Kentucky has the highest rate of child abuse and neglect in the nation, prompting state lawmakers to introduce legislation as a step toward combating the plague.
State Republican Senator Julie Raque Adams, the bill’s lead sponsor, said Senate Bill 8 seeks to address shortcomings in the state’s child abuse and neglect laws, reports KentuckyToday.
The Senate Health and Welfare Committee passed the bill Wednesday by an 11-0 vote. Now the bill is heading to the Senate floor.
“We’re going to hear a lot this session, and I would say this is probably going to be the most important bill we pass this year,” said Republican Senator Ralph Alvarado, committee chairman and co-sponsor of the bill. . , according to the Associated Press.
Adams said the state has led the nation in child abuse and neglect for three straight years, but it’s time to change the statistic, according to the AP.
“Child protection belongs to all of us in this room. We all play a role in child protection. The purpose of this bill is to address various child protection issues and expand child abuse and neglect prevention services.
The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services (KCHFS) reported a 22% increase in suspected cases of child abuse or neglect in 2021 compared to 2020, according to the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.
“We are seeing more serious abuse, including a recent spike in abusive head trauma,” said Dr. Melissa Currie, a pediatrician specializing in child abuse, at the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting. “We have had more cases of torture this year than we have had in any previous year,” she added.
Alvarado, a physician, told Kentucky Today that Senate Bill 8 may be the most important bill this year.
“As a caregiver Shaken Baby Syndrome is a huge problem. You hear about it, but as a pediatrician you see these children and find out after the fact that they have retinal hemorrhages. Their vision will be permanently affected. , because most of the time, the damage is irreversible.”
Adams said the law would expand and redefine the scope of the Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Prevention Council to include all forms of child abuse and neglect, the AP reported.
The legislation would work in unison with other efforts, including increasing spending in the child welfare system to hire more social workers, Adams said, while warning that the bill would not solve not Kentucky’s abuse problems overnight.
“It will take time and require us to remain intentionally engaged in the effort to protect our children,” she said.