2018-03-08 / Front Page

Child Abuse in City Highest in State

Protection Agencies Stress Need for Community Involvement
By Andy Long

In 2017, 35 children were removed from their Newport homes. Approximately 70 percent of these were 11 years old or younger. Newport’s 3 percent rate of reported abuse (approximately 100 children) is the highest in the state.

Of all Rhode Island children, 1.38 percent are reported victims of abuse, and in the core urban areas of the state, Newport, Providence, Central Falls, Pawtucket, and Woonsocket, the reported rate of child maltreatment in 2017 was 2.16 percent, with the inclusion of Newport driving up that number.

On Monday, March 5, a community conversation was held at the Edward King House on the state of child abuse prevention in Newport and what steps might be taken to improve the performance of agencies, both public and private, that protect children at risk.

The event was co-sponsored by Day One, a Providence-based service organization, and by Newport Partnership for Families, a consortium of local groups dedicated to the welfare of children.

There were approximately 30 in the audience, mostly from Newport’s social agencies.

Day One focuses on sexual abuse and human trafficking issues concerning victims of all ages in Rhode Island. Its programs work not only on prevention but also on recovery issues. The Newport Partnership for Families is comprised of many local service agencies.

The main presenter was Trista Piccola, director of the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF), the state agency that supervises adoptions, fostering, juvenile crime and childcare.

After introducing the numbers concerning child maltreatment in Newport and across the state of Rhode Island, she went on to discuss the sorts of abuse children suffer in Newport.

Nearly 60 percent are neglected, and slightly more than one-third are psychologically or emotionally maltreated. Fewer than 15 percent are physically abused and fewer than 2 percent are sexually abused.

On the issue of neglect, she said, “The issue around caretakers or lack of supervision is an interesting one,” referring to the inadequacies of DCYF’s statistics, as cases are put into categories too broadly construed, inhibiting flexible evaluations and responses.

She went on to say that sometimes there are mental health or substance abuse concerns behind those who leave small children alone. However, there are also those cases where lack of affordable or available childcare puts adults in difficult situations.

“One size fits all solutions don’t work,” Picolla said, indicating that it is important for the state to work more closely with local agencies and community members to improve both the timeliness and quality of the reports flowing to DCYF.

Better coordination with local groups, including better information systems is crucial, she said, stressing that the most important role these groups can play is to engage with informed, empowered neighbors, family, and friends, saying that DCYF wants to “get closer to communities” and that it’s time to strategize to that end.

Truancy was brought up by members of the audience. Not a legal responsibility of DCYF, it is a concern for the Newport Partnership for Families, which has a committee at work on the issue. The president and CEO of Newport Mental Health, Jamie Lehane, spoke to the issue of truancy and how it often indicates other family problems.

“Every time we go behind the scenes we find a significant adult problem in the household,” he said, going on to give an example of a high school student who felt he needed to remain home to protect his mother from a violent boyfriend.

Should you suspect a child is being abused, please call the DCYF hotline at 528-3500 or 800-742-4453. You need not give your name.

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