By Tony Gonzalez, The Tennessean
New statistics showing more Tennessee children suffering repeat sexual abuse surprised state experts Thursday as they prepared for another year of detailed case reviews.
The Second Look Commission, created by lawmakers to examine cases of children severely abused two or more times, will examine the cases of 295 children between June 2011 and July 2012, the most recent available snapshot.
Of those victims, 71 percent suffered sexual maltreatment. The year before, the number of children suffering repeat sexual abuse was 44 percent.
"The thing that really jumps out to me is the number of sexual abuse cases," said Bonnie Beneke, a panel member and executive director of Tennessee Child Advocacy Centers, as she first looked at the numbers.
"I want to know more about it," she said. "I really want to dig down."
Beneke asked the group to focus on those cases. The 17-member commission has access to otherwise confidential Department of Children's Services case files, as well as police and medical records.
Legislators, child welfare workers, police and others from the criminal justice system make up the commission, which is directed by Craig Hargrow, a former juvenile court magistrate and DCS attorney.
Lawmakers recently extended the commission - which had faced discontinuation - through 2017.
The extension will allow analysis of child abuse trends over time, Hargrow said. To date, that's been tough, in part because DCS provided inaccurate data last year.
Last year, the panel focused on individual cases, concluding that DCS and law enforcement left some investigations incomplete, and that authorities need more training, among other findings.
This year, members said they'll still look closely at individual investigations, while also comparing child welfare outcomes among counties and other broad trends. Urban areas will get special attention.
The commission plans to deliver recommendations throughout the year, attempting to influence better casework more quickly, instead of waiting for a final annual report.
Other repeat abuse numbers discussed Thursday showed 17 percent of victims were harmed by the same perpetrator, a decrease from prior years. Almost a quarter of victims suffered three or more severe abuses.
"Hopefully, that will decrease," Hargrow said. "My intent is to work myself out of a job in five or six years."