Stories about dead and injured babies and children always get our attention.
Men and women alike, parents or not, most of us recognize the difference and feel the tragedy more deeply when an infant or a child is hurt or killed.
Especially when at the hands of an adult — a caregiver, a mother or a father.
Fortunately those stories are rare, still rare enough to warrant the biggest headlines.
In March there were two stories about deaths of babies, one in Danforth, where an infant died in the home that his parents allegedly were using as a methamphetamine lab.
Just two weeks earlier, 25-year-old Samuel Moore allegedly killed a 5-month-old baby boy that he was caring for in Bangor. Police say it appears Korbyn Antworth was shaken to death.
Most recently Anthony Carpinell, 21, of Sanford was arrested after allegedly assaulting his infant twins. Authorities have said one of the babies suffered internal head trauma and the other external head injuries.
The parents in the Danforth case have not been charged in their baby’s death. They have been charged with operating a meth lab and the investigation into the death of the baby continues.
All three cases are different, of course, but troubling enough for us to ask if the number of reported child abuse cases is rising.
A call to the Department of Health and Human Services this week indicates they are.
After a long period of stagnant confirmed cases of physical abuse of children, the numbers are growing rapidly, according to Therese Cahill-Low, director of the office of Children and Family Services.
There were 563 substantiated claims of physical child abuse in Maine in 2011. The number jumped drastically to 807 in 2012 and rose to 891 in 2013, according to figures from the department.
Those figures don’t include cases of sexual abuse or neglect, Cahill-Low said.
The biggest increase in substantiated abuse cases involves victims who are newborns to 4-year-olds. In addition, the level of physical abuse is worsening, she said.
“I talk to some of my veteran caseworkers, some who have been here for 30 years or so, and they are saying they have never seen children beaten so badly,” said Cahill-Low. “In many cases we’re talking horrific abuse that is life-changing.”
I wondered whether there was a connection between the rise in physical abuse of children and the ever-increasing drug abuse plaguing every region of the state.
“Substance abuse is often a factor. Not always, but often, and the age of the parent is also an issue. Substance abuse and young and inexperienced parents are both major risk factors,” she said.
In 2011, 40 percent of the abuse cases that resulted in children being removed from the home involved the misuse of drugs by a parent. That figure rose to 44 percent in 2012 and to 46 percent in 2013, according to DHHS figures.
Parenting is hard. It is hard to do for well-adjusted, economically stable parents with a healthy baby.
Last year about 950 babies were born drug-affected in this state, and those babies, through no fault of their own, can have a range of difficulties that can make caring for them even more frustrating and difficult.
It may be difficult to draw an official conclusion as to how and to what level drug use and addiction is affecting the well-being of this generation of children.
But there is some reason those child abuse numbers have grown so rapidly in the past three years.
Perhaps it’s not just an increase in thefts and robberies we should be concerned about. There are babies and children involved and I’m afraid more of them are going to be making the front page.
You can reach Renee Ordway at firstname.lastname@example.org