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Child Abuse Referrals Continue To Rise In Wisconsin

Referrals Up 15 Percent From 2011 To 2015

Children's display as part of an effort to raise awareness of child abuse and neglect
Danielle Kaeding/WPR

From 2011 to 2015, referrals of suspected child abuse and neglect went up 15 percent in Wisconsin and preliminary data from the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families show referrals continued to rise last year.

Douglas County District Attorney Mark Fruehauf spoke with students from Cathedral School in Superior on Monday about what people should and shouldn’t do with their hands. The children drew pictures for a display as part of an effort to raise awareness of child abuse and neglect.

Fruehauf said drug abuse is driving an increase in child protection cases in the county.

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“Compared to this same point in time last year, we are more than 3 1/2 times higher in terms of the number of children that have been removed from homes on child protection issues,” Fruehauf said.

Doreen Wehmas, intake and assessment supervisor with Douglas County Health and Human Services, said they received 946 reports of suspected abuse or neglect in 2016. Wehmas said they’re screening in more cases due to issues surrounding drugs and alcohol in the community.

“Again, the chemical abuse, and I think it’s an increase in domestic violence,” she said. “But, I think … one goes along with the other often.”

Sarah Diedrick-Kasdorf, deputy director of government affairs for the Wisconsin Counties Association, said they’d like counties to receive a 10-percent increase or $6.8 million more in children and family aid allocations from the state.

“Now our counties are seeing increases in child welfare referrals. We’re seeing increases in our out-of-home care costs,” Diedrick-Kasdorf said. “We’re seeing increases in the number of cases that we have to do additional investigation on.”

Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal includes a $5 million increase in children and family aids beginning in 2018, as well as increased funding for in-home safety services that seek to avoid removing children from their homes. According to figures provided by the state Department of Children and Families, the number of children removed from their homes grew during 2011 to 2015 from 2,698 to 3,123 — a 14-percent increase.

Preliminary data from the DCF show child protective service agencies received 79,248 referrals in 2016, an increase from 76,442 in 2015. But, a DCF spokesman cautions last year’s numbers haven’t been finalized.