As child abuse reports increase in Benton county, business community tasked with helping

Article by Lillian Schrock of the Corvallis Gazette-Times

JANUARY 26, 2018 – As confirmed child abuse reports increase in Benton County, members of the local business community are being asked to take measures to help keep children safe.

“Child abuse is preventable, if we as a community take all the actions that are necessary to prevent it,” said Jenny Gilmore-Robinson, executive director of ABC House, a child abuse intervention center.

She spoke Wednesday during a Corvallis Chamber of Commerce Women in Business presentation at 101 restaurant. A few dozen businesspeople attended the event, during which Gilmore-Robinson talked about how employers can support their workers who are parents by providing employee assistance programs, paid time off and more.

Confirmed child abuse reports in Benton County increased 43 percent in 2016 over the previous year, according to statistics from the state Department of Human Services.

While a discouraging statistic, it doesn’t necessarily mean child abuse and neglect is getting worse in the county, Gilmore-Robinson said.

“What it could mean is that as a community we are getting better at reporting these cases,” she said. “So that these cases that were previously going unreported are now getting the attention of investigators.”

In 2016, there were 166 confirmed victims of child abuse and neglect in Benton County, according to DHS. The previous year, there were 115 confirmed victims. In 2014, that number was 97.

These reports include cases of physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, drug endangerment, mental injury and threat of harm. Neglect is the largest category of child abuse, followed by threat of harm, according to DHS.

Gilmore-Robinson said child abuse directly affects the business community.

The estimated average lifetime cost for every victim of nonfatal child abuse and neglect is $210,012, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This includes health care costs, child welfare costs, costs of involvement in the criminal justice system, special education costs and productivity losses.

“This is directly affecting our workforce,” Gilmore-Robinson said. “We’re creating a workforce that is traumatized … it affects people’s ability to learn, it affects their ability to process, it affects their health, the ability to show up and do jobs.”

She said employers can help parents address the stress factors that lead to child abuse. In 2016 in Oregon, drug and alcohol abuse was a factor in 43 percent of child abuse and neglect cases, according to DHS. Domestic violence was a factor in a third of the cases. In a quarter of the cases, the parent or caregiver was involved in law enforcement action. The next most common stressor was family financial distress.

Protective factors that can help keep kids safe include stable, nurturing relationships with their parents or caregivers, as well as parental employment, adequate housing, access to health care and social services, and relationships with adults outside the family who serve as role models.

Gilmore-Robinson said employers can help by creating family-friendly workplaces that encourage parents to be successful both at work and at home. Some factors that have been shown to help include flexible work weeks, job sharing, telecommuting, paid time off and family leave, she said. Companies that are able can also subsidize child care or provide emergency child care backup, Gilmore-Robinson said.

She also encouraged businesses to provide employee assistance programs, such as confidential mental health counseling and drug and alcohol treatment.

“What if we could intervene earlier and provide resources to our employees to get help before it became a child maltreatment issue?” Gilmore-Robinson said.

She said she recognizes each of those initiatives are financial investments.

“They are an investment but they will also make your company a more attractive place to work,” she said.

She also encouraged businesspeople to get involved in community initiatives and nonprofits that help prevent child abuse, whether that’s in child abuse intervention, mentorship, mental health, housing or another cause.

“By lending your organization’s reputation and person power you’re lending validity to the good work that they’re already doing,” Gilmore-Robinson said.

“It doesn’t have to be ABC House, though we welcome you,” she added.

She said supporting those causes will help make the community stronger.

“And stronger communities have lower child abuse and neglect,” Gilmore-Robinson said.

She also encouraged community members to undergo training on how to recognize the signs of child abuse and report it. She said ABC House offers such training free of charge. For more information, visit https://www.abchouse.org/about-us/outreach-classes/.

“This is something that anybody can do because every single person in this room has contact with kids in some way,” Gilmore-Robinson said. “Wouldn’t it feel better to have some practical information about what to do if you were faced in that moment with something that doesn’t look right?”

 

Lillian Schrock covers public safety for the Gazette-Times. She may be reached at 541-758-9548 or lillian.schrock@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter at @LillieSchrock.