Herald Photo / Provided
SAFETY  — Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight helps create the pinwheel garden across from City Hall.
Herald Photo / Provided SAFETY — Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight helps create the pinwheel garden across from City Hall.
The month of April has been designated as Prevent Child Abuse Month in not only Kokomo but also around the country. 

Ask any professional in the field, and they will say that child abuse and neglect is preventable. But despite efforts to spread the message, statistics show child abuse is on the rise.

According to information provided by Prevent Child Abuse Indiana – the governing organization of the Prevent Child Abuse Howard County – the number of child abuse and neglect cases in the state has risen from 12.5 per 1,000 children under 18 years-old in 2012 to a rate of 17.1 in 2015. The actual numbers of substantiated cases of child abuse in Indiana are staggering for 2015: 22,015 neglect cases, 2,702 sexual abuse cases, and 2,175 physical abuse cases. Those numbers only represent cases reported and substantiated to child protection services; many go unreported.

Although there was a slight drop in Howard County between 2014 and 2015, the stats on child abuse continue an upward trend from 18.6 per 1,000 children under 18 in 2011 to 21.9 in 2015. The total number of substantiated cases in the county also has risen from 365 in 2011 to 414 in 2015.

Barb Hilton, director of Prevent Child Abuse Howard County (a program of the Family Services Association), said those sobering statistics are why the national Pinwheels for Prevention campaign – also known as Blue Ribbon Month – is so important. She said one reason the numbers of reported cases are on the rise is due to better awareness.

“We work very hard to make sure people report abuse, and I think we are getting that information out there,” said Hilton. “Reporting numbers are up because of the awareness.”

But who is supposed to report child abuse? According to Indiana law, everyone. Failure to report child abuse can be a Class B misdemeanor. PCA Indiana stated that any individual “who has reason to believe that a child is a victim of child abuse or neglect must make a report.” Anonymous reports are accepted.

Mary Beth Bonaventura, a retired Lake County judge and current director of the Indiana Department of Child Services, said adults cannot simply pretend they do not see child abuse.

“We are a mandatory reporting state,” said Bonaventura. “If you see any child abuse or neglect, you must report it. There is also an online tool so you don’t have to guess what abuse and neglect is. We have to protect our children because they can’t.”

Physical abuse of a child is defined by PCA Indiana as “infliction of physical injury or allowing another to do so.” Neglect is defined as “chronic failure to meet basic needs of a child for food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education or supervision.”

In a recent visit to Kokomo, Bonaventura also discussed the effect of abuse on young children. Each year in the United States, an average of more than four children a day are fatal victims of maltreatment, and the vast majority of these children are under the age of 3.

“Most physical abuse fatalities happen to young children, mostly under the age of 5,” she said. “The highest number is under the age of 1.”

She said that is a driving reason Indiana has a Safe Haven Law, which enables a person to give up an unwanted infant anonymously without the fear of arrest.

For more information on child abuse prevention, or for information on any event planning for the month of April to include the PCA Conference, contact Hilton at 765-457-9313. If you suspect abuse or neglect of a child, call 911 or the Indiana hotline at 800-800-5556. Additional information is available online at www.pcain.org.