The following editorial appeared in The Journal of Martinsburg on Nov. 1:
As other woes mount in West Virginia – jobs lost, severance taxes down, statewide budget cut, drugs flooding our state at a crippling rate – many of our youngest Mountaineers are suffering. West Virginia Children’s Advocacy Centers are providing services at an alarmingly increasing rate.
During fiscal year 2014-15, the number of children served by the centers increased by a disturbing 14.6 percent, from 2,874 in 2013-14 to 3,294 in 2014-15. These children are victims of physical and sexual abuse, neglect, mistreatment or witnesses of violent crimes. WVCAN reports 75 percent of the children served were under the age of 13.
Looking past the single-year increase, however, it should be noted the trend has been steady for several years. In 2010-11, the number of children served was 2,026; in 2008-09, it was 1,806.
Also worrisome is that the number of alleged offenders under the age of 18 has risen sharply, too. In 2010-11, the number of alleged offenders under 18 was 327; in 2014-15, that figure was 539.
Perhaps part of the increase in the number of children served through WVCAN should be attributed to better awareness and reporting. Cooperation with law enforcement, schools, doctors and other mandated reporters is essential.
But there is no denying our already-vulnerable kids are in trouble, and their situations are getting worse. The report issued by WVCAN this week does not speculate on the reasons for the increase. Almost beyond doubt, the drug abuse epidemic has something to do with it.
Clearly, more needs to be known about why the number of children who need help is increasing – and what can be done about it.