Tough economy may lead to spike in child abuse cases

It’s no surprise a struggling national economy translates into a lighter wallet for most folks. But the stress that families endure during an economic downtown can increase the threat of child abuse, neglect and domestic violence, according to some local and national groups that track those trends.

“Economic downturns can aggravate the many perils children face,” said John Reid, executive director of Childhelp, a national nonprofit child abuse prevention program. “What I am hearing ... is that there is a definite connection between this financial crisis and child abuse and neglect.”

Local agencies are not reporting an increase in the numbers of child abuse and domestic violence cases so far this year. That may be because western Colorado’s economy has been buffered by a heretofore thriving natural gas boom.

Executive Director Jackie Sievers of Latimer House, a safe house for victims of domestic violence, said research shows finances are one of the biggest stresses on families. The nonprofit group has beds for 16 people at a time but averaged 22 people a night during its first quarter. While staff generally expected October to be the busiest month, the Latimer House had its busiest time in August this year.

The group’s domestic violence hotline generally averages 120 calls per month, but that number recently shot up to an average of 385 a month.

Sievers said she hopes that means more people are seeking help before domestic violence becomes severe.

“I don’t know if we’ll see an increase in domestic violence,” Sievers said. “Any time you have a family under stress, I think it raises that likelihood. The finance piece causes stress and works from there. Women don’t know how they’d make it on their own.”

Child abuse and domestic violence are linked, she said, because domestic violence is present in 60 percent of confirmed child-abuse cases.

Sievers said many of the group’s clients report finding local jobs quickly that offer decent pay. However, finding housing, particularly affordable housing, remains a constant obstacle. 

To address financial concerns, Sievers said the group soon will offer its clients classes in managing money.

Child welfare referrals to the Department of Human Services are somewhat predictable, said spokeswoman Karen Martsolf of the Mesa County Department of Human Services. Those numbers jump in September when schools start up, after summer break when children are in closer proximity to people who are required to report abuse, such as teachers and counselors. The number of referrals also increases in April, which is Child Abuse Prevention Month.

However, Martsolf said, the agency’s data doesn’t show that child abuse is directly related to a financial downturn.

“We are certainly mindful of the stresses a potential economic downturn may pose on families,” Martsolf said. “It is our mission to ensure programs and services are available to families who are struggling to make ends meet.”


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