Drug problem increasing neglect with small children

Published 6:33 am Saturday, August 18, 2018

FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) – The opioid crisis strikes at even the very youngest in Kentucky, according to a group that reviews child deaths and serious injuries resulting from abuse or neglect.

Retired Franklin Circuit Court Judge Roger Crittenden, who has chaired the panel since its founding in 2014, told lawmakers there has been a rise in “neglect due to unsafe access to deadly means.”

Children have ingested drugs that were not properly put away or carelessly left within reach by parents and caregivers. Children sometimes also find access to unsecured weapons, he said. “There have been a few of those cases but, by and large, they are drug-related.”

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The panel reviewed 150 cases, 59 of which were fatalities and 53 percent of those that were child victims under one year old, Crittenden said.

He said 65 percent of the abusive head trauma cases involved a caregiver with a prior criminal record and 41 percent of those cases the child had a substitute caregiver.

He also testified that 85 percent of the overall cases they examined had a prior history with the State’s Department for Child Based Services.

“Our background is to try and make a determination if there has been a systems breakdown with DCBS that either leads to the fatality or near fatality, or a system breakdown that does not allow a proper investigation or report.” Crittenden said he would also make recommendations on coroner and law enforcement investigation responsibilities.

“That includes treating child fatalities as death investigations, so evidence and the crime scene is preserved, such as in homicide cases,” he said.

Legislative Research Commissioner staffer Colleen Kenney gave the LRC’s findings to the Program Review and Investigations Committee on Wednesday.

Kennedy told lawmakers the group has met its statutory requirements except for publishing its annual report on Dec. 8 instead of Dec. 1 and noting the addiction specialist member’s term expired in June 2017. That member is to be chosen by the Attorney General’s office from a list of three names submitted to them by the Kentucky Association of Addiction Professionals.

“Numerous attempts by the panel chair and the Attorney General’s office to reach association were to no avail,” Kennedy said.

She said it appears the association is inactive and there is no statutory mechanism for that situation. The LRC recommended legislation address that in the 2019 session.

Crittenden said the delay was because they wanted to get the report correct since they have only one full-time staff member and, unless lawmakers wanted to change the law to fill the vacancy, they would bring in addiction counselors to serve as experts at their meetings.