Why are Michigan’s child abuse/neglect rates so high?

The number of abused and neglected Michigan children rose in recent years, during a period when state spending on abuse and neglect prevention plummeted.

The state’s rate of abuse and neglect, below the national average as recently as 2006, is now more than 50 percent higher than the national rate. Michigan now ranks 41st, according to an analysis by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

While state rankings are an iffy proposition because states define abuse and neglect differently, Michigan’s ballooning rate of abuse and neglect has caused concern among child advocates.

“Child abuse/neglect prevention programs in Michigan have been decimated over the years,” said Mina Hong, policy senior policy associate at Michigan’s Children. There has been “ increased funding for foster care and child protective services, but funding for child abuse prevention hasn’t kept pace.

“Unfortunately in Michigan, this has led to the unacceptable rise in child maltreatment that you’re looking at.”

Abuse and neglect rates ran as high as one in every 25 children in some Michigan counties in 2011, the most recent year for which data is available from the Michigan Department of Human Services. Roscommon County had the highest rate, with 41.5 of every 1,000 children being the victims of confirmed abuse or neglect, followed by Branch County at 40.5 victims per 1,000 children.

Ottawa County had the lowest rate, with 5.4 victims of abuse and neglect per 1,000 children.

MORE COVERAGE: See your county’s abuse and neglect rate.

“We’ve wondered ourselves for years why our rates are so staggeringly high for Branch County,” said Lisa Aviza, former interim director of the Child Abuse and Neglect Council of Branch County. “The neglect is much higher than the abuse. What’s happening is children are not getting their daily needs met. Maybe they’re only getting a meal at school; maybe they’re going to school in the winter without hats and gloves and coats.”

Between 2000 and 2011, the rate of confirmed abuse and neglect cases in Michigan rose 39 percent. Yet state programs aimed at preventing child mistreatment have been cut. The Families First program received $21 million in state funds in 2000. In the 2014 budget, the program will receive $16.2 million – an inflation-adjusted cut of 42 percent.

The Zero to Three Secondary Prevention Program, which received $7.75 million in 2001, was eliminated in 2012.

The federally-funded Strong Families, Safe Children program, which received $16.9 million in 2000, is set to get $12.4 million in the 2014 budget year – an inflation-adjusted cut of 45 percent.

Some of those cuts are a result of funding shifts in the state’s child welfare system prompted by a 2008 settlement.

Money needed to improve the state’s foster care and child protective services programs, as required by the settlement, left less money for abuse and neglect prevention programs, Hong said.

Some of the increase also may be attributed to a 2009 change in the number of professions that are required to report suspicions of child abuse and neglect, adding jobs such as nurses, first responders and dental hygienists.

Rates have increased every year since then -- but they also rose in the three years prior to the policy change. And Michigan’s list of professions mandated to report abuse and neglect is not unusually long compared to other states, some of which have lower abuse and neglect rates.

Abuse national ranking chart 6-18Washington, for example has a longer list of people mandated to report child mistreatment (including any adult who lives with a child), but has a confirmed rate less than a third of Michigan’s.

Indiana requires all citizens to report suspicions of abuse and neglect, yet it’s confirmed rate (11 children per 1,000) is lower than Michigan’s (14 per 1,000 children).

“To attribute (the increase in confirmed abuse and neglect) to one factor is dangerous,” said Colin Parks, manager of Child Protective Services and Family Preservation for DHS.

“We’ve increased the number of social workers, and they’re better at identifying issues. In addition to that, public awareness of abuse and neglect has been raised, and adds to the reporting.”

Jane Zehnder-Merrell of the Michigan League for Public Policy reports that about 80 percent of abuse and neglect cases involve neglect -- not physical or sexual abuse. Being homeless or not being able to provide adequate food or clothing for children could be labeled as neglect, with cases referred to community services for assistance.

“Twelve percent of kids in Michigan live in homes below half the federal poverty line,” Zehnder-Merrell said. “I don’t know how you have shelter with that.”

Senior Writer Ron French joined Bridge in 2011 after having won more than 40 national and state journalism awards since he joined the Detroit News in 1995. French has a long track record of uncovering emerging issues and changing the public policy debate through his work. In 2006, he foretold the coming crisis in the auto industry in a special report detailing how worker health-care costs threatened to bankrupt General Motors.

