More than 1,300 reports of child abuse or neglect were reported in Curry County in 2010 – a figure that is 38 percent better than the average rate of the previous five years and 5 percent better when compared to other counties statewide.
The statistics were presented by Myrna Barber of Curry County Commission on Children and Families, who spoke to county commissioners Monday about Week of the Young Child, Young Child Awareness Month and Autism Awareness Month. The commission was appointed by the Legislature in 1993 to develop and support projects and programs and obtain grant money to promote the wellness of local families.
What has Barber concerned about the county statistics, however, is that only 58 percent of reported cases were investigated. Of those, 32 percent, representing 253 children, were founded.
Barber said that number of children represent more than six busloads of students, or more people than it would take to fill every seat in the Onion Grill in Brookings two-and-a-half times.
“Isn’t that amazing?” she said. “One is too many.”
And work is underway to bring local child health, welfare and family finances and stability efforts to the state level.
“In June, we’ll have no people,” she said. “The big counties are going to get all the money.”
The information she presented is the latest from the Children First for Oregons Status of Oregon’s Children 2011.
The common denominators – or potential precursor to abuse of a child – is often poverty, unemployment or substance abuse within families, said Annette Klinefelter, of Curry Community Health.
Those “adverse childhood experiences” can result in more students dropping out of school, a greater dependency on public assistance, drug use and higher infant mortality in the future.
In 2010, 23 percent of the child abuse cases involved families in the throes of domestic violence; 56 percent involved substance abuse.
“When there’s things like poverty or high unemployment, there’s more stress on families,” Klinefelter said. “We’re getting better, but there’s always room for improvement.”
In 2010, Curry County’s median family income was 15 percent lower than that of the state; almost 60 percent of its 1,513 public school children here were eligible for free or reduced price lunches and almost 1,300 of those same children were in families that received food stamps.
A full 25 percent of children, 867, were considered to live in poverty. That was a 2 percent improvement over 2009, but still 15 percent worse than the state average.
Almost 90 percent of third graders were proficient in reading, and 73 percent in math. But by eighth grade, that dropped to 69 percent and 59 percent, respectively.
That year, there were 48 high school dropouts and 66 homeless students.
Curry Community Health is working to get more children insured, Klinefelter said.
“We’ve significantly expanded our outreach for the Healthy Kids Program,” she said of the statewide health plan. We’ve concentrated our efforts to get kids signed up, through WIC (Women Infants and Children program), immunizations, pediatric care or checkups. We’ll screen to make sure they have insurance and, if they don’t, we’ll do everything we can to help them get it.”
CCH, one of the departments the county spun off to nonprofits in cost-saving measures last year, is also educating medical providers about screening for early childhood “trauma experiences,” and educators about how such exposure impacts kids in the classrooms.
The statistics aren’t much different in neighboring Josephine, Douglas and Coos counties.
In Josephine County, 6,550 reports of child abuse were made, with only a third assessed. Of those a third were founded.
In Douglas County, 1,814 reports of child abuse or neglect were made, of which 37 percent were evaluated. Thirty-one percent of those assessed were determined to be legitimate claims.
In Coos County, with a population three times as great as Curry County, the same number, 1,362 reports of abuse were made; 58 percent were investigated and 25 percent of those were found to be valid complaints.
A major difference between Curry and the other counties is the age group of the abused.
More than 57 percent of those found to be abused in Douglas County were younger than 5; in Coos County, that figure was 55 percent; and in Josephine County, that number was just over 50 percent.
In Curry County, the number of abused in that age category is 32 percent.
In all counties the abuse numbers decrease as children age.
Those grim statistics were echoed in the challenges reported by county Juvenile Director Ken Dukek, who told county commissioners that morning his department is going to have to operate on half the budget it did last year – which was half of what he had the year before that.
Most of the $7,000 he had last year went to juvenile drug court – to address underage alcohol users or marijuana issues – in which rulings resulted in fines and loss of license privileges. Recidivism rates of less than 5 percent, Dukek said, show how well that system works.