Community Child Protection Team release annual report, reviewed 20 cases of child abuse/neglect resulting in death in 2022

Published 12:08 am Thursday, April 6, 2023

SALISBURY — The Rowan County Community Child Protection Team reviewed 20 cases of child abuse/neglect that resulted in death in 2022, according to the team’s annual report presented at the Rowan County Board of Commissioners meeting on Monday. 

Of the 20 fatality cases, four were due to suffocation or strangulation in bed, four due to vehicular accidents, two due to suicide and seven were due to prenatal/perinatal conditions. One case was due to a unique health condition, one was due to a firearm accident and one has an undetermined cause of death. Two other cases were also due to homicide, but were not reviewed due to on-going investigations.

The child protection team is a group of community representatives who meet regularly to assess child welfare cases. There are currently 20 members on the team. The presenters of the report were Amy Brown, executive director of Smart Start Rowan; Shawn Edman, executive director of the Terrie Hess House Child Advocacy Center; Alyssa Harris, director of the Rowan County Public Health Department; and Micah Ennis, director of the Rowan County Department of Social Services.

“In 2022, our CAC (Child Advocacy Center) provided services to more children and families than ever in our 20 year history. This year we are already on track to surpass that,” Edman said. “In the first quarter of 2023, we have already provided over 650 therapy sessions for children who are the victims of child physical and sexual abuse.”

Edman told the commissioners about a few prevention programs the Terrie Hess House has been using to stop child abuse. The first was the Stop Go Tell program, which is taught in schools to children in first through fifth grade and teaches “how to identify unsafe situations and how to build the skills necessary to get help if they are experiencing or witnessing abuse.” It also teaches children how to identify safe adults to talk to if there is a problem. The second is the Positive Parenting Program, also known as Triple P, designed to reduce and treat behavioral and emotional problems in children and teenagers, while also aiming to prevent problems in the family, school and community before they arise.

Three other programs are being introduced this year as well, Edman said, including the W5 Program, which focuses on teaching people what to do when they suspect or witness child abuse. There is also a state-wide initiative being created for a single call center for child abuse reporting in partnership with 211, a number to dial to reach information and referral services to health, human, and social service organizations. Lastly, the Parent Child Interaction Therapy will be introduced for caregivers and children ages two to seven that are experiencing “social, behavioral and/or emotional difficulties.” The Terrie Hess House is the first and only provider of this therapy in the county.

Edman reported the most common reason for child abuses in the county is economic insecurity.

“The cost of living has skyrocketed over the last couple of years and a lot of people are struggling to make ends meet. The level of stress this places on a family can be overwhelming and unfortunately some parents take out their frustration on their children through abuse and neglect. Some families have even exploited their children through prostitution to make ends meet,” Edman said. “This is human trafficking, which itself is another form of child abuse and we have seen several cases of this in our county.”

Harris spoke about the issues of substance abuse in parenting being “a serious problem affecting the well-being of our children and families, not just nationally but here in Rowan County.” She also spoke about how the health department has been tracking early childhood development after a 2021 survey highlighted it as a key emerging issue in the county.

Opioid data has shown that currently 10 percent of infants in the county require a “Plan of Safe Care,” meaning “they are born or identified as being effected by substance abuse disorder, are experiencing withdrawal symptoms at birth or have been diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome.” There were 814 births in 2022; 80 of those infants needed a “Plan of Safe Care,” Harris reported.

Harris said focusing on providing care for the family unit is one of the best ways to prevent child abuse and neglect

“We have to help the family unit. We know that is a value of Rowan County, we want to see healthy families,” Harris said. “Pregnancy and early childhood are key times where we can intervene in these people’s lives.”

Both Harris and Ennis also spoke on the expansion of Medicaid as potentially having a positive impact because more families will have access to health care services. Ennis reported there are close to 47,500 residents — children and adults — who are individual beneficiaries of Medicaid.

“Nearly 50,000 Rowan County residents receive Medicaid, about half that receive food and nutrition services aka food stamps…Medicaid expansion will see more,” Ennis said.

Ennis also continued to highlight how economic insecurity is one of the biggest factors contributing to child abuse.

“The 2023 poverty guideline for a family of three is just under $25,000. We know that renting a safe place to live is going to cost at least half that for a family…So I just wanted to share that with you,” she said.

After Ennis spoke, Commissioner Greg Edds thanked her for the report, but also said the commissioners were a bit frustrated with what more they could do to provide economic security for families. Job growth has increased in the county in recent years.

“We’ve struggled with poverty (and) we’ve cut that significantly, but we’re kind of on the threshold of a whole lot of jobs…So how do we get these folks that are still in poverty — 25,000 for a family of three. We know that there are exceptions to the rule. There are folks in poverty for reasons, but there are a lot who aren’t. How do we connect these folks with opportunity that is now at our doorstep and available?”

Ennis responded that she thinks there needs to be a team put together to discuss the issue and find people well-paying jobs.

“Get together and determine ‘what’s going on with our citizens?’ Because I don’t know all the answers. I know some folks struggle with substance use disorders, I know some folks struggle with mental health disorders, I know some folks don’t have examples to follow when it comes to working in the community, I know some folks don’t have an affective bridge from poverty. But I know what I know about is just a fraction. There are really smart people who could help us look at that,” Ennis said.

Edds also brought up the fact that the county receives $250 million from the federal government each year for social services, something he said he was “shocked” to see and wanted to discuss in the future how to use those dollars more effectively. Ennis agreed that there does need to be more communication.

The commissioners unanimously voted to accept the annual report and also declared April as Child Abuse Prevention Month.