Tracing the Epidemic of Children with Disabilities to Its Source

Source: Virginia Child Protective Service

Virginia public schools are swamped by an increasing number of children afflicted with disabilities, the vast majority of which are emotional or cognitive in nature. Schools are experiencing a silent crisis as they try to accommodate a growing cohort of students who have a legal entitlement under the law to a greater share of resources and who, when mainstreamed, often disrupt the education of their classmates. Given society’s commitment, born of compassion, to educating children with disabilities in the least restrictive environment, schools are caught in a tightening vice.

How did we get here? Why are there so many needy children? Has it always been this way? Have American schools always had a large percentage of children whose needs simply went unrecognized — or, as it often feels, are things getting worse? And if they are, why?

The Office of Child Protective Services compiles data on child abuse and neglect. The chart above, taken from CPS data, make it clear that that child abuse/neglect has been on the rise at least since 2011.

The chart has two measures. One is the number of cases reported to law enforcement, and the other is the number referred by law enforcement to commonwealth attorney offices. The metrics move more or less in tandem. A spike occurred between 2014 and 2015, possibly reflecting a change in policy or the method of reporting or tabulating the data. While not every case handed off to a prosecutor leads to a conviction, the trend line is indicative of the direction society is moving in.

In a recent post, I argued that many disability issues — impulse-control, emotional self-regulation, and violent temper — stem from physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse a student suffered early in life. Thus, a rise in child abuse cases predicts, after a few years’ delay, an increase in the number of students with disabilities. The time frame of the child-abuse graph above coincides with the years indicated by red lines in the graph below, which shows the increase in the number of disabled students in Virginia public school system.

Assuredly, there is a connection between the 10,000-per-year increase in the number of child abuse/neglect cases and the 6,600 increase in the number of students in Virginia schools classified as disabled. Indeed, the data suggests that the actual number of students with disabilities might be under-counted, possibly because fiscally stressed schools do everything they can to suppress the numbers.

The Office of Child Protective Services provides data for second metric of social dysfunction: newborns who had been exposed to alcohol and drugs in the womb.

While the infants might recover from the substance addiction, the statistic is frightening. Unless mothers addicted to crack and opioids clean up their act, their children will continue suffering from abuse and neglect. Thus, the near doubling in the past five years in substance-exposed infants is a likely predictor of future child abuse and child neglect cases, and then of future children with severe disabilities in Virginia schools.

From a statistical perspective, this is what social breakdown looks like. The human stories are a thousand times more tragic. As schools become the go-to institution to fix the problems created by drugs, poverty and family dysfunction, the fiscal pressures will only increase and the all-too-evident flaws in the educational system will only intensify.

In a better world, teachers would get more pay and every child would attend school in a school building in a state of good repair. But except in rare instances, underpaid teachers and aging buildings are not where Virginia’s school systems are melting down. As legislators decide where to allocate scarce resources, they should address the problem at the source: horrible parents who abuse their children.

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2 responses to “Tracing the Epidemic of Children with Disabilities to Its Source”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    might be going off the deep end here… here’s a look at the categories of handicapped in Virginia compared to across the nation:

    looks a lot like this:

    People of all income levels have kids that are handicapped… to characterize this as “social breakdown”…. geeze..

    how many older people have we heard from that found out they were dyslexic or had other learning problems that were never recognized when they were young – but now we do?

    Methinks the bigger problem here is realizing the scope and scale of the problem AND that taxpayers and government have to pay for it.. that’s a real bummer for Conservative types…. it’s just not supposed to be their problem and ..yet it is – and that just makes them cranky and irritable!!!

  2. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Jim says:

    “As legislators decide where to allocate scarce resources, they should address the problem at the source: horrible parents who abuse their children.”

    Yes, it is true that many of us parents (potentially all of us) are acting horribly toward our children today, over and under protecting them, failing to teach them right from wrong, and failing to teach them self reliance and how to hold themselves accountable. But we are failing to do this as parents, as teachers, as mentors and as adults throughout society.

    It is also true that this is bigger problem that it otherwise would be because all of us, especially our children, can run away from reality and hide in virtual reality. And it is also true that there is a breakdown of our society going on here, and it it happening from our children on up, BECAUSE OF US.

    THIS has to do with bad laws, a bad culture, and a bad attitude of democratic governance that fails to address our society’s real problems, but instead caters to and hides our society’s real problems, instead of squarely facing those problems head on, and by so doing setting an example for the rest of us, and encouraging us to get involved as citizens to fix our problems privately, voluntarily.

    For example, far too often when kids don’t learn, we falsely blame it on a kid’s disability, instead of a lack of discipline in school. That allows us to escape our own responsibility, blame it on a disease, thus making government more controlling, powerful, and indispensable in our lives, and allows government to spend ever more money and buy votes, building power for those few in control, while destroying the competence and independence of every one else in the society, starting with our own kids.

    We are creating a nation of dependent sheep ruled by our government. And doing it by creating a vicious complex system that literally is destroying the bodies, minds, and spirits of our children, one by one, every day.

    How is this happening? It is happening in many ways, including on all levels of education in this country. But for only one of the MANY EVIL THINGS we are doing to our children consider how these numbers of disabled children SUDDENLY jumped up the charts so dramatically in 2014, sending kids frantically seeking medical and emotional attention, and special schools for disabled kid. To find one sure culprit for all this gross damage we are inflicting every day now on our kids, LOOK CAREFULLY AT THIS VIDEO:

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