Clay County.
Supporters of the Jefferson County Program say he’s going to run out of money this year, and the Clay County program is funded for three years.
The panel also recommended that the legislature study the possibility of educating people or passing laws that would limit children’s access to guns in the household.. Lawmakers consistently refuse to consider a bill requiring people to lock up their guns when they have children at home.