Number of abused children down in state, but still high in Jackson County

By Gus Bode

Voices for Illinois Children release 2003 data

For the fifth year in a row, the number of child abuse and neglect cases in Jackson County is double the state average.

Voices for Illinois Children released its Illinois Kids Count 2003 data Monday, which details the state of Illinois children’s health, education and other issues regarding their well being for the year 2001.

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Illinois’ rate of reported child abuse and neglect has decreased by 26.5 percent since 1997 to 7.5 percent. In 2001, the data shows 24,291 children were abused or neglected, a rate of 7.5 out of every 1,000 children. Jackson County reported child abuse and neglect cases are 14.9 percent, almost twice the state average.

Children face several forms of abuse and neglect, with neglect accounting for the highest number of reports. These include lack of supervision, adequate food or shelter, medical care or education.

Cases are reported by anyone who has witnessed or suspects child abuse and are broken down into two categories.

“There are two kinds of reporters, mandated and voluntary,” said Roy Harley, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Illinois. “Mandated reporters are caretaker types like teachers, doctors or law enforcement. Neighbors, friends and family make up the voluntary reporters.”

Children who are abused or neglected suffer from long or short-term effects of mental or physical injuries. They may experience depression, low self-esteem or learning disabilities.

Bonnie Wheeler, vice chair of Voices for Illinois Children Board of Directors said, while the numbers are down considerably, still on average in Illinois there are 66 confirmed cases of children who are abused and neglected everyday.

“The rate in Jackson County is dropping, but it is still above the state average,” Wheeler said. “Looking at the numbers we still definitely have a problem.”

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The Department of Children and Family Services was unavailable for comment about specific Jackson county numbers, but a woman who works for the agency said that every effort is being done to try and lower the number of cases in the area. She also said that while the overall number is high, the number of repeat cases is down.

Harley said that the numbers do not show how many cases are first-time cases in the system and that the slight decrease in numbers is related to the quality of service the agency offers.

“If we were to break the numbers down we would see fewer children being reported a second and third time,” Harley said. “At best, continuing the quality of care once it comes to the state’s attention is helping.”

There are no clear-cut answers to combating the situation. But there are some things that can be done to continue lowering the numbers.

It is important that people are aware and willing to report cases, but before that can be done they have to be informed on how to go about that.

“A long-term solution is to finds ways to prevent [abuse] from happening in the first place,” Harley said. “Some ways include improving living conditions, improving health insurance, employment and access to support services.”

Many of the situations facing children in Illinois have been linked to the budget crises, which has caused a number of services to be cut or scaled down.

With the elimination of some programs that were targeted to help families in financial dilemmas, many, including some who are teen-agers, have nowhere to turn.

“Poverty if the greatest factor facing children for the abuse of children, so we need to be vigilant as the struggling economy continues to cause stress for families,” Wheeler said.

Harley said the real work is the work done that neglects abuse or neglect in the first place, such as “one-on-one services for those in economic or other stressful situations so they don’t make it to the point of being an abuser.”

Reporter Samantha Robinson can be reached at

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