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Kids Count report: Rise in Michigan child abuse, neglect

| January 24, 2012 at 12:15 pm

011/365: Back on the motorway.DETROIT — The rate of child abuse and neglect rose by more than one-third in Michigan during the past decade, the result of high unemployment and inadequate social programs, according to a new report released today.

The annual Kids Count in Michigan report found about 32,500 children in the state were confirmed as victims of abuse or neglect in 2010. The largest increase was in a category where the risk to children is deemed low to moderate, and it was widespread: Only seven of Michigan’s 83 counties saw a drop in their rate.Abuse or neglect rose in part because more children are living with chronic health conditions, such as asthma and obesity, and amid family stress associated with social and economic problems. And such situations are aggravated by prevention programs being cut or eliminated, the report’s authors said.

The report provides a county-by-county snapshot of income, health, education and other measures related to child welfare using data from several state and federal agencies, particularly the Michigan Department of Health and the U.S. Census Bureau. The Michigan League for Human Services, a Lansing-based group advocating for low-income residents, compiles and releases the report with help from child advocacy group Michigan’s Children.

“When people live in extreme poverty … housing is destabilized, dependency increases — everything gets thrown into the mix when you’re in such desperate circumstances,” said Jane Zehnder-Merrell, director of the Kids Count in Michigan project for the Michigan League for Human Services.

“We know the damage has been done. There is tons of research on adverse consequences of abuse and neglect that go with people into adulthood,” she added. “This is serious that people are not able to take care of themselves and their children.”

Zehnder-Merrell said other findings in the report underscore the abuse and neglect statistics. The percentage of children living in families with an annual income below the poverty level — $17,600 for a one-parent family of three, $22,100 for a two-parent family of four — increased from 14 percent to 23 percent between 2000 and 2010.

Researchers this year drilled down further to look at levels of poverty, and found the percentage of children living in extreme poverty — $8,800 annual income for a one-parent family of three, $11,100 for a two-parent family of four — doubled during the same period, from 5 percent to 11 percent.

The Michigan Department of Human Services put a new asset test in place for food stamp recipients on Oct. 1, and also began enforcing a 60-month federal limit on welfare payments as well as a new 48-month state limit. The changes removed around 15,000 food stamp recipients from the rolls, although some were able to regain their benefits Jan. 1 after the test was changed to exempt one motor vehicle.

Still, about 11,000 families lost welfare benefits.

Gov. Rick Snyder has said the best way to help low-income residents is to improve the economy so they can get jobs, noting that the food stamp and cash assistance programs are meant to be short-term help, not a way of life.

“There’s a lot of concern about fraud and abuse, but not as much concern about making sure that families get what they need,” Zehnder-Merrell said. “In our view, more children are going to grow up in really desperate circumstances that could have been ameliorated by state programs that address the economic shortfall. The point is you only get one chance with kids. They’re going to keep on growing, through good times and bad.”

Not all of the report’s findings are negative: It found drops in Michigan’s child death rate as well as its high school dropout rate. Michigan’s teen birth rate dropped by 21 percent between 2000 and 2009, and it was below the national average, but Zehnder-Merrell said the U.S. has a higher teen birth rate than other industrialized nations.

“Despite these enormous hurdles that families face — the poverty level, the struggle people have economically — the fact that we see so many good outcomes for teenagers (means) people really do work hard at helping teens despite enormous obstacles,” she said.

Source: Battle Creek Enquirer

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