HANCOCK COUNTY, Ind. – April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. In Hancock County, there have been a handful of child neglect cases in the last few years that bring awareness to the importance of protecting children.
The May 2015 death of Zoey Wagoner is still on the minds of many in the community. The 1-year-old was found with bruises and severely abused. Her parents were later convicted of child neglect.
"That one was really kind of a landmark time in our community and people are much more likely now to make that call and want to get involved to make sure our children are safe," said Hancock County Prosecutor, Brent Eaton.
The case sparked awareness and a message to people to report suspected child abuse before it's too late. That message is even more prevalent during child abuse prevention month.
"There does seem a lot happening and it could be for various reasons, but families are going through some kind of crisis, be it short or long term," said Karla Whisenand, executive director of Love Inc.
This week, Chantelle Oliver and Christopher Smith were arrested. Court records show several people called the DCS hotline to report the abuse.
"There are a lot of people that saw a lot of things over a long period of time. The behavior was not isolated into one day or one incident. Actually, there was a pattern of behavior," Eaton said.
In 2017 in Hancock County, there were 128 Child in Need of Services or CHINS cases. So far this year, the county has reported 24 cases.
Love Inc. helped place more than 50 kids with families last year. The organization, with Safe Families for Children, helps parents with immediate needs find temporary housing for children.
"If they're frustrated or stressed and they just need someone to help them out and be a support system, they could call. If it's drugs or maybe they're going for a job interview and they just need someone to watch for a few hours," said Whisenand.
The creation of a child advocacy center in Hancock County is underway and should be complete next year.
You can report suspected child abuse to the DCS hotline by calling: 1-800-800-5556. Click here for more information on Love Inc.'s services. For more on services from Safe Families for Children, click here.