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Child Abuse, Neglect Cases Nearly Double Study Says Large Jump Is Not Because Of Greater Awareness

The abuse and neglect of America’s young nearly doubled between 1986 and 1993, an increase so dramatic that it reflects a “true rise” in the severity of the problem rather than one based solely on heightened awareness, a federal study says.

The study, issued Wednesday by the Department of Health and Human Services, says the estimated number of children abused and neglected rose to 2.81 million in 1993 - up 98 percent from 1.42 million in 1986 when the last report was published.

Child welfare workers say the upward trend is continuing.

Many blame drug and alcohol abuse and a breakdown of the family.

Renita Davis, a case manager at an early childhood program in Laurel, Miss., said she thinks unemployment is partly to blame for a rise in abuse and neglect.

“The jobs that you get pay little or nothing so you have two choices: Either you go on unemployment or you sell drugs or you turn to alcohol” and this leads to stress in the home, which leads to violence, she said.

The estimated number of seriously injured children nearly quadrupled from 141,700 in 1986 to 565,000 in 1993, the report said. It said those statistics appear to “herald a true rise in the scope and severity of child abuse and neglect in the United States.”

It is unreasonable to suppose that so many more seriously injured victims of abuse and neglect existed at the time of the last report and somehow were not noticed by community professionals, the report says.

Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala released the report at the National Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect. She also announced $23 million in state grants to provide additional resources to community organizations that will use the money to teach parenting skills and provide other services aimed at preventing abuse.

While the incidence went up during the seven-year period, the report says number of cases investigated by state agencies remained constant.

“This picture suggests that the child protective system has reached its capacity to respond to the maltreated child population,” the report says.

However, Alinda Davis, who directs child welfare initiatives for the United Way in Kansas City, Mo., speculated that states investigated the same number of cases because people have become frustrated with an overloaded system and have stopped reporting them, especially if they fear a child will be removed from a home.

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