BRISTOL, Va. - In about three months, Bristol, Virginia authorities tell us they have already worked more than 20 child abuse cases in the city. Investigators say it is a problem they have seen increasing over the past several years.
Detectives are constantly focusing on building their next case, but this year many of those new cases deal with child abuse.
"The cases come in, and regardless of just about every case we're working on, these go to the front of the line," Sgt. Steve Crawford said.
In 2015 to 2016, the number of child abuse cases rose 28 percent. Crawford said that is a significant increase, but an even more jaw-dropping number is the increase they have seen this year. In the first two months of 2017 compared to that same timeline in 2016, it was a 70 percent increase in cases.
Crawford said, "That is neglect, sexual abuse, physical abuse."
News 5 also reached out to the Bristol Department of Social Services to see if the criminal caseload translates to the number of cases they are working. They told us they have also seen an increase, removing 18 children from homes in just three months.
Director of Bristol, Virginia Social Services Kathy Johnson said, "So many times, we go into a home regardless of what the complaint is when you start peeling off those layers, you find different issues, but I think overwhelmingly the drug abuse is prevalent here."
While the goal of Social Services is to keep families together, they tell us situations involving substance abuse are considered a serious or severe case. The department is mandated to respond to those cases within 24 hours.
"It creates an urgent situation because the parents or caretakers are incapacitated by the drugs, so the child's needs aren't being met," Child Protective Services Supervisor Jeff Justice said.
The department currently has 226 open cases under investigation or going through a family assessment. They tell us such a high number can stretch resources thin for those providing assistance in the community. However, the biggest concern of all is helping those children through the traumatic situations.
Crawford told us they believe part of the reason for the increase in cases is due to help from members of the community reporting suspected abuse. He encourages anyone to contact their local authorities if you suspect child abuse. A hotline you can call is 1-800-552-7096.
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