Child abuse and neglect reports rose in 2021 after COVID dip

Montgomery County Children Services officials urge the public to call if they see concerns.

Montgomery County Children Services received about 1,700 more reports related to child abuse and neglect in 2021 than in 2020, marking a 15 percent increase.

About 13,000 reports were received last year. Craig Rickett, the leader of the county children services agency, said the increase can be attributed to the pandemic and kids being seen by other people more often in 2021 than the year before.

“So much of our state and the community was shut down (in 2020),” he said. “More importantly, children weren’t going to school, they weren’t going to daycares and there weren’t those other folks to see something and do something.”

Reports received by the county agency had fallen from 12,246 in 2019, down to 11,286 in 2020, before climbing higher to 12,991 in 2021.

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Of the almost 13,000 reports, about 4,700 of them resulted in an investigation. Rickett said the office sometimes receives duplicate complaints that are all counted, and Ohio law limits exactly what the agency can investigate. He said the increase in calls means more people reported suspected issues, which gives his agency an opportunity to protect children who otherwise may not have gotten help.

Rickett said every report is carefully reviewed by a staff member whose primary concern is to protect children.

“They do care, they want to make sure kids are safe, they want to do their job well and they do their job well,” he said.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and Wednesday was “Wear Blue Day,” where people were encouraged to wear blue to bring awareness to the issue. Montgomery County officials hosted an event to show appreciation for caseworkers and other employees who work on the front lines to prevent and stop child abuse.

Rickett said Montgomery County Children Services is staffed at about 85% and is currently seeking new employees to fill vacancies.

Carmen Wooten is an ongoing caseworker who follows up with families and connects them to needed services. She said the agency’s goal is not to remove children from homes but instead to provide support to families. She said the best part of her job is knowing she made a difference in a child’s life.

“Knowing that the kid is safe, that they are comfortable and have a bed to sleep in” she said. “So making those arrangements and making sure that child’s safe so they can stay with mommy and daddy.”

Julie Lehman has been a caseworker for five years and said she started the job because she has a passion for helping families and children.

“If you see child abuse in the area, please report it,” she said. “We get referrals on a daily basis and our goal is to prevent it from happening and to help as many children stay safe as much as possible.”

Montgomery County Children Services’ phone number is 937-224-5437.

Reports received by Montgomery County Children Services:

2021: 12,991

2020: 11,286

2019: 12,246

Source: Montgomery County Children Services

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