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Sunrise: Child abuse, neglect reach epic proportions in Kentucky


The state of Kentucky is in crisis.

The threat isn’t to the state’s economic structure. It doesn’t come from terrorism.

It’s about Kentucky’s children, who are suffering abuse and neglect at a staggering rate. The state cannot protect them. The human toll is incalculable, and the state of Kentucky is overwhelmed with the need.

A former social worker with the Department for Community Based Services (DCBS), interviewed for a recent Lexington Herald Leader story, described a situation marked by evidence so horrific that it defies belief. Rachel Blanford talked about children being beaten to death, or forced to stay alive by eating their own feces.

She recalled one case in which a mother was found lying unconscious on the floor, a needle in her arm, while her starving baby sat in a pool of urine, holding a bottle of spoiled milk.

These aren’t exceptional, worst-case examples. These things happen every day across the Commonwealth. These are routine, everyday occurrences that have stretched state resources beyond the breaking point.

“The need is immediate, and it’s overwhelming,” Dale Suttles, president of Sunrise Children’s Services, said. “Child abuse and neglect in Kentucky have been trending steadily upward since 2012. Children are suffering and, worse, they’re dying. As a leading child services provider, Sunrise is in a position to make an impact but we, like all such agencies, need resources if we’re to make a difference.”

Statistics don’t tell the human side of the story, but they are alarming. Since 2012, the year Gov. Steve Beshear established the independent panel, child abuse and neglect in Kentucky have risen by 55 percent. Since 2012, the number of substantiated child abuse and neglect cases has risen from 9,934 to 15,378 in 2016, according to DCBS.

And 334 children died or nearly died from abuse and mistreatment in 2016.

“At Sunrise, we care for more than 1,100 suffering children and their families every month, so we see it firsthand,” Suttles said. “We need to take our communities back and save a generation of children who are at risk. If we don’t, who will?”

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