LUMBERTON — The number of reports of child abuse has increased tremendously in recent months, the director of Robeson County’s Department of Social Services said Tuesday.
During 2011, there were 1,382 child-abuse referrals made to Department of Social Services, Becky Morrow said. During the first three months of this year, 761 referrals of child abuse have already been made to the county DSS — more than half of all last year.
“If referrals continue to increase, we will probably double the number we had last year, ” she said.
Morrow spoke during a program held outside the county DSS building to recognize April as Child Abuse Prevention Month. The program — sponsored by DSS, Robeson County Family Treatment Court, Guardian ad Litem, Southeastern Family Violence Center, and Robeson Health Care Corp. — was attended by county and state officials, as well as by DSS staff members and the public.
“Child abuse is a travesty. It should never happen,” said county Commissioner Raymond Cummings, who also is chairman of the county’s DSS board. “Children should have a peaceful environment in which to live.”
Although there is no one reason that can be given for the recent increase in referrals of child abuse, the factor most recently pointed to is Robeson County’s sour economy.
“As the economy gets bad, child and spousal abuse seems to go up,” Cummings said.
State Sen. Michael Walters, the program’s keynote speaker, also pointed to the economy as a cause of increasing child abuse, domestic violence and even prescription drug abuse.
“Families live in difficult times,” he said. “We have the difficult task of helping families right the ship so that kids can grow up and become productive members of their communities.”
Walters commended the staff of the county’s Department of Social Services for the work they do every day to to protect and provide better lives for children.
“I ask you to turn to your colleagues and say ‘a job well done’,” he said. “No one can stand up for our children in Robeson County but us.”
Morrow told The Robesonian after the program that her department’s has 35 investigators handling the large number of child-abuse referrals they receive.
“I think they are making a difference,” Morrow said. “We are trying to prevent abuse. We don’t want to see a child die. Our number one priority is making sure that children are safe.”
The first national Child Abuse Prevention Month was celebrated in April 1983. Since then, child abuse and neglect prevention activities are held across the country each April.
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.