Recent child abuse statistics in Grant County may show a slight improvement over the previous year, but the county still ranks near the bottom in Oregon.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and was recognized by the Grant County Court in an April 10 proclamation. The county has seen a shrinking population and declining economy, and those conditions could be related to child abuse or other social conditions.

According to figures from the Children First for Oregon nonprofit, Grant County saw 21.9 abuse and neglect victims ages 0-17 per 1,000 in 2018, which was down from 32.1 in 2017. But the county still ranked 25th out of 36 counties.

The percentage of children in foster care increased slightly from 2.5 in 2017 to 2.7 in 2018, and Grant County ranked 30th in the state. The percentage of children in poverty fell slightly from 26.4 to 24.6, leaving the county ranked 28th in the state.

Tracey Blood, a prevention advocate and Grant-Harney County CASA volunteer, attributes the unfavorable figures to social determinants of health, which include economic factors such as local job opportunities and pay scales.

Child abuse is defined by the state through statute and a 2016 senate bill. By statute, child abuse includes negligent treatment or maltreatment, physical abuse other than reasonable discipline, sexual abuse or exploitation, mental injury caused by cruelty, threat of harm, exposure to controlled substances, buying or selling of children and permitting a child to enter or remain in a place where methamphetamine is being manufactured.

Senate Bill 1515 expands on this definition for children residing in or receiving services from a child-caring agency by adding involuntary seclusion, verbal abuse, wrongful use of a physical or chemical restraint, financial exploitation and abandonment.

A new Department of Human Services hotline for reporting child abuse began operating April 8, which centralized 15 hotlines around Oregon. The new service will address inconsistent screening practices in the past and will operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The number is 1-855-503-SAFE (7233).

State law defines mandatory reporters for child abuse cases to include teachers, government workers, religious leaders, medical personnel and CASA volunteers among others.

“We want people to report,” Blood said.

Blood also wanted to debunk the popular “stranger danger” theory about child sexual abuse. About 90 percent of abusers are known by the child victim, she said. They could include family members, a neighbor, a teacher or a coach, she said.

Blood will offer free training about child abuse this month, with funding support from the Ford Family Foundation and Grant-Harney County CASA. The “Darkness to Light, End Child Sexual Abuse” event will teach adults how to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse.

The Stewards of Children prevention training program is designed for organizations that serve youths and for individuals concerned about the safety of children. It is the only nationally distributed, evidence-based program proven to increase knowledge, improve attitudes and change child protective behaviors.

The first training will take place at the Harney County Chamber of Commerce from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 24. The second will take place from 2-4 p.m. Friday, April 26, at the Canyon City Community Hall.

To register or for more information, call 833-827-2267 or email tblood@grantharneycasa.org.

Richard Hanners is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. He can be contacted at rick@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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