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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind — Top state leaders are reacting to a federal report that says Indiana has the second-highest child abuse rate in the nation.

The “Child Maltreatment Report” from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services utilizes the most recent available data, which is from 2017. In that year, it says Indiana had 29,198 reported child abuse victims. That amounts to 18.6 victims for every 1,000 children in the state. The number is second only to Kentucky, which had 22,410 reported child abuse victims, or 22.2 victims per 1,000. 

 It means Indiana’s child abuse rate was more than twice the national average, which was 9.1 victims per 1,000.

“If anything, that report should let us know that we need to really focus our efforts on prevention,” said Indiana Department of Child Services Director Terry Stigdon. “If anything, that’s our calling. To do better, to prevent child abuse.”

The same report shows Indiana’s child abuse rate rose by roughly 34% between 2013 and 2017. The report identifies the most common risk factors contributing to child abuse and neglect as alcohol abuse, drug abuse, financial problems and domestic violence. The report says nearly 75% of victims are neglected, roughly 18% are physically abused and more than 9% are sexually abused. Nationally, nearly 80% of abusers are identified as parents of the victim.

Stigdon said the report highlights the need for state agencies to work more seamlessly in order to prevent child abuse before it happens.

“That’s really a way for the families to let us know that we need to make sure we have resources available to them,” Stigdon said. “So that we as the agency, DCS, can focus on working with the right child at the right time in the right way.”

Child abuse fatalities nearly tripled in Indiana during the same five-year time period. The state reported 78 child abuse deaths in 2017, compared to 28 in 2013. More than a quarter of Indiana abuse victims were younger than 3 years old, according to the report.

Last year, Governor Eric Holcomb allocated $25 million to DCS in an effort to improve child welfare services across the state. Data from 2017 was utilized by a state panel in order to recommend changes to make those improvements.

“We’re coming together like never before, and we’re not ignoring the stats or the numbers,” Holcomb said. “And we’re getting at this from the ground level up.”

Doctor Roberta A. Hibbard, division chief of the Child Protection Program at Riley Hospital for Children at I.U. Health, warns against taking the data from the report at face value.

“We have to be cautious in interpreting data in comparison to other states because reporting laws and requirements vary from state to state,” Hibbard said in a statement.

Hibbard offered several questions to ask when analyzing data from such a report.

“What is considered maltreatment, what gets investigated, who does the investigation,” Hibbard continued, “and who is required to report are just as examples.”

Governor Holcomb said while reporting differences may exist from state to state, Indiana should remain focused on preventing child abuse cases before they happen.

“This is a joint effort,” Holcomb said. “Not just interagency, but local, state federal. And I for one am optimistic about path we’re on.”

Anyone who suspects child abuse in any situation is urged to call the Child Abuse Hotline. That number is 1-800-800-5556.