ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Newly released federal figures show cases of child abuse are at the highest they've been since 2015. Here in Alaska, unfortunately, we're seeing much of the same.
According to newly released data by the Administration for Children and Families, nationwide, more than 678,000 children were determined to be victims of maltreatment in 2018-- up about 4,000 from the previous year.
Just last year in Alaska, 3,142 children were mistreated, according to the Office of Children's Services (OCS). In 2015 that number was 2,888 and has fluctuated some since then. However, 2019 saw the highest the state has seen in the past five years.
Travis Erickson with the OCS says the number of individual victims has grown about 18% over the last five years in Alaska.
President and CEO of the Alaska Children's Trust, Trevor Storrs, says Alaska has had one of the highest rates per capita of child abuse and neglect for close to two decades. Storrs says a number of stressors on families could be contributing.
"One of those key stressors is definitely economics," said Storrs. "Poverty plays a major factor. Not that poor people abuse their children more, it's that they have less access to the support, services and resources necessary to ensure that children are growing up in safe, nurturing and stable environments."
Here in Alaska, a number of organizations are working towards addressing what are called 'social issues' leading towards child abuse and neglect, like food and housing insecurity, health care and before and after school care. As legislators head to Juneau, Storrs says there needs to be some sort of statewide plan to ensure children are growing up in safe, stable and nurturing environments.
"We know that an individual-- it takes about three to five reports before somebody is screened," said Storrs, "so at that first screening, if we could intervene at that time and provide the family support and resources that they need, we could lessen the number of children that are going in. So that's another area we encourage our state to be looking at."
When we take a look at the numbers nationwide, neglect tops the list at 60% of abuses that children endure versus physical, and sexual abuses. The same could be said for Alaska. According to OCS, 75% of reports here involve neglect. Erickson says a majority of these are related to substance abuse, with alcohol being the most common.
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