By Amanda Harris
ROCK HILL – The number of abused children is rising across the nation — and South Carolina is no exception, local experts say.
More than 17,600 children were involved in 9,634 cases of child abuse confirmed through investigations in South Carolina in 2016-17, according to the Children’s Trust of South Carolina, a statewide organization focused on preventing child abuse and neglect.
Children’s Trust uses data provided by the South Carolina Department of Social Services.
In 2017-18, more than 20,000 children were a part of nearly 11,000 confirmed cases of child abuse across the state, according to S.C. DSS. Of those children, 660 were from York County, 554 were from Lancaster County and 207 were from Chester County.
“It’s a bigger issue than people realize,” said Emily Parrish, executive director of Children’s Attention Home of Rock Hill. “It’s happening in our community. We do have children who are being mistreated. We have families who can’t provide for their children the way they need to.”
The Children’s Attention Home provides temporary housing for South Carolina children removed from their homes by the S.C. DSS. Last year, the home served 147 children, Parrish said.
Forty-five children from York County and eight from Lancaster County were referred to the home, according to the Children’s Attention Home’s 2018 annual report.
The home served 104 children in 2017, and 133 in 2016, according to the organization’s annual reports.
Children’s Attention leaders are hosting a spirit week April 1-5 in honor of National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
Community members are asked to share survival stories or photos of themselves wearing blue, or working or volunteering with children on social media Monday using #SpeakUpYorkCounty.
On Tuesday, Children’s Attention Home representatives will visit York County leaders to discuss the impact of child abuse in the region. Community members can tour the home each Wednesday in April.
A portion of proceeds from sales at the Chick-fil-A on Cherry Road in Rock Hill on Thursday will support the Children’s Attention Home’s mission to provide mental and physical health services, education and safe housing for children in crisis.
On Friday, community members are asked to wear blue to raise awareness of child abuse.
The Child Advocacy Center of York County, hosted at Safe Passage in Rock Hill, brings together law enforcement, child protective services and health professionals to work with children who have been abused.
Safe Passage leaders will ask area businesses to place blue pinwheels outside in April for child abuse awareness, said Lisa Glazebrook, coordinator at the Child Advocacy Center.
“People don’t want to talk about it, but it is happening,” she said. “The more you do talk about it, hopefully the more people will recognize it when it is happening.”
Child abuse includes neglect, physical or sexual abuse, exposure to domestic violence and emotional or psychological abuse against people who are under 18 years old, according to the South Carolina Department of Social Services.
Signs that a child has experienced neglect can include being underweight, consistent hunger, poor hygiene, consistent lack of supervision, inadequate medical or mental health attention, high absences from school and abandonment, according to DSS.
Physical abuse includes pushing, kicking, hitting or choking a child. Signs may include visible injuries and unexplained absences from school, according to DSS. Children experiencing physical abuse may seem aggressive, anxious or withdrawn.
“A lot of kids that we serve have multiple areas of trauma,” Parrish said.
Recent child abuse cases have made headlines in South Carolina.
On March 10, a Rock Hill mother was arrested after police say she left her five-year-old daughter home alone for hours.
The Herald reported in February that a couple was charged with felony child abuse after Greenville police say “the man smothered the children with a pillow, shot one of the children with a BB gun, and used hot sauce to punish the children — and the mom didn’t stop him.”
The Greenville County Sheriff’s Office said a South Carolina man was charged with “sexually abusing a foster child multiple times,” The Herald previously reported.
Parrish said DSS offers resources for families in crisis. She said places like the Children’s Attention Home hope to break stigmas that make it hard for people to reach out.
“Nobody should be penalized for asking for help,” Parrish said. “The more we talk about it, the easier it’s going to be for these families to get the services they need before it becomes a crisis for the children involved.”
Glazebrook said families often face more challenges after an abusive situation is ended. A perpetrator leaving the home may leave the remaining caregiver struggling to pay bills or to get counseling services.
“Even though the abuse has ended, there’s a lot of other factors involved that they have to work through,” she said. “The mental health of the child is not always a priority when they can’t even keep food on the table.”
Parrish said it is important for people who suspect a child is being mistreated to call their county’s DSS office.
“It’s up to us to advocate for the kids in our community,” she said. “It’s up to us to look for these things and figure out what we can do to help make that difference.”
By the numbers
Safe Passage therapists trained to navigate child abuse cases interview children to find facts related to the alleged abuse. In 2018, Safe Passage interviewed 240 children as part of Department of Social Services and law enforcement investigations.
The Children’s Attention Home served 147 children in 2018, according to the annual report:
- The home served 59 males, 87 females and one transgender person referred from foster care or through the Children’s Attention program aimed to help children facing homelessness, according to the 2018 report.
- 34 children were 7 to 12 years old, 105 were 13 to 18 years old and eight were 18 or older. Forty-five children from York County and 8 from Lancaster County were referred to the home.
People who suspect child abuse or neglect should report it to their county’s DSS office. Reports can be made anonymously:
- York County: Call 803-909-7446 or 803-684-2315, press 1
- Lancaster County: Call 803-286-6914, press 2
- Chester County: Call 803-377-8131, press 2
- Children’s Attention Home, Rock Hill: 803-328-8871
- Safe Passage Child Advocacy Center, Rock Hill: 803-980-5437
- Department of Social Services (DSS): 803-684-2315
- South Carolina Victim Assistance Network: 803-750-1200
Source: The Herald