The statistics are shocking. Last year in Orange County, 11,547 cases of child abuse were reported to the county Child Abuse Register. That's an increase of 48% over the previous year. Fifteen of the children died because of abuse or neglect at the hands of the adults in whom they had put their trust for care and protection.
And, so far this year, the number of child abuse incidents reported is running ahead of 1984's record number.
Public officials note that the increase doesn't necessarily mean that more children are being abused. The publicity being given child abuse cases, such as the prosecution of the former teachers of the McMartin Pre-School in Manhattan Beach on sexual assault charges, has led to a greater awareness and willingness to report suspected cases to authorities.
That's a welcome development, but as much as public awareness has been heightened, another grim statistic indicates it hasn't been improved nearly enough. Child abuse specialists estimate that only about half of the youngsters who are beaten, battered, sexually molested, neglected or emotionally mistreated come to their attention.
Some cases remain undetected because children are too frightened to say anything. Some adults are too timid to report what they fear are only suspicions, despite a state law that requires all "known or suspected" incidents of child abuse be reported. And some parents just don't recognize some warning signs in their children.