Sobering report catalogs skyrocketing number of child abuse, neglect cases in Hawaii
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Child welfare advocates and law enforcement officials said cases of child abuse and neglect soared last year in the islands.
The Children’s Justice Centers of Hawaii said in 2021 it interviewed over 1,000 children who were victims of alleged abuse or neglect, up from 776 from the year-earlier period.
“When I look at the numbers across the state, I see more cases with more serious harm — children going to the hospital, children with other injuries,” said Jasmine Mau-Mukai, statewide director for the Children’s Justice Centers of Hawaii.
Among the most severe cases hitting the news last year were the death of Ariel Kalua and Kytana Ancog.
It’s unclear whether any of these two deaths were part of the Children’s Justice Center’s statistic for 2021 but the alleged treatment of two girls increased the public’s calls for more protections for children in abusive households.
Prosecutors allege that Ariel’s adoptive parents -- Lehua and Isaac Kalua -- starved her, kept her in a dog cage and duct taped her mouth and nose before she died.
Police alleged that baby Kytana’s father, Travis Rodrigues, hit her face, shook her, then wrapped her body in a bed sheet and put her in a duffel bag so a friend could dispose of her body.
The Kaluas and Rodrigues have pleaded not guilty.
During a news conference on the release of the 2021 child abuse statistics, volunteers from the Oahu Girls Scout Troop lined up 773 slippers on the driveway of the Oahu Children’s Justice Center’s Nuuanu offices.
Each of those slippers represented a child who was assisted by the center last year.
In 2020, the center helped 616 children. Mau-Makai said the number of children seeking help during the first several months of 2022 is also on the rise.
Part of the reason for this increase is that children have returned to in-class learning last year. Mandatory reporters can now better watch for signs of abuse and neglect, police said.
“Of course we had COVID and now that everything is opening up ― that is definitely a reason,” said Lt. Vince Legaspi of the Honolulu Police Department’s sex crimes unit.
“They all go back to school and then they report it to their counselors or their friends.”
Lt. Jolon Wagner, of the child abuse unit in the HPD’s Criminal Investigation Division, added that victims and family members are now more accustomed to reporting the abuse when they see it.
“I think it’s being reported more. I think that’s one of the things we’re seeing is people are more willing to report it,” he said.
The release of the statewide abuse statistics comes as child welfare advocates observe April as Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention month.
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