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Tue, 06/18/2013 - 9:26am
The trend towards increased levels of child abuse and neglect is disturbing. Thanks to Ron for pointing it out so clearly. Now the question is whether adults still have the commitment to make our society safe for all our children, and to give them the emotional, academic and physical experiences which allow kids to become healthy and productive people. This is not a kid issue. Child abuse and neglect is committed by adults, perhaps poorly parented themselves, perhaps lacking good support networks or good information and training to be parents. Our track record here is not good. Adults in our nation have borrowed heavily on the future of our children without any intention of paying back these debts. We have allowed our urban centers to operate corruptly for decades, and rob children of the high quality services in schools and elsewhere they deserve. We've neglected the environment. We allow the music and media businesses to create a popular culture in which the Kardashians set the moral tone. We've let our kids grow fat, unhealthy, and unmotivated. Will we look at the facts Ron has presented and just close our eyes to this escalating pattern of child abuse and neglect? Or will we begin to step up for the well-being our our children?
Tue, 06/18/2013 - 10:39am
That the high number of abuse and neglect cases are most likely economically related should be pretty obvious. Not just the inability to afford proper clothing etc. but stress in dealing with unemployment and taking out their frustrations on the kids.
Wed, 06/19/2013 - 8:09am
Not only is the trend related to the gross lack of employment & income in the state but has anyone correlated it to the drop in benefits to families as well? We keep cutting the services and benefits families can receive when those programs had been created to keep children safe in the first place. There is also an underlying assumption that ALL cases of abuse and neglect occur in poorer families and I can assure you that's not the case. As things continue to be dire for the general public, the more it gets taken out on the children who still want the clothes, toys and meals they have become accustomed to. Ask the people who run food pantries if they have seen a change in the nature of hte families who are now coming to them. Anyone out there trying to help families isnt going to be surprised by these statistica.
Chari Heldenbrand
Thu, 02/27/2014 - 12:08pm
Not only children have no protection against sexual abuse, neither do adults. The law lets those who abuse others out of jail time and time again. I have a friend who has been stabbed over and over... in and out of the hospital over and over from the infections of stab wounds inside... and the sentence is dismissed within a few months, and he is let go. I would like to know why this can't be stopped.
Mon, 03/31/2014 - 8:08pm
We're so quick to look at how we need to spend more money to solve the problem. If money, alone, solved the problem we would never see abuse, incest or neglect among the wealthy, but we do. Wealth allows one to keep secrets better, but abuse and neglect crosses all socioeconomic boundaries. After spending 15 years in healthcare in a community with a high rate of abuse several things became apparent. The higher the rates of teen pregnancies, the higher the rates of abuse...they are children not ready to parent a child, fewer fathers are in the home, more of mom's boyfriends are in the picture. Those pregnancies occurred in wealthy families, as well. The attitudes toward children are problematic. Many people see physical abuse as discipline. Therefore, although they may see a child being abused, they feel it is a parent doing their job. There is also a rather relaxed attitude toward sexual abuse. There is protection for the perpetrators, jokes made about boys as victims...especially if the perpetrator was female. And a general lack of willingness to step in and take the responsibility to report. Until children are treated as valuable human beings who deserve to be cared for this will continue.
Fri, 05/13/2016 - 10:59pm
I have seen first hand a family who almost lost a three yr old girl because miidol was left down for the child to take. This child fought for her life for 48 hours. Protective child services was sent out for 5 days a week businesses days as if the child was not in danger on the weekends for a month. The parents were smoking pot in the same room as the child!!! Was reported to cps worker. The parents dropped dirty for pot twice too. The cps and special worker told the parents to go get a green pot card and then the parents would not get into trouble here in Flint Mi. This is part of why children are being abused and neglected the state of Mi child protection workers are failing theses children daily. I know this case for a fact I complained and heard it with my own ears I couldn't believe it. But it's true I still have the workers card in my wallet who failed that s 3 yr ban Girl.
Fri, 05/13/2016 - 11:04pm
The 3 yr beautiful girl depended on them and they failed her. After parents dropping bad 2x the child should have been tested the first time they dropped dirty. What's wrong with ppl!!!
Sat, 05/28/2016 - 12:22pm
I have a child that is being neglected in care. From what I've learned the state puts a lot of money hiding the cases of neglect in the system so they don't have enough money to save the kids who are not in foster care. For instance, a lot of case in the system had no standing to be there. No neglect and no abuse but the kids are being filed on taxes. When child protective services is called and they rip apart a health family the money goes back to healthy families, when child protective services is called on the opposite and the family isn't helped, the money is kept in the system and not given to the people that need help. Its a vicious cycle the state of Michigan refuses to support acknowledging for the most part because they would have to admit guilt. People are generally the victim of political funding.