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  • Substance Abuse Contributes to Child Safety Issues: Kentucky Case Study

In mid-2021, the Kentucky Child Fatality and Near Fatality External Review Panel released the results of a 2020 study that found mental health conditions, substance abuse, and poverty were all key factors in child neglect and abuse. The results came at the same time as a federal survey that placed Kentucky highest in the U.S. for child abuse; for every 100,000 Kentucky kids, there were 20.1 cases of neglect or abuse.

Dr. Melissa Currie, a Louisville pediatrician and member of the panel, felt the reasons for the elevated rates of child abuse are nuanced. While she said the state needs to more accurately identify patterns of child abuse and neglect, she pointed to specific reasons for this unwelcome trend, including:

  • Domestic violence
  • High rates of parental incarceration
  • Substance abuse

Taking a closer look at the data behind abuse and neglect cases, the panel’s findings were staggering: almost half of the cases reviewed involved at least one parent with an alcohol use disorder or substance use disorder.

Another obvious factor, though, is how the global pandemic also will have contributed to the high rate of child abuse and neglect cases.

Child Abuse Cases and the Pandemic

The cases examined in the 2020 panel review covered pre-pandemic months leading up to March 2020. Additionally, officials are concerned that many cases of child neglect and abuse in Kentucky went unreported with schools closed and remote learning becoming the norm. This is because, typically, school teachers and other school staff will report suspicious indicators of abuse.

At the same time, the pandemic provoked an increase in substance abuse, financial stress, job loss, and many other social factors prompting people to self-medicate. All of these factors are adding fuel to an already volatile situation.

Dr. Currie reported having personally witnessed ongoing cases of serious violence toward children in her capacity at Norton Children’s Hospital.

Other Concerns of the Panel

The panel highlighted some other concerns in its report, including:

  • Children accidentally ingesting drugs.
  • The number of child suicides doubled from the previous year’s report, and there were 10 cases of suicide by children ages 7 to 16 where neglect or abuse was suspected.
  • Children accessing firearms that led to an accidental injury and, in two cases, child suicide.

Beyond pointing to a link between child suicide and untreated mental health problems, the panel forwarded some recommendations, specifically concerning substance abuse and mental health.

Panel Recommendations Regarding Substance Abuse & Mental Health

  • Family drug court: Family drug courts have proven effective. Sadly, only one jurisdiction in Kentucky has implemented this, and the court is privately funded. Because the primary roadblock is slashed funding, the panel calls for the provision of funding and the prioritization of the family drug court model throughout Kentucky.
  • Help for substance-exposed infants: A federally-mandated plan of safe care (POSC) should improve the safety of infants exposed to drugs prenatally.
  • Improved collaborative services: Providers of MAT should be held accountable to improve collaborative services for pregnant women and mothers of infants.
  • Drug testing: The panel recommends an examination of drug testing, specifically at the time of any child fatality.
  • Psychological assessment: The panel urges the development of the expanded rollout of Psychological Autopsy when child suicides occur.
  • Education regarding ACEs: An improved understanding of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and trauma across generations could help predict and prevent the maltreatment and abuse of children in Kentucky.
  • Firearm safety: Firearm safety could help to prevent suicide by gunshot and unintentional gunshot wounds.

What Comes Next

If you have been self-medicating during the pandemic and find yourself struggling with alcohol use disorder or substance use disorder, you can ask for help. At Landmark Recovery we have treatment centers in Lexington and surrounding states to help you get back on track.

We aim to help one million families over the coming decade, and we’re already well underway. Reclaim the life you lost to drink or drugs by calling our team of recovery specialists today at 888-448-0302.

About the Author

Kara Gaylord

Kara Gaylord joined Landmark Recovery in October 2020 and serves as the Senior Vice President of Business Development. She is a graduate of College of Charleston and has held multiple leadership positions in her career, including Market Director of NewVista Healthcare and Director of Business Development for both Universal Health Services, Inc.’s Poplar Springs Hospital in Petersburg, VA, and Strategic Behavioral Health’s Peak Behavioral Health Services.

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