County teens’ alcohol use ‘off the scale’
Across the state, more teens are saying they're drinking alcohol. And that includes youths in Leavenworth County.
"We're off the scale," Dorothy Hobbs, supervisor of Leavenworth County Social and Rehabilitation Services Children and Family Services, said of the 1999 numbers compiled in the Kansas Kids Count Databook 2000.
"It shows we are 100.5 percent worse, so we have a real concern there," Hobbs said.
Countywide, in 1999, 66 percent of youths questioned said they had used alcohol during the previous month, compared to 32 percent during the base years 1995-1998.
Statewide statistics reflect more of the same, with 50 percent of teens indicating they had used alcohol in the last month, compared to 34 percent during the base years 1995-1998.
Another area of concern in Leavenworth County is the number of children in out-of-home placement. Oftentimes, this is because of documented abuse or neglect.
"As far as abuse and neglect, we're on the rise in Leavenworth County," Hobbs said. "It's basically a trend throughout the state."
So far in 2000, Child and Family Services has dealt with more than 600 cases of abuse and neglect.
Part of the increase is due to increased awareness, Hobbs said.
"I think it's better education of mandated reporters and also of concerned citizens of the community," Hobbs said.
"The community as a whole is seeing that abuse and neglect not only contribute to the emotional and physical welfare, but it also contribute to adults who have all kinds of problems. Early intervention is the key to having stable families and children."
Some of the abuse and neglect cases seem to be related to reports of domestic violence and or drug use by the parents.
"Basically, if the parents have a severe drug problem, usually it gets reported because of the younger children," Hobbs said.
This year, Child and Family Services added to a staff of social workers a special investigator who is a former law enforcement officer who assists with these investigations.
Just because SRS receives a complaint about the well-being of a child, it doesn't mean the child will be removed from his or her home.
"We look at the overall picture," Hobbs said. "People can be poor and still take care of their children."
Sometimes, the parents are simply lacking basic knowledge or resources.
"We may get a report that a house has no electricity or the children are unkempt," Hobbs said. "So we go out and work with those families to figure out how to get the families on their feet. We want them to be a family and be functioning and provide for the needs of their children."
And for the children who are removed from their homes, Hobbs hopes there will be foster homes available to take them to.
"We do not have enough foster homes in the county to keep children within their community," Hobbs said.
"Historically, Leavenworth has had a real shortage of foster homes."
Hobbs said this may be due in part to the transient nature of the community, with the army base and prisons located in Leavenworth.
But there is a shortage of foster homes in other areas of the county as well, she noted.
Married couples, as well as single individuals may be eligible to serve as foster parents, Hobbs said.
Foster parents must meet licensing requirements, pass a Kansas Bureau of Investigation check for abuse and neglect and cannot have felonies on their records.
Anyone interested in applying may contact a Leavenworth foster care agency, The Farm Inc., at (913) 651-4778.
Another area in which Leavenworth County fared worse in the Kids Count report than in previous years is childhood immunizations.
But this is usually taken care of by the time children are school age, as they are required to be immunized before attending school.
Leavenworth County showed one of the lowest rates of eligibility for free school meals, indicating a relatively healthy economy.
In teenage births, the county saw an increase in 1998. Statistics show that during the base years 1993-1997, the county averaged 71 births to teen-agers each year.
In 1998, the number increased to 84. However, the county still ranked slightly below the state average.