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Economic issues a factor in child abuse and neglect

Economic hard times is one the greatest risk factors to children in Island County. And hard times may be upon us.

So it follows, according to Tim Gahm, director of the Washington Council for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, that the current economic stresses on families may lead to an increase child abuse and neglect.

Gahm was the keynote speaker Thursday for Whidbey Island Child Abuse Foundation annual roundtable meeting at Useless Bay Golf and County Club. During his talk, he stressed to his audience -- which included members of law enforcement and people in the child abuse prevention field -- that their work is important now.

"Your vision and your dedication to the welfare of children is needed more than ever."

This is especially true at the local level, he said, since his office is slated for closure by Gov. Gary Locke after operating for 20 years. The closure is proposed to help cure some of the state's budget woes.

"It couldn't possibly be happening at a worse time," he said. "When there are economic stresses on families, the risks for child abuse and neglect increase."

Gahm laid out a number of statistics that don't bode well for Island County. According to him, average annual wages in Island County in 2001 were $24,731 compared with state figure of $37,458. This figure differs from others, including those put out by Washington State University. Also, he said, Washington's unemployment rate is at 5.9 percent, which represents a 1 percent increase between 2001 and 2002.

In addition, Gahm said, 26 percent of Island County children rely on foodbanks to eat.

Then, making a corellation between these economic factors and abuse, he cited the number of child abuse and neglect cases in Island County. Those numbers were 441 cases in 2000 and 529 in 2001.

About 66 percent of the cases involved neglect, 30 physical abuse, while 6 percent were sexual abuse cases.

According to statistics from Child Protective Services in Oak Harbor -- which apply only to Whidbey Island -- 452 cases were investigated in 2000, 426 cases in 2001, and 415 in 2002. For But, the news was not entirely gloomy for Island County. About 70 percent of county residents own their own homes and, unlike urban areas, there are no high density poverty neighborhoods.

Gahm commended the CAPF for its 10 years of work on behalf of the Whidbey's children.

Forty business, law enforcement, school, religious and government leaders are invited to the roundtable event each year to discuss the welfare of children on Whidbey Island. The goal, according to CAPF director Robin Hertlein, is to get community leaders talking to discuss the state of Whidbey's children and network for solutions.

The roundtable is the kickoff for "Honor our Children" month which begins April 1.

The Child Abuse Prevention Foundation (CAPF) was founded in 1994 by Linda and Neal Hooberman of Clinton. Today CAPF has a 15-member board of directors, an honorary board, a group of technical and policy advisors, approximately 100 support volunteers, and thousands of donors and beneficiaries.

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