ALPENA — Poverty or substance abuse could explain a new report showing the number of Northeast Michigan children living in families investigated for abuse or neglect skyrocketed between 2010 and 2020.
While Michigan as a whole saw a 37% increase in the rate of children in investigated families, rate increases in Alpena, Presque Isle, and Alcona counties vastly outpaced the state, according to the annual Kids Count Data Book, a national effort run by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and compiled in Michigan by the Michigan League for Public Policy. The League for Public Policy released the report Monday.
Alcona County’s rate of children in investigated families spiked 160%, according to the Kids Count data. Presque Isle County’s rate shot up 128% and Alpena County’s climbed 64%. Montmorency County’s rate increased about 30%.
Nearly 1,400 Northeast Michigan children lived in families investigated for abuse or neglect last year, the report says.
“There’s alot of things that are attributing to the increases in child abuse and neglect,” said Stephanie Dettloff, director of Child and Family Services of Northeast Michigan, which works with foster children and adoptive families, among other services. “A lot of it has to do with families living in poverty and below that socioeconomic status, which creates issues around housing instability, which could potentially bring children into care, as well.”
While families deal with those barriers, Dettloff said, her agency struggles to find places to put children because of a shortage of foster care homes in the region and throughout the state.
Child welfare officials have said previously the stresses of the coronavirus pandemic — and the fact that many children got stuck home with abusive caregivers when classes had moved online during the pandemic — had caused a spike in abuse or neglect cases. Dettloff, however, said the state’s Child Protective Services saw a dip in referrals in 2020 because agencies that would typically report abuse and neglect, such as schools, were shut down.
She said agency officials have concerns they may see even more cases of abuse or neglect after state officials lifted most coronavirus-related restrictions today.
In its report, the League for Public Policy said it saw hope for the future in child welfare, with the federal Family First Prevention Services Act, passed in 2018, increasing child welfare resources meant to prevent foster care and keep kids safely with their families.
The rate of children confirmed as victims of abuse or neglect worsened in Montmorency and Presque Isle counties, according to the report, while that rate improved in Alpena and Alcona counties. The rate of children in out-of-home care worsened in Alpena, Presque Isle, and Montmorency counties. The report had no 2010 data for Alcona County.
The annual Kids Count report tracks various metrics of child well-being, including poverty rates, educational outcomes, and health outcomes. Despite the grim picture of abuse and neglect, today’s report shows mixed results for Northeast Michigan children in several other areas:
*A smaller share of children in all four Northeast Michigan counties live in poverty, with Montmorency County’s childhood poverty rate improving 36%, the most in the region.
*A smaller share of 18- to 24-year-olds in Montmorency, Alpena, and Presque Isle counties live in poverty. Alcona County’s poverty rate for young adults, however, worsened by 59%.
*The share of 3- and 4-year-olds in preschool improved in Alcona and Montmorency counties, but worsened in Alpena and Presque Isle counties.
*The share of third-graders who could read proficiently improved in Presque Isle and Alcona counties, but worsened in Alpena and Montmorency counties.
*The rate of eighth-graders proficient in math improved in Alpena County, but worsened in Presque Isle and Alcona counties. Data for Montmorency County was not available in that category.
*A larger share of students graduated on time in Alpena, Alcona, and Presque Isle counties, while fewer did so in Montmorency County.
*The rate Northeast Michigan mothers receiving adequate prenatal care worsened, from a 59% decline in Presque Isle County to a 3.7% dip in Alcona County.