Life-threatening and emergency child-protection calls are increasing in Idaho, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, prompting child welfare workers to urge anyone who suspects child abuse or neglect to report it as soon as possible.
"We are very concerned about the increase in severity of child welfare situations we are being called in on," said Shirley Alexander, Idaho's child welfare program manager. "Being a parent is always a difficult job. We can't be sure what is causing the increase, but certainly financial insecurity and other factors can strain families. It's everyone's responsibility to take the time to report suspected child abuse or neglect to law enforcement or the Idaho Care Line at 211."
The total number of child-protection referrals remained steady across the state last year. However, the number of cases in which a child was in immediate danger increased 9 percent. In Region 5—composed of eight south-central counties, including Blaine—the number of life-threatening and emergency child-protection referrals increased by 8 percent from 2009 to 2010.
In southwest Idaho, reports of emergency or life-threatening injury to children increased by 15 percent in the Nampa/Caldwell area and 13 percent in the Boise area.
Alexander said that in many of the most severe cases, child-protection services had never been previously involved with the families. She said child welfare workers do not know the reason for these families' new cases, but suspect the stresses of increased poverty and unemployment may be a factor.
"If we learn of a family who is just beginning to struggle, we can step in and work with them to keep children safe," Alexander said. "A report of suspected child abuse makes it possible for a family to get help."
Reasons to report potential child abuse include calling when a child:
( Has injuries, such as bruises, burns or broken bones, with no appropriate explanation.
( Has had a pattern of repeated injuries.
( Is young and left alone.
( Lives in a house where health or safety hazards are present.
( Has nothing to eat and appears underweight.
Child-abuse or neglect calls are confidential and should be made within 24 hours of becoming aware of the abuse or neglect.
April also happens to be Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month. Health and Welfare has developed a public service announcement reminding Idahoans about the importance of reporting suspected abuse or neglect.
"No one wants to see children harmed," Alexander said. "Reporting child abuse is simple, it's easy and it's the right thing to do."