Stateside
5:13 pm
Tue July 16, 2013

Child abuse is on the rise in Michigan, economic conditions might be to blame

An interview with Jane Zehnder-Merrell and Cathy Weissenborn.

Child abuse is on the rise in Michigan.

That's not just opinion or speculation.

As recently as 2006, Michigan's rate of child abuse and neglect was below the national average.

Today, it is more than 50% higher than the national rate.

And this surge in child abuse comes exactly as state spending on abuse and neglect prevention has been cut sharply.

Why are child abuse and neglect rates so high in Michigan?

For the answer we turn to Jane Zehnder-Merrell, the project director for Kids Count in Michigan at the Michigan League for Public Policy, and Cathy Weissenborn, the President of CARE House of Oakland County, the Child Abuse and Neglect Council of Oakland Count.

“The big increase came in what the department describes as category three,” said Zehnder-Merrell. “If there is a low risk of that abuse or neglect reoccurring, they categorize that as a category three, and that’s virtually where all of the increase came. It jumped from around 6,500 to over 10,000 cases in that category. What that says to us is that if we had preventive programs in place, that abuse or neglect need never to have occurred.”

These cases usually involve the parents not providing basic needs for their kids, like not having enough food. The eligibility requirements for unemployment, cash assistance, and food stamps are part of the problem. Often families are unable to get the help they need in times of economic hardship.

“Children who grow up after experiencing abuse and neglect, particularly in early childhood, have long term outcomes that affect them often times the rest of their lives,” Zehnder-Merrell continued. “We can ill-afford to see these rates go up and see more children damaged because we as a society did not extend the help to their families that was needed.”

“Rates of child poverty are going to continue to impact specifically neglect cases,” said Weissenborn. “One would hope that with economic recovery and a little bit more money coming into the state, there’s perhaps more money available to fund prevention programs that can be so successful.”

-Michelle Nelson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Listen to the full interview above.