An Excerpt From BBF’s “How Are Vermont’s Young Children & Families” 2017 Report
Children need safe and secure environments in which to grow, learn, and develop. The safety and well-being of Vermont’s children, with families at the center, is a collective responsibility shared by all of Vermont’s citizens.
It is important to ensure parents and caregivers have the necessary skills and supports to raise their children in caring communities and stable home environments. Sometimes, though, children face unsafe situations, including abuse and neglect.
Understanding Child Abuse and Neglect
According to Vermont law, “An ‘abused or neglected child’ is a child whose physical health, psychological growth and development or welfare is harmed or is at substantial risk of harm by the acts or omissions of his or her parent or other person responsible for the child’s welfare.”14 Child abuse and neglect put children at risk for cognitive delays, emotional difficulties, and challenging behaviors.15 Health problems (e.g., alcoholism, depression, drug abuse, eating disorders, obesity, high-risk sexual behaviors, smoking, suicide, and certain chronic diseases) are more likely among adults who experienced abuse or neglect as children.16 While children from any family can experience abuse and neglect, there is a strong correlation between child maltreatment and factors such as substance abuse, domestic violence, mental health, and financial insecurity.17
SPOTLIGHT ON SUBSTANCE ABUSE: Between 2010 and 2015, substance abuse was the most frequent child abuse and neglect risk factor identified by reporters calling the Child Protection Line.
Children in Protective Custody
If a report of child abuse or neglect is substantiated, it is determined to be based on accurate and reliable information. When substantiated, a child may be placed in protective custody, or in the care of the Department for Children and Families (DCF). They may remain at home, or move to live with another family member, a foster family, or other protective care arrangement. As Figures 2 and 3 show, Vermont continues to see an increase in the rate of Vermont children under age three and nine (per 1,000) in protective custody. This trend highlights a range of complex and interlocking factors contributing to child abuse and neglect, including substance use disorder, domestic violence, economic insecurity, mental health challenges, and lack of affordable housing. Multiple factors play a role; however, based on data collected from the DCF Family Service Division staff, 50% of children ages 0-5 are coming into custody because opioids are a factor in their case.18
Vermont’s Family Services Division tracks the family risk factors identified by reporters when the Child Protection Line is called, including domestic violence, financial stress, mental health issues, and substance use disorder. Between 2010 and 2015, the most frequent risk factor identified by reporters was substance use disorder.19
Strategies to Turn the Curve
As outlined in the Family & Social Relationships chapter, supportive, nurturing relationships can help mitigate the impact of adverse childhood experiences like child abuse and neglect. Brain science and ACEs research inform prevention practice by targeting supports and services that promote healthy relationships. Below are several strategies underway in Vermont to support the safety of young children.
Prevent Child Abuse Vermont (PCAVT):
This statewide nonprofit promotes and supports healthy relationships between children and the people who care for them in order to eliminate child abuse and neglect. PCAVT has been serving youth and families in Vermont by creating, adopting, and carrying out innovative and effective prevention programs. Nurturing Parenting Programs, Circle of Parents Support Groups, and child sexual abuse prevention training for early childhood educators and caregivers, are prime examples.
Vermont Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) Program:
Vermont law requires a guardian ad litem (GAL) for every child in a child abuse or neglect case and sometimes in delinquency or other cases. A GAL is a volunteer who advocates for children involved in court cases by making recommendations to
the court for the child’s best interests until the case is over. The number of children in need of representation by a GAL has increased substantially in the last three years, while the number of GALs has declined.20, 21
LINK TO VERMONT’S EARLY CHILDHOOD ACTION PLAN: Goal #1 of our Action Plan, “All Children Have a Healthy Start”, highlights the need to develop community e orts in the public and private sectors to enhance children’s safety. The strategies listed above and in the previous chapter all support this goal.
Click here to view the full How Are Vermont’s Young Children & Families 2017 report
14 Vermont General Assembly. (2016). The Vermont statutes online; Title 33: Human services; Chapter 49: Child welfare services; Subchapter 002: Reporting abuse of children. Retrieved from http://legislature.vermont.gov/statutes/ section/33/049/04912.
15 Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2013). Long-term consequences of child abuse and neglect: Retrieved from https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/ long_term_consequences.pdf.
16 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Child abuse and neglect: Consequences. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ violenceprevention/childmaltreatment/consequences.html.
17 Vermont Agency of Human Services, Department for Children & Families. (2017). Outcomes for Vermonters. Retrieved from http://dcf.vermont.gov/sites/ dcf/ les/DCF/budget/DCF-Outcomes.pdf
18 Vermont Department for Children and Families. (2017). Chittenden County family treatment court work group: September 28, 2017 [PowerPoint presentation and interview with Ken Schatz, unpublished].
19 Vermont Agency of Human Services, Department for Children & Families. (2017). Outcomes for Vermonters. Retrieved from http://dcf.vermont.gov/sites/ dcf/ les/DCF/budget/DCF-Outcomes.pdf.
20 Prevent Child Abuse Vermont. (2017). About us. Retrieved from https:// pcavt.org/about-us.html.
21 Vermont Judiciary. (2017). Guardian ad litem program. Retrieved from https://www.vermontjudiciary.org/programs-and-services/guardian-ad-litem- program.
F2. U.S. Census Bureau. (2015). Table B09002: Own children under 18 years by family type and age (Vermont), 2011-2015. American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates. Retrieved from https://fact nder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/ pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_15_5YR_B09002&prodType=table.
F3. U.S. Census Bureau. (2015). Table B09018: Relationship to householder for children under 18 years in households (Vermont), 2011-2015. American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates. Retrieved from https://fact nder.census. gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_15_5YR_ B09018&prodType=table.