Early data shows there were over 121,000 investigated cases of child abuse and neglect in North Carolina during fiscal year July 2016 through June 2017. State law requires individuals or institutions suspecting child abuse or neglect to report cases to the Division of Social Services (DSS) for investigation.
“The high number of children impacted by neglect or abuse indicates too many families are struggling and under severe stress,” said Rebecca Starnes, vice president of Children’s Home Society of North Carolina. “Abuse and neglect can be the product of a number of issues facing families, including poverty, working multiple jobs to make ends meet, high levels of stress, unrealistic expectations of children, mental health challenges, or substance abuse.”
In McDowell alone, there were 600 reported cases of abuse in neglect in the 2016-17 year, with over 75 percent founded to be true and put into case management services.
“The majority of our reports have been methamphetamine-related,” said McDowell Department of Social Services Director Lisa Sprouse. “Just last week, we received multiple reports of babies being born in McDowell County that tested positive for polysubstance abuse.”
When asked about the uptick in referrals across the state, Sprouse says that the biggest contributor has been substance abuse.
“I looked at those numbers and they don’t include foster care, but foster care has greatly increased due to the rise of opioid addictions and, primarily here in this county, methamphetamine addiction,” said Sprouse. “In the month of July in this agency alone, we placed 18 children in foster care, probably 80 percent of those due to substance abuse from parents, and right now it is IV drug use.”
DSS staff investigates and assesses all suspected cases of child abuse and neglect; diagnoses the problem with the family; provides in-home services to help keep families together; coordinates community and agency services; or, petitions the court for removal of the child from the home, if necessary.
To treat instances like these and other child-related cases, McDowell DSS has a collaborative relationship with a number of organizations like the McDowell Sheriff’s Office, the county school system, Lily’s Place – the local subsidiary of Southmountain Children and Family Services – Freedom Life Ministries, and equine and agricultural therapy at Hope 29:11 for older children not living with their biological parents, as well as local events like this Sunday’s Unity Service at East Middle School and Child Abuse Prevention Month in April.
“We try to utilize conventional collaborations as well as unconventional,” said Sprouse. “Sometimes in this day and time, the conventional methods with going to an office for mental health services is not really what works for our families, so we try to meet them where we are and provide services that can help them from point A to point B and help them make their family whole again and allow their children to come home.”
For more information on McDowell DSS’ Children and Family Services, visit http://www.mcdowellcountyncdss.org/children-family-services.