May 27, 2001 11:00 pm

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Within the past three weeks, 10 Union County children some of them brothers and sisters have been placed in foster homes, an indication of the countys child abuse problem.

The number of Union County child victims increased during 2000 while the number of victims in Oregon as a whole went down.

Statewide, there were 1.2 victims per 1,000 population, compared to 20.6 victims per 1,000 in Union County. Wallowa County reported 7.4 victims per 1,000, down from 10.9 per 1,000 the previous year.

The report on the status of children in Oregons child protection system states that 6,027 children under 18 lived in Union county during 2000, and 124 of them were victims of child abuse, compared to 98 in 1999, when the under 18 population was higher, 6,478.

Jerry Buzzard, acting manager of the La Grande office of Services to Children and Families, said the increase may be partly a result of better reporting and better identification.

When an individual is arrested and goes before a judge on a domestic violence charge, he or she must report to the SCF office immediately for an assessment, Buzzard said.

Thats unique to Union County, Buzzard said. Most counties rely on police reports to follow up on domestic violence.

If a child is present when one spouse assaults the other, the state can consider that assault child abuse.

Several other rural Eastern Oregon Oregon counties report a high incidence of abuse, including Baker with 26.2 victims per 1,000, and Harney with 24.8 victims per 1,000. Rural Coos County on the Oregon Coast reported 30 victims per 1,000, the highest rate in 2000.

Buzzard said economic issues can lead to child abuse or neglect, and misuse of drugs or alcohol plays a major role.

There is a theory that women who use methamphetamine may tend to have multiple births, and observers have noted that the women using methamphetamine have several children, Buzzard said. The theory has not been researched, he said.

I dont think we have greater drug use than other counties, Buzzard said.

Statewide, the number of child abuse victims went down by 9.4 percent from 1999 to 2000. Of the number, 49 percent were less than 6 years old, and 52 percent of the victims were girls.

We try to work with families voluntarily, and the numbers may reflect that initial intervention, Buzzard said.

Child abuse is a problem, but I think there are some positives. We have a very concerned community about child protection, he said. If you dont get a report, you dont know about the victims. Folks here are coming forward to report.