Missoula County

Child Abuse & Neglect


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Why This Measure?

The number of substantiated incidents of child abuse and neglect measures two things: the number of kids who we’re sure are in dire need of intervention, and the effectiveness of our social services in recognizing and intervening in abuse situations. Indirectly, it also measures the number of families that are caving in under a variety of stresses — drug and alcohol abuse, lack community connection, economic or health difficulties, etc. Being abused or neglected as a child increases the risk of violent and other unacceptable behavior as an adult, including abusing your own children. But the problem isn’t only with the parents. A busy, highly mobile populace that doesn’t know their neighbors and barely has time for their own kids is not likely to provide a good informal safety net for other people’s kids.

Lead Indicator

Source: MDPHHS

The graph above includes the following types of child abuse: physical, emotional, and sexual abuse; neglect/deprivation; and medical neglect.

How are we doing?

Our data are misleading.  It is difficult to tell whether our abuse and neglect rates are improving or whether they are partly an artifact of two variables: 1) in 1995, a new computer tracking system was instituted; before that data was gathered manually by extracting from inidvidual reports; and 2) a change in policy requiring significant followup and notification of all initial substantiated incidents resulting in workers becoming more cautious about filing those reports.  Actual incidents of child abuse and neglect are probably slowly increasing reflecting population growth, greater willingness to report abuse, and probably increasing levels of family stress, violence, and frustration. (C. Horejsi) Serious physical abuse seems to have decreased in Missoula (W. Wright). These data don’t represent all those known or suspected by other investigative agencies such as schools, day cares, hospitals, and mental health centers. (Understanding and Preventing Violence 1993) Experts maintain that reported incidents reflect possibly only 20% of the actual occurrences of abuse and neglect. (1995 Kids Count Data Book)

Trend Worse Data Rating Availablevvv Reliablevvv Relevantvv


Legal Definitions

Whenever the parent or other person responsible for the child’s welfare: a) inflicts or allows to be inflicted upon the child physical or mental injury; b) commits or allows to be committed sexual abuse or exploitation of the child; c) causes failure to thrive or otherwise fails to supply clothing, shelter, education, or adequate health care, though financially able to do so or offered financial or other reasonable means to do so; d) abandons the child by leaving the child under circumstances that make reasonable the belief that the parent or other person does not intend to resume care of the child in the future . . . ; or e) is unknown and has been unknown for a period of 90 days and reasonable efforts to identify and locate the parents have failed (MCA41-3-102).

Abuse Rates & Income

Social status (measured by family income) is substantially related to children’s risk of injury from abuse and neglect. For children from families with incomes less than $15,000, the rate of physical abuse was 3.5 times greater and the rate of sexual abuse was 6 times greater than for other children. The seriousness of injury or impairment was also substantially related to income: the rate of serious injury was almost 7 times greater, and moderate harm was 5 times greater (Sedlak 1991).

Spouse & Child Abuse

In homes where domestic violence occurs, children are physically abused and neglected at a rate 15 times higher than the U.S. national average (Hearings before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, 1990). In 60–75% of families where a woman is battered, children are also battered (Bowker 1988).

"Co-occurrence of Intimate Partner Violence Against Mothers & Abuse of Children" National Center for Injury Prevention & Control http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/dvp/dvcan.htm

Out-of-Home Placement

Child and Adult Protective Services, DPHHS, tracks children placed in some form of foster care during the course of a year. Much data are available about these children, beginning with CY 1996 and the state's shift to a computer tracking system. Total numbers in Missoula County:

1996 589             1997  546                1998 522

Children are placed out of home in a variety of settings, for both short and longer term stays. Stays with foster families average around 5 months, with roughly half of the total numbers in these settings. Other settings include:

Relative care                                                           Specialized foster care

Shelter                                                                      Foster group care

Therapeutic foster and group care                        In & out of state treatment

There are many primary reasons for removal; the leading reasons in 1998 were:

                                                      # of cases

           Physical Neglect                         125

           Child's Behavior Problems 103

            Physical Abuse                           41

            Emotional Abuse                   40

            Caretaker's Inability to Cope  37

            Sexual Abuse, Incest           37

Check Mental Health Services to Missoula Kids Mental Health


Some Kids Face Bad Odds

Children who are difficult to raise or cause more stress for parents are more likely to be abused or neglected. Such children include those who are mentally or physically disabled, emotionally disturbed, using drugs, or chronically ill (C. Horejsi). Children are also more likely to be abused in families with one parent, where parents are unemployed or in poverty (with all the instabilities that follow from that, including unstable housing and no health insurance), with mothers under age 20, when women receive no or late prenatal care, where there is substance abuse, when eligible families are not receiving AFDC benefits, where there are mental health problems in the family, when parents or siblings have not graduated from high school, when families are socially isolated, and when parents have rigid and unrealistic expectations for their children (Montana Partnership to Strengthen Families Project).

Abused Kids and Future Criminality

Research sponsored by the National Institute of Justice found that childhood abuse increased the odds of future criminality overall by 40%. Being abused or neglected as a child increased the likelihood of arrest as a juvenile by 53%, as an adult by 38%, and for a violent crime by 38%. Previously abused or neglected people are at higher risk of beginning a life of crime at a younger age and with more significant and repeated criminal involvement (Denver City Attorney’s Domestic Violence Fact Sheet).



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