Tenn. sees growing child abuse problem - WKRN News 2

Tenn. sees growing child abuse problem

Tawny Spinelli was in and out of foster homes when she was a child. Tawny Spinelli was in and out of foster homes when she was a child.

Child abuse prevention advocates want more awareness to help combat the growing problem in Tennessee.

According to Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children of Nashville, a child is abused or neglected in Tennessee every 56 minutes and every 12 hours, a child under the age of one dies.

Tennessee's Department of Children Services receives more than 100 reports of child abuse or neglect everyday and in 2009 saw 4,749 cases, a 4% over 2008.

In Tennessee, the law requires anyone with knowledge of abuse or neglect to report it to authorities.

"It is a real problem, we can have generational abuse and that needs to be addressed," CASA Executive Director Jane Andrews said. "One of the best ways is to break that cycle of abuse to provide an intervention."

CASA volunteers are appointed by the juvenile court to investigate cases of child abuse.  The trained volunteers interview the children and adults involved in each case and then make recommendations to the court about the child's best interest.

"One of the major causes is addiction to drugs and alcohol," Andrews said. "The economy has had some impact but generally speaking addiction is a much greater issue."

Tawny Spinelli knows the system very well. She was in and out of foster care as a child.

"My experience was a little bit rough. I moved around a lot," she said. "So it made the transition in and out of homes and back in with family a little bit difficult."

Spinelli's mother would often disappear for days at a time and she would be left unsupervised and left to care for her younger sister.

She eventually aged out of the system.

"I was homeless for a little while then I transitioned to my own apartment," Spinelli said. "I got into college right after high school."

She is now working to become a CASA volunteer to help children still in the system.

"What seemed to really make the difference between a success story and a not yet success story was a CASA volunteer," she said. "I just really want to help those kids succeed and do what I can."

Spinelli and Andrews said awareness is a big part of saving children. In the long run keeping children out of the system can help insure the child will become a productive member of society and save taxpayer's money.

"Ten to 20 years later [some of] those kids end up in jail or they end up as non productive citizens," Spinelli said.

Anyone that suspects a child is being abused or neglected is urged to call DCS's child abuse hotline at 1-877-237-0004.

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