By Laura Krantz, VTDigger.org
The number of alleged child abuse or neglect cases filed in courts across Vermont last year grew 21 percent from the year before, according to data from the state.
The Department for Children and Families (DCF) attributes the rise to the impact of opiate addiction on child safety. One state prosecutor said chronic homelessness is also a huge factor.
This type of case, filed in juvenile court, is known as a CHINS (child in need of [care or] supervision) case. There were 800 child abuse/neglect cases filed in juvenile court during fiscal year 2014, up from 661 the year before, the data shows. The fiscal year runs July 1 through June 30.
In Lamoille County, there were 300 percent more cases filed in FY14. Other counties that experienced an increase include Orleans, Orange and Windsor.
Caledonia, Franklin and Washington counties filed fewer cases last year.
Many families who come in contact with the court for alleged child abuse or neglect struggle with a host of other problems, including chronic homelessness, substance abuse, mental health problems and domestic violence, according to Kerry McDonald-Cady, the Windham County deputy state’s attorney. Windham County’s caseload grew from 49 cases to 70 in 2014.
“There are a lot of families really in extreme need that have young children,” she said.
Parents are barely able to provide for themselves, much less their children, she said.
The number of cases statewide has grown 125 percent in 10 years, according to the data from the courts. The number of cases hovered around 500 until 2012, when it started rising. There were 700 cases in 2012.
Essex County State’s Attorney Vince Illuzzi said it appears that more cases that might have been handled internally by DCF before are now being presented to the court.
Essex County has seen an increase in the number of protective orders to prevent certain adults from having contact with children, Illuzzi said. Essex County had 12 cases filed in 2013 and 10 in 2014.
State’s attorneys in each county file child protection cases in conjunction with DCF social workers, who submit affidavits about information they have gathered. The increase in cases is not due to any policy change from DCF, according to Deputy Commissioner Cindy Walcott.