Kentucky is #1 in this — and it’s a bad thing. It’s time we do something about it.

For the second year in a row, Kentucky is ranked first among all states in child abuse and maltreatment. Kentucky has ranked either first or second for the past seven years and in the top 10 for more than a decade.

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Children’s Bureau “Child Maltreatment 2019” report, Kentucky had 20,130 child abuse cases. That’s about 20 out of every 1,000 children.  And many would argue that many cases go unreported.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. It recognizes the importance of families and communities working together to prevent child abuse and neglect.

If you ask any professional, it’s everyone’s role to help recognize and prevent child abuse.

Louisville’s Norton Children’s Hospital insists anyone who sees something needs to say something. One way to help is by following the TEN-4 bruising rule, which means look out for signs on the torso, ears, and neck.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Children’s Bureau report continues, “If you see those injuries in kids younger than the age of 4 or in babies who are not yet cruising … it is a big red flag for child abuse.”

People struggling to stem the tide of child abuse in Kentucky say they are not surprised, given the opioid addiction epidemic, extreme poverty, mental illness, and violence afflicting so many households.

“I think it is without question one of most serious public health issues pertaining to kids here in Kentucky,” said Dr. Melissa Currie, a forensic pediatrician in Louisville.

Republican Atty. Gen. Daniel Cameron called child abuse “a scourge that has plagued our commonwealth for far too long,” and pledged to use his office to combat it. Evidently the Republican House and Senate didn’t get the memo.

“Put your money where your mouth is”

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear sought $31.5 million to hire 350 more social workers over the next two years to expand a chronically understaffed social service system, and said Kentucky’s children are “falling through the cracks.” The final Republican budget provided no money to hire additional social workers at the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

Many more social workers would unburden untrained police, teachers, and church staff who act as social workers but are woefully unprepared.

“One of the most important roles of government is the protection of our children,” said a statement provided by Beshear. “This is unacceptable for our state to lead the nation in child abuse and neglect.”

Additionally, a record number of nearly 10,000 children remain in foster care in Kentucky, removed from homes because of abuse or neglect, despite state efforts to reduce the numbers.

A Kentucky Family Court judge proclaimed, “Until people decide they’re going put their money where their mouth is in terms of children, we’ve got a problem.”

While the Republican super majority legislators rejected the monies requested for social workers, they instead gave tax breaks to corporations, some even out of state, and put over $1 billion in the rainy-day fund.

“We’re seeing not just more cases, but more severity,” said Dr. Currie, who is also with Norton Children’s Medical Group of U of L School of Medicine. “And in the past year, we’ve seen more torture cases than we’ve ever had before.”

There are also more subtle ways a community  “maltreats” its children:

  • closing a public swimming pool,
  • refusing to spend money on rural internet broadband, 
  • fighting over the renovation of a library,
  • cutting state education budgets, and
  • denying it’s a problem.

Former Democratic  Vice President Hubert Humphrey said,

The moral test of government is how that government treats the children, the elderly, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.

And Nelson Mandela said,

There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.

It is time for all of us to agree: We must break the silence of child abuse.



  • Kentucky Revised Statute  620.030(1) says that anyone with a reasonable suspicion that a child is dependent, abused, or neglected is required to make a report to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS).
  • To report child abuse and neglect call toll-free any of these numbers: (877) 597-2331 (877-KYSAFE1) or  (800) 752-6200.
  • Call 911 in case of an emergency.
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Marshall Ward taught high school history and economics for twenty years in Charleston, SC. He then moved to Murray, KY, where he taught AP history for seventeen years. He also taught at the Murray State Commonwealth Honors Academy, and was a supervising teacher for numerous student teachers from MSU.

He is the former president of the Calloway County Retired Teachers Association, and serves on the executive council of the Kentucky Retired Teachers Association. In addition to writing for Forward Kentucky, he is a columnist for the Murray Ledger and Times.

2 thoughts on “Kentucky is #1 in this — and it’s a bad thing. It’s time we do something about it.”

  1. Like worst-in-the-nation-in-child abuse, so many things about Kentucky seem to firmly entrench it in the bottom-of-America ratings. How sad for all of U.S. that the right-wing political culture that runs the Commonwealth (despite its occasional Democratic governorships) has bequeathed the entire country its most powerful Republican, the heartless Mitch McCon.
    And oh-so-Republican: A billion dollars in a state rainy-day fund when the children (and the adults, and the animals, and the environment) of Kentucky are raining tears from neglect and unmet needs. Kentucky Republicans are creating billions of dollars worth of unnecessary pain — not to mention future expense.

    • Very true. They completely miss the concept of “front-end loading” — you invest in your children when they are children, and they will become better adults.

      But hey — we gave a tax break to a company doing bitcoin mining. What could be more important than that? < /snark >


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