Rise in child abuse prompts research center

By Josey Montana McCoy

Child abuse is on the rise nationwide — a trend UK’s hoping to reverse with a new center that researches violence against children.

The relatively high amount of child abuse in Kentucky heightens the need for research, said Ginny Sprang, the director of the new Center for the Study of Violence Against Children.

“Kentucky has the seventh-highest rate of child fatalities due to maltreatment in the nation,” said Sprang, an associate professor of social work.

She added that 3 million U.S. children are victims of maltreatment, a number that has risen 41 percent in the past 20 years.

“We want to be the model of university-community engagement in the area of research of violence against children,” Sprang said, “and we are committed to find solutions to systemic problems.”

Although the center will primarily focus on children under 5, there is no age limit to its research.

“If we can detect problems early, then we can intervene before it becomes too complex,” Sprang said.

The center’s research will evaluate and design interventions, such as psychotherapy, to aid abused children, Sprang said.

Although the center is new, it’s not the first instance of UK researchers working to help abused children. The College of Social Work and the medical school’s psychiatry department, which will be partnering with the new center, have already been fighting the maltreatment of children.

For the past eight years, UK students and employees have helped state courts decide what to do with abused children through the Comprehensive Assessment Training Services program, said Kay Hoffman, dean of social work.

“Our work has been noticed throughout the country and state,” Hoffman said. “Now (the center) is doing research to broaden the scope, find out the root causes of violence against children and why it is fairly high in Kentucky. That’s something we shouldn’t be very proud of, and we’re not.”

While the center will build credibility for UK in dealing with child-abuse prevention, Hoffman said, it will also heighten awareness about violence against children.

“(The center) is going to be great for the university, of course, but it’s more important to see why maltreatment is on the rise and what we can do about it,” Hoffman said.

“I’m happy to be a part of a college who cares for the least among us,” Hoffman said, “the people who have the least and need the most.”