Number of children abused or neglected on the rise in Franklin County

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COLUMBUS-- CrimeTracker 10 uncovered a growing concern when it comes to child abuse and neglect in Franklin County.

In 2018, Franklin County Children Services (FCCS) took in 33,273 referrals received and 13,770 investigations were initiated. That’s slightly higher compared to the year before, where 21,214 referrals came in during 2017, with 11,771 cases screened for assessment.

But what’s more telling is the number of children placed in kinship care, whether they were grandparents, aunts/uncles or someone who had a close relationship with the child. That number has grown by 74% since 2014.

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Experts say it’s because of the opiate epidemic that has taken over the county and the state of Ohio.

“The numbers don’t surprise me with everything going on in our country and the rise in opioid addictions,” says Rayshawn Wilson, a licensed therapist and a volunteer at Franklin County Children Services.

“There’s going to be issues inside the home and a lot of that is trauma that is going to be passed on to the kids,” Wilson adds.

Because of this growth, FCCS says There is an ongoing need to find foster Care homes in Franklin County. Since 2012, kids being removed from homes because of parental drug use went up 10%. That statistic jumped by 14% when you specifically factor in opiates.

Wilson says when there’s trouble at home, the signs of abuse and neglect are clear if you know what to spot.

“They're not speaking, they're reserved, grades are different, and sometimes you may see them be more aggressive than usual,” Wilson says. “We have to pay attention to those signs.”

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month with several initiatives aimed at raising awareness. FCCS is partnering with the Ohio Children’s Trust Fund (OCTF) and the Center for Family Safety and Healing to promote child abuse prevention.

If there’s anyone who can empathize with children who are abused or neglected, it’s Wilson.

“They’ve witnessed domestic violence, they’ve been beat, they’ve been left for days at a time,” Wilson adds, speaking from his own experience.

Wilson grew up in the foster care system at the age of 10. He says he suffered years of abuse by his mother who ended up going to prison for drug charges. He was bounced around in foster homes and group homes five times, going to 3 different elementary schools, 4 middle schools and 4 different high schools.

He says the key to stopping the cycle of abuse and violence is to let children be heard.

“Sometimes kids are afraid that they can be removed from the home and that’s a scary situation for some kids,” he says. “I think we have to find ways to get those children that have been impacted involved, they’re voices need to be heard.”

Wilson says through his volunteerism with young African American boys, he hopes to show them that there is hope around the corner.

“It isn’t really about what you go through but how you handle life’s situation,” Wilson explains. “Tough times create tough people.”

Wilson is making his voice heard with a book he recently authored titled “Lionheart: Coming From Where I’m From.” He says writing the book was therapeutic because it allowed him to forgive the people who impacted his life.

Towards the end of his book, Wilson writes a letter to his mother, whom he did not see while she was in prison, where she died in 2006.

“… Mama, while you’re reading this, please try not to cry. I will write again soon. Until then, please know that I keep you in my heart, my prayers and my thoughts. The best is yet to come and as I bring this letter to a close, I’ll end it the same way I started it: Mama, I love you.”

How can you help?

Volunteer, mentor, foster, become a kinship family for a relative by calling Franklin County Children Services 24-hour hotline if you suspect child abuse or neglect at 614-229-7000.

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