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The number of kids reportedly abused or neglected in MN went up 25 percent last year

April is Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month.

The number of children in Minnesota who are suspected of being abused or neglected has gone up.

The Minnesota Department of Human Services released data Tuesday as part of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month, saying 39,500 children were the subject of abuse or neglect reports last year – a 25 percent increase from the year before, a news release says.

Of the children who were reported as being abused or neglected, 16,400 were part of child maltreatment investigations – that's up 43 percent from 2015.

The agency didn't go into much detail about what led to the spike in cases, but says there are numerous contributing factors. Among them: increased awareness about child protection issues; changes in how reports are reviewed; and the growing opioid crisis.

Abuse and neglect can happen in all types of families, but those struggling with poverty, unemployment, chemical dependency, and who don't have access to social supports are more at risk, the department adds.

Efforts to combat child abuse

Minnesota has stepped up its efforts to protect children from abuse and neglect following the death of 4-year-old Eric Dean of Starbuck, who died at the hands of his stepmother in 2013, the Star Tribune reported. The state's child protection services was criticized for not following up on abuse complaints, and the case prompted the state to make changes to the child protection system.

Resources are available to help families reduce stressors that can lead to child abuse, including economic support, nutritional assistance, parenting classes, and chemical and mental health treatment, but a key part in protecting kids is to prevent abuse and neglect before it starts.

“While these resources are helpful, we can be a second pair of eyes, noticing when stressed-out parents have reached their limit, and offer them a break,” Jim Koppel, of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, said in a statement. “We can be a second pair of ears when we hear angry voices and loud noises in homes where young children are present, and try to help diffuse these situations before they become crisis.”

Tips to help

The Department of Human Services has some tips for Minnesotans to help parents who may be struggling:

  • Listen to parents to understand what they're thinking, and ask them to share the challenges and joys that come with being a parent.
  • Be friends with parents, and go out and do things together so they don't feel so isolated.
  • Encourage parents to go to classes to learn about child development.
  • Set an example by being nurturing and patient with kids.
  • Offer to watch someone's kids to give them a break, and encourage them to rely on family or friends who are willing to help.
  • Encourage parents to do other things to relieve their stress, like reading, exercising or spending time with friends.

If you're concerned a child is being abused or neglected, you should contact the county of tribal social services agency where the child lives or call 911. For more information on programs and services available for parents, click here.

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