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Annual report on child abuse and neglect shows rise in kids in state care

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MONTPELIER, Vermont — An annual Vermont state report on child abuse and neglect shows that last year many families were struggling, substance abuse continued to be a problem and young children were entering state custody in record numbers, similar to trends that surfaced during the state's investigation of its child welfare system following two toddler deaths.

The Vermont Department of Children and Families released its 2014 child protection report Tuesday as required by law.

"I think it's very sobering — the same issues in terms of the increases in reports and the involvement of substance abuse," said DCF Commissioner Ken Schatz.

Currently, 1,326 children are in DCF custody — a 33 percent increase since the beginning of 2014, the department said. The increase is primarily driven by parental heroin use, DCF officials said. Last year's increase was most significant — 68 percent — for children under the age of 6.

Other findings were:

— The Vermont Child Protection Line received a record 19,288 calls in 2014, compared to 17,460 in 2013; substance abuse was a factor in about one-third of the reports.

— The number of reports that were accepted for intervention — 5,846 — was a 27 percent increase since 2010.

"Vermont's entire child protection system is being strained by the influx of reports, new child abuse and neglect cases, and record number of children entering state custody," Schatz said. "This has impacted all of our partners, including family courts, law enforcement, state attorneys, public defenders, and foster parents, as well as DCF's Family Services Division."

DCF came under scrutiny after the death of two toddlers in 2014 who had been under state supervision. The Department of Children and Families says it has undertaken significant improvements, such as new policies that require management consultation in cases of serious physical abuse; updating trainings on child safety and risk assessment; adding 18 social worker positions to the Family Services Division; and increasing capacity to screen for substance abuse through contracts with community providers.

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