Child abuse rise shocks expert
Child abuse and neglect cases in Hawaii jumped 40 percent from 2000 to 2003, stunning professionals working in the field, said Dr. Steven Choy, director of the Kapiolani Child Protection Center.
"That really woke everyone up -- an increase of that magnitude. It took 10 years (before 2000) to increase 33 percent, then in three years it increased 40 percent. It was a shocker."
The increase was related partially to increased drug abuse, Choy said, as more than 80 percent of abusive parents are heavy drug users.
Disturbed by the huge leap, abuse and trauma organizations got together four years ago and began looking at ways to strengthen families and prevent abuse, he said.
They're meeting again today through Friday at the Ala Moana Hotel in their fourth annual Hawaii Conference on Preventing, Assessing & Treating Child, Adolescent & Adult Trauma.
They're looking at the whole life span of trauma, from childhood to adulthood, Choy said. More than 30 organizations specializing in child and adult neglect and abuse statewide are participating.
Choy said the state Department of Human Services previously was "putting out fires" but that emphasis has shifted in the past four years to "early intervention rather than waiting for a point of no return."
What are called "threatened harm cases" are channeled into family strengthening programs for support services even before Child Protective Services gets involved, Choy said.
The cases go through the CPS hot line, and four years ago would have automatically gone into the CPS system, where they would be low priority (with emphasis on high-risk cases). Now they're top priority, he said.
"The family strengthening programs have been very successful," Choy said, saying a drop of at least 10 percent in child abuse cases in the past two years.
"Everyone's excited about that. It takes a lot of work. ... It prevents breaking up families and provides services."
Even the federal government has been looking at the system and providing more money for services to strengthen families, he said.
"I think in the end it's going to help. We still have serious cases. We can devote more time to those, and other cases will never get lost."
Choy is psychology consultant for the Juvenile Drug Court, which he said has had "over 85 percent success for no recidivism."
"If we can prevent them from getting into drugs as adults, we will be successful," and this will help reduce child abuse and neglect, he said.
Angela Shelton, an author, screenwriter and actress who was a victim of abuse, is among speakers at the conference. Hosting it are the Kapiolani Child Protection Center and Prevent Child Abuse Hawaii, with the Alliant International University's Institute on Violence, Abuse and Trauma.