Nearly 15,000 children in Kern County were suspected of being abused or neglected last year, according to the Kern County Network for Children.
In its 2018-19 fiscal year report, the agency said nearly 3,000 of those children were confirmed to be victims of abuse or neglect, averaging about eight children every day last year. In total, the agency received allegations for around 6 percent of children in Kern County in 2018.
There were six child fatalities connected to abuse or neglect in 2018, according to the report. There was also one near fatality and 19 serious injuries reported due to abuse or neglect.
Last year’s data marks an improvement over the past couple of years. In 2016, 13.8 of 1,000 children in Kern County were believed to have been abused or neglected compared to 11.5 per 1,000 children last year, with nearly 18,000 allegations.
However, the county is still significantly higher than the state, which reported a rate of 7.5 per 1,000 children.
“The good news is we’re seeing a reduction in substantiated abuse and improvements with our families, but we still have a ways to go to get to where we want to be,” said KCNFC Executive Director Tom Corson.
Corson said the county has seen a 48 percent reduction in confirmed abuse and neglect cases since 2008, when it launched its Differential Response program countywide. The program helps families who have been referred to Child Protective Services at least once for child abuse or neglect.
The program allows CPS personnel to work with families to address the underlying issues that may lead to child abuse or neglect — such as poverty, substance abuse and domestic violence — before the situation gets worse.
“The goal is to prevent these kids from having to go into the foster system and be taken away from their parents,” he said. “We want to keep families safe together and help them feel safe. We’re assisting families at the first sign of trouble.”
Corson said that through the voluntary program, families can get extra bedding, help paying their utilities, linkages to mental health and substance abuse programs and more.
Prior to the launch of the program, Corson said CPS’ investigation into alleged abuse or neglect usually ended if it wasn’t able to find enough evidence to confirm the allegations.
“There were no formal resources or linkages for those families,” he said. “There were families that were struggling, and no one was knocking on the door to provide help.”
Corson said the program has continued to grow over the years, with more than 8,000 children receiving services last year. Of the children and families who decide to enter the program last year, 72 percent completed their case plans, according to the report.
Corson said he also believes the program has been successful in reducing the number of children who have had to enter the foster care system. Last year, the number of children in the system was 1,467, the lowest number the county has seen in several years.
“The system is not the best place for these kids to be. Our goal now is to try to figure out how to keep these kids safe in their homes,” he said. “We’re happy with our progress. I think we’ve done a good job getting families help sooner rather than later.”