Mara Powell

Statement from Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates

LOUISVILLE, KY – Kentucky’s future depends heavily on the success and safety of our kids today. Our communities, child-serving systems, and policies all play a role in that future.

The just released Child Maltreatment 2021 report is a powerful affirmation of the Commonwealth’s progress around child maltreatment and an equally powerful challenge to accelerate that momentum. Kentucky now ranks 6th in the nation in child victims of maltreatment with a rate of 14.7 per 1,000 children. While there has been a 33% reduction in victims from 2017 to 2021, Kentucky is still nearly double the national rate of child maltreatment at 8.1 per 1,000 children.

Clearly, no one can celebrate a seemingly improved ranking that reminds us that 14,963 children were victims of abuse or neglect during the reporting period (FFY 2021). That is especially true as our children under age 1 continue to be the highest rate of victims (45.6 per 1,000) in the Commonwealth.

And yet, we should be galvanized to continue the work at hand because we are seeing the positive impacts of addressing this tragic arena of childhood head on.

To mitigate – to eradicate – maltreatment, we must continue to go upstream with systems-level change that focuses on the whole family. That involves every branch of government. It’s the efforts over the last decade of the Kentucky General Assembly, the administrations of Steve Beshear, Matt Bevin, and Andy Beshear, and Andy Beshear and Daniel Cameron as Attorneys General. All those players – so diverse in other areas – have been and are doing critical policy work in persistent and creative ways. That must continue.

In fact, at this very moment, the 2023 General Assembly offers us several opportunities to do just that. There are proposals that will play a role in addressing key risk factors of abuse or neglect, including those highlighted in the report: drug abuse (54.4%), domestic violence (51.9%), caregiver disability (27.8%), and inadequate housing (19.5%). Those include Senate Bill 48, which, among other things, would establish a more independent Ombudsman that provides oversight of the child welfare system, as well as House Bill 93, which would ensure survivors of intimate partner violence can access unemployment insurance benefits. Other proposals advocates hope to see this session include those to automatically expunge a housing eviction after a certain timeframe, to require postpartum depression screenings at appointments after birth, and to close gaps in reporting of suspected maltreatment.

There is also promise in prevention-focused programming at the local-level as the result of the pending distribution of funds by the Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission. These settlement funds must go to support the children and families who have been hurt by the opioid epidemic, as well as go upstream in efforts to prevent opioid use and mitigate childhood trauma.

And what about the pending Governor’s race? What if we heard child maltreatment as a shared agenda amongst all candidates? Common ground and common sense ideas will make a profound difference in protecting our most vulnerable children.

The other facet of Kentucky’s progress has nothing to do with Frankfort and everything to do with communities. Whether it’s a faith community or a school’s commitment to mental health supports, or it’s the Thriving Families, Safer Children efforts in partnership with DCBS, the Kosair Charities’ Face It Movement, or the Commonwealth’s philanthropic leaders’ Bloom Kentucky initiative, local leaders are making a difference with smart programming and family supports.

And that is, in fact, exactly what we need – focused policies and focused practices. If we as a state and as local towns can continue this commitment, then those reports in the coming years will paint a more hopeful and healthy future for all of our kids.


About Kentucky Youth Advocates
Kentucky Youth Advocates believes all children deserve to be safe, healthy, and secure. As THE independent voice for Kentucky’s children, we work to ensure policymakers create investments and policies that are good for children. Learn more at