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Rising CHINS cases cause concern

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In some of Indiana’s rural southern counties, the number of substantiated abuse cases has risen dramatically in recent years. And some of the least populous areas of the state report the most per-capita abuse cases. In fiscal year 2009, Scott County – with its population of about 24,000 people – had 42.2 substantiated child abuse and neglect cases per 1,000 people under the age of 18. That figure from the Indiana Department of Child Services Demographics and Trending Report is one of many that is significantly higher than the state average of 15.6 cases per 1,000.

Judges, lawyers, and police officers in some of these counties don’t need to see the numbers to tell you there’s a problem. They’ve seen their communities being slowly eroded by family violence, poverty, and addiction. Jennings County attorney Chuck Waggoner, who practices in North Vernon, said that in many cases, families have fought the same challenges for generations.

“Can you move from one place to another place in the course of 12 hours without having a truck? We have a lot of folks who can do that,” he said. “And those folks seem to go from crisis to crisis to crisis. And those children – from the time they’re born – they never get a positive stroke for anything.”

Recent trends

Scott Circuit Judge Roger Duvall knows that his county is at the top of the list when it comes to Children In Need of Services cases. But he said he wonders about the accuracy of child abuse statistics collected before January 2010, when the DCS centralized its child abuse call center. Instead of all calls going to local DCS offices, they are now answered in Marion County, and DCS workers there refer the calls back to local counties for investigation.
 

duvall-roger-mug Duvall

“For us, traditionally our numbers have always been high,” Judge Duvall said. “I do think for some counties, I believe the call-in center maybe has provided better access. I wonder if generally just the gross calls – all calls in reporting abuse or neglect – went up after the call-in center came into play for all the Indiana counties.”

When calls are kicked back to the county of origin for local DCS caseworkers to investigate, small-town communities have perspective that caseworkers in urban areas may not have.

Jennings Circuit Judge Jon Webster said in his county, “Everybody almost knows everyone.” Waggoner said that caseworkers in small counties may be more inclined to investigate an allegation of abuse, based on what they know about that family’s history.

“I can tell you that there was a time when I had three generations – grandpa, dad, and son – all in prison for armed robbery,” Waggoner said. “Right now I can tell you probably 15 cases of various crimes in our small community where that family is central to the case, whether it’s a civil case or criminal case.”


webster-jon-mug Webster

In Marion County – where the population exceeds Jennings County’s by roughly 877,000 people – a caseworker who receives a report alleging child abuse may not recognize a family name or remember a family’s past interactions with the law.

“What are the chances of a caseworker in Marion County who’s going to conduct a screen and is going to know this name off the top of their head?” Judge Duvall said.

The family unit

Maria Burks has been a licensed counselor for 30 years. The county in which she resides – Washington – is below the state average in per-capita child abuse cases. Most clients she sees come from her own county or neighboring Scott County, although she said she has had clients travel to her office from 50 to 75 miles away. As the economy has shifted away from farming and toward manufacturing, she has seen a change in the population.

“Fifty years ago, kids were very involved in day-to-day operations of what was going on,” she said. “Everybody pitched in and had to do a part, and I don’t feel like that kind of families working together to achieve something together is happening much at all anymore.”

Burks says over time, she has seen the traditional family – two parents, both present in the home and sharing in the responsibility of raising children – begin to fade away.

“It’s a very difficult thing to blend families – a lot of people don’t realize that – but I see a lot of people in my practice trying to do that,” she said. “It’s a great need for people to address blended families, stepfamilies … most of these young parents are just repeating whatever has happened to them, and if that was good, that’s good.” But she has seen her share of parents repeating the abusive behavior of their own parents.

Waggoner has observed the same trend.

“I credit a lot of it to fractured families … it’s not their birth child. Either they haven’t taken the time or don’t even want to try to become a parent to the child,” he said. “I literally sit down with cases and have to chart the family tree so that I know whose child is whose, so I know which one is a half-brother, which one is a stepbrother … the water has gotten muddy.”

Waggoner said that children growing up in blended families may be confused by contradicting rules between households.


waggoner-chuck-mug Waggoner

“When you have stepdads and stepmoms and stepbrothers and stepsisters … it’s hard for a child to know, ‘Whose rules are my rules?” Waggoner said.

Some children in Southern Indiana grow up with only one parent. Teen pregnancy rates in Jennings and Scott counties are high – and on-par with Marion County’s rates. But single moms in poor, remote counties may not have the same access to services and supports that city populations have.

“I think kids 30 years ago had more people in their lives,” Burks said. “It wasn’t unusual for grandparents to live with families, so there were other adults around. That’s very helpful to kids sometimes, when they’re not only depending on one person.”

Socioeconomic factors

Judge Webster has noticed that Dubois County seems to be an anomaly in the Southern part of the state. The DCS trending report shows the county as having 7.42 cases of substantiated child abuse and neglect per 1,000 people under the age of 18. Its western neighbor, Pike County, has 44.8 such cases, and its eastern neighbor, Crawford County, reports 30.8.

Judge Webster noted that Dubois is known for having a “pocket of wealth” – the city of Jasper. In such counties, he said, it’s likely that a well-to-do, educated minority could be lowering the average incidences of child abuse.

“I think if you look at the numbers for all 92 counties, there’s a real direct correlation between the socioeconomic situation and the CHINS cases.chinschart

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute create the County Health Rankings report for each county in all 50 states. Its 2011 report shows Scott County as number 92 in Indiana, meaning it has the worst overall health in the state. Researchers consider a wide range of factors in determining a county’s health, among them low birth weight, education level, and unemployment. Scott County’s unemployment rate is about 12.6 percent, the rankings show, placing it above the estimated 10 percent for the state of Indiana.

The report shows that the Southern Indiana counties of Switzerland and Pike are numbers 89 and 90, respectively. Jennings County is 85th in overall health – a statistic that seems to support Judge Webster’s assessment of what’s happening in his community.

“I don’t think it’s coincidence that Jennings and Scott counties are so close in their numbers,” he said of the annual DCS trending statistics. “We’re at the top of almost every category – number of calls to the call center, number of removals, number of children adjudicated as CHINS cases,” he said. “We have far too many people who don’t finish school. Out-of-wedlock pregnancies are skyrocketing in this county. You have so many women out here trying to raise children with no help and no money.”

And where socioeconomic difficulties have become overwhelming, so, too, has drug and alcohol abuse.•

In the Aug. 31 edition of Indiana Lawyer, read Part II of this story to learn about how methamphetamine and other drug abuse has fueled an increase in the number of children being removed from their homes. Trends in Northern Indiana, as well as statewide efforts to mitigate child abuse, will also be featured in Part II.
 

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  • thanks
    Thanks for this article. We live in Evansville, IN and are aware of how bad the child abuse is here. Can you please send us the statistics for here in Vanderburgh, County. Our web site is: www.ritualabusefree.org Thanks again

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  1. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  2. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  3. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  4. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

  5. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

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