Sauk County employees who investigate child abuse and neglect have noticed an alarming trend.

Anecdotally, the frequency of complaints against parents with drug and alcohol addictions has increased dramatically within the last year, according to one official.

“Last year at this time, we might get one complaint a week or something, and now we’re getting like one a day,” said Hazel Coppernoll, Sauk County’s Child Protective Services Supervisor. “That really has been one of the things most of our workers are really struggling with.”

With April being National Child Abuse Prevention Month, Coppernoll said there’s a few things addicted parents – or anyone who suspects a child is being abused or neglected – should know.

Seeking help

In deciding whether to seek treatment, addicts may worry that a counselor will report them to Child Protective Services. While that may be true depending on the circumstances, Coppernoll said, it doesn’t automatically mean the county will take their children away.

“We are ethically bound to try to keep kids in their homes,” she said, adding that doing so has been shown to result in better outcomes for the children involved.

The first goal of Sauk County's Department of Human Services staff often is to work with addicted parents, Coppernoll said, and develop a plan that will keep their children safe.

That might include making alternate childcare arrangements during periods of expected drug or alcohol use, ensuring that needles are not left out, or making an agreement that both parents won’t use at the same time.

And if children do need to be removed from a home, they often can be placed with other immediate or extended family.

Reporting abuse or neglect

Coppernoll also said those who wish to report suspected child abuse or neglect should be prepared to provide the right information. Specific names, addresses, license plates, phone numbers, or places of employment can help professionals start an investigation.

And people also should be ready to detail the facts or circumstances that caused them to be concerned. Ordinary citizens who report suspicions of abuse or neglect can remain anonymous.

“When we think about our kids, they’re such a vulnerable population, and a lot of abuse and neglect cases are never reported,” said Jess Kaehny, a community education program manager with Hope House of South Central Wisconsin. “So it’s up to adults in our community to protect children.”

A measurable impact

Kaehny said ending an abusive situation can have a measurable impact later in the child's life. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that adverse childhood experiences have been linked to risky health behaviors, chronic health conditions, low life potential and early death.

In an effort to raise awareness about child abuse, a youth leadership group known as WILS has placed blue pinwheels – each containing an inspirational quote about children – on the lawn of Hope House’s abuse shelter on Ash Street in Baraboo. Kaehny encouraged people who pass by to take one and place it in their own lawn as a show of support.

She also said anyone who wants to know how to handle suspected cases of child sexual abuse can attend a free prevention training April 29 at the Baraboo Civic Center. The Stewards of Children workshop teaches adults how to prevent, recognize and react responsibly.

Kaehny said adults should know they can talk to children, and ask questions if they report that someone is making them uncomfortable or hurting them. “They should be prepared to have that conversation, to thank the child for coming to them, say I believe you, and this is not your fault,” she said.

Follow Tim Damos on Twitter @timdamos

Baraboo News Republic reporter

(7) comments

Thomas Kriegl

For much too long our whole society at all levels made the mistake of seeing the addiction problem as a problem to be fixed by law enforcement. The 40 year war on drugs as a problem to be fixed by law enforcement has been a large failure.
Every drug abuse task force report I’ve examined makes it clear that the opiod addiction problem needs to be treated as a public health problem with a smaller role for law enforcement.

Thomas Kriegl

Again in reference to comments by DarkenSkies, several states have formed drug abuse task forces which have issued reports assessing the issue. I’ve skimmed some of these reports. They all make it clear that the opiod problem runs across ALL socioeconomic groups. THe typical opiod addict starts off as someone taking prescribed opiods for medicinal reasons, especially pain relief. In part because not everyones body chemistry is the same, some people end up becoming addicted to prescription medicine. A lot of it begins without the involvement of the stereotypical drug dealer etc. After addiction occurs, some addicts turn to Heroin etc specially if they no longer can get prescriptions.

Thomas Kriegl

In a previous comment I stated that it was a struggle to revive the CASA program last year. The reason it was a struggle was that several members of the board leadership resisted it enough so that it was not put into the budget until an amendment to the budget added it the night the budget was adopted. THe county could easily have afforded to support it in 2008 and later years, but didn’t value the program enough to support it then. I know because I’ve been on the county board that whole time period.

Thomas Kriegl

To add to DarkenSkies comments, children who grow up lacking good adult guidance are less likely to become well adjusted adults and parents compared to children raised with lots of good adult guidance. In some cases, other adults have made large positive differences in children’s lives even if that child’s parents aren’t parenting very well.

j j

Just asking, Are most of these so-called parents that abuse their children, children themselves and on the payroll of the Welfare System?

Thomas Kriegl

There was a very viable Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program operating in Sauk and Columbia counties for several years.
The CASA program that helps some kids at risk before they get into trouble. It failed in both counties in 2008 because both counties failed to provide a meager amount of funding to keep it operating.
Fortunately we revived the program last year in Sauk County last year but it was a huge struggle to do so.

Thomas Kriegl

These are the kinds of results one gets from penny wise and pound foolish priorities. As a society we resist spending money for prevention and then need up spending much more to fix problems.
Sauk County government has been spending about $60,000 a year to keep adults in jail. Few people complain about that expense. Yet many complain that we spend about $13,000 per K-12 student per year or that we spend some money (it is still a meager amount) to treat people with addictions or mental health issues.

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