Abuse cases rising

STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

Victimization of N.M. children up by about 11 percent.

SANTA FE — Child abuse reports in New Mexico increased by about 11 percent from 2002 to 2003, the state Children, Youth and Families Department confirmed.
Figures released by the department show CYFD received 27,525 abuse reports last year, an increase of 2,708 from the year before.
The number of cases submitted for investigation increased 16 percent from the previous year, according to department numbers.
The number of confirmed abuse victims increased 5 percent to 6,102.
“I wish … I could tell you it’s just an increase in awareness, and there’s not more people abusing or neglecting their kids,” CYFD Secretary Mary-Dale Bolson said. “But I can’t tell you that. I don’t know.”
Bolson said public awareness could be part of the reason for the increase in reports.
“Generally, I think that there is a louder message from the media in terms of don’t just let this keep happening,” she said.
Ninth Judicial District Attorney Brett Carter said he is “surprised and dismayed,” by the trend but believes being able to report child abuse anonymously combined with increased media attention contribute to the rise in reported cases.
“The word is getting out there. If you have information the child is being abused you have the duty to report it,” he said.
Maryellen Strawniak, CYFD deputy director for protective services, said the increase in reports isn’t necessarily a negative thing.
“We cannot get involved and assist families and protect children if we do not know about them,” she said.
Neglect makes up more than 60 percent of the reports.
Bolson said social workers are using new tools to take the guess work out of deciding if a case should be investigated. She said standardizing the process helps to avoid social workers becoming desensitized.
The tools “make you really look at each case individually,” Bolson said.
Pat Briggs, project director of the New Mexico Abuse and Neglect Citizen Review Board, said publicity and more user-friendly systems were probably partially responsible for the increase.
She also blamed a growing number of methamphetamine lab busts.
“It seems to be a daily occurrence that it’s in the news … children (are) at risk because of that,” she said.
Carter said the rise locally and nationally in meth use and trafficking has contributed to the rise in abuse cases.
Meth can be found in children born by mothers using meth during pregnancy, Carter said, leading to an abuse and drug investigation.
Charges can be made against adults with children living in houses containing drugs. Using drugs in a child’s presence is also grounds for abuse charges, he said.