MONTPELIER -- The number of alleged child abuse or neglect cases filed in courts across Vermont last year grew 21 percent from the year before, according to data from the state.
In some counties, the number of cases filed grew much more than that; in Lamoille County, there were 300 percent more cases filed in fiscal 2014 than the year before.
The Department for Children and Families attributes the rise not to the recent child deaths, but to the impact of opiate addiction on child safety. One state prosecutor said chronic homelessness is also a huge factor.
This type of case is filed in juvenile court and is known as a CHINS (child in need of (care or) supervision) case.
Other counties that experienced an increase in cases include Orleans, Orange and Windsor. Caledonia, Franklin and Washington counties filed fewer cases last year.
Windham County's caseload grew from 49 cases in fiscal year 2013 to 70 in fiscal year 2014, which ended June 30.
Many families who come in contact with the court for alleged child abuse or neglect struggle with a host of other problems, including chronic homelessness, substance abuse, mental health problems and domestic violence, according to Kerry McDonald-Cady, the Windham County deputy state's attorney.
"There are a lot of families really in extreme need that have young children," she said.
Parents are barely able to provide for themselves, much less their children, she said.
"It is a significant problem. Probably the public doesn't realize. Lots of young children are living among hotels and motels temporarily, or living in shelters. Not because of foreclosure, but because that's the lifestyle," McDonald-Cady said.
The number of cases statewide has grown 125 percent from 10 years, according to the data from the courts. The number of cases hovered around 500 until 2012, when it started rising. There were 700 cases in 2012.
Essex County State's Attorney Vince Illuzzi said it appears that more cases that might have been handled internally by DCF before are now being presented to the court.
State's attorneys in each county file child protection cases in conjunction with DCF social workers, who submit affidavits about information they have gathered. The increase in cases is not due to any policy change from DCF, according to Deputy Commissioner Cindy Walcott.
Essex County had 12 cases filed in 2013 and 10 in 2014. Essex County has seen an increase in the number of protective orders to prevent certain adults from having contact with children, Illuzzi said.
Lisa Warren, state's attorney in Caledonia County, said her county had nine fewer cases than the year before.