While reports of child abuse rose only slightly in 1990, substantiated cases in Utah rose almost 10 percent.

The Division of Family Services conducted 12,817 investigations for the year, up 2.1 percent from 1989's 12,548. Child protective workers determined that 8,524 children were in fact abused. The number for 1989 was 7,782.The report is both "hopeful" and "horrifying," according to Barbara Thompson, director of the division, which deals with child abuse and the issues surrounding it. "One thing the statistics tell us is that people are better at reporting abuse," she said. "The number of referrals was up just slightly, about 2 percent. We're encouraged by that. There were 300 more referrals (than in 1989), but 800 more victims, so the reports of abuse were more accurate.

"We're happy that the numbers didn't rise as dramatically as the year before. But it's still horrible news."

The largest category of abuse was sexual abuse, according to a report released Tuesday. Victims of sexual abuse numbered 1,872, followed by 1,744 who were physically abused, 1,522 who suffered physical neglect and 1,376 who were reported for non-supervision. Investigation showed the other 2,010 children were abused through emotional mistreatment, dependency, educational neglect, medical neglect, abandonment and fetal addiction to the drugs used by their pregnant mothers.

Every year the division compiles numbers to present to the governor. In the past, it was the annual report for the Central Register for Child Abuse and Neglect, which the Legislature eliminated because of some legal problems. The 1990 report tracks the number of abuse cases for every year since 1982, when 3,161 child abuse victims were identified.

About half of the abuse occurred in the child's home. The vast majority of child abuse perpetrators were relatives or step-relatives and just over half of them were male.

Most of the referrals came from relatives, the legal system, neighbors and schools, in that order. Only 145 of the children reported the abuse themselves.

Two-thirds of the families had no previous history of abuse.

Girls were abused more than boys, 4,650 to 3,874. The largest number of victims were age 5-8, followed closely by 9-12, 2-4 and 13-18; 836 victims were under age 1. Six children died of abuse in 1990.

"Another thing that's tragic," Thompson said, "is that we are treating less than 40 percent of the victims. We don't know how many get treatment privately, but I think it's safe to say that about half get treatment. That's all the money we've got.

"That creates major problems. Lack of treatment is why we're seeing such an increase in the number of juvenile sex offenders. We get calls from adults who were abused as children and want help."

The division has several options for dealing with child abuse. If abuse is "severe and the child's in immediate danger," Thompson said the division will "put the child in shelter or foster care until the home situation is stabilized. Sometimes they can't go back, but we always try to preserve the family unit, if possible."

Families can receive services that include parenting classes, in-home family preservation and other home-based services, youth services, counseling, foster care, group homes and even adoption. With rising caseloads, the division has limited options for preventive programs, but Thompson said Utahns are "getting better at prevention."


(Additional information)

GRAPHIC: Child abuse/neglect in Utah

Type of Abuse


Sexual Abuse 1,872

Physical Abuse 1,744

Physical Neglect 1,522

Non Supervision 1,376

Emotional Maltreatment 970

Dependent 530

Education Neglect 267

Medical Neglect 161

Abandonment 64

Fetal Addiction 18

Total Cases 1990: 8,524

Total Cases 1982: 3,161