NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — There is a one-in-eight chance a child in Tennessee will be a victim of abuse by the time they become an adult, which costs the state more than $3.33 billion a year, according to a new report.
The study conducted by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth (TCCY) Second Look Commission, used data from the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services to track reports of abuse and its likely financial burden on the state.
“This is devastating to have children experiencing these really hard situations of maltreatment,” said Kylie Graves, TCCY public policy specialist.
In the report, maltreatment includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, drug exposure, and neglect, and found that there are an average of 11,668 first-time victims per year.
“We looked at cases of abuse that were substantiated. So, that means that DCS has done the investigation, and found that it was more likely than not that the abuse occurred,” Graves explained.
The study also found this status quo is costing the state billions of dollars a year due to the economic impacts of child abuse and neglect.
“There is a lifetime of consequences,” said Jennifer Vaida with child abuse prevention group Nurture the Next. “There is an increased cost to the juvenile justice system, there is lack of work productivity, there are medical issues that arise, and unhealthy, unsafe families is really expensive to communities.”
Vaida said the issue is complex and there isn’t one solution.
“Food insecurity, lack of stable housing, the inability to find safe and quality early childcare, all of those impact what happens in the home and in the larger community,” she said.
Graves has sent a letter to lawmakers explaining the study and asking them to meet about future steps.
“We know that children are being harmed, and so we need to look at getting them into services, getting them into therapy, and then also looking at intervening when families are at risk,” Graves said. “What kind of services can we put in the home to teach positive parenting and to help mitigate some of that stress so that these cases don’t progress into a situation where a kid gets hurt?”
Graves said their estimates on the number of children who are victims of abuse and the cost to Tennessee is conservative and the true numbers are likely to be higher.