By Nina Williams-Mbengue
Each day, four to eight children die from abuse or neglect, usually at the hands of their parents. More than half are infants younger than 1 year old, and approximately three-quarters are under 3 years of age.
Child abuse or neglect related child deaths are of great concern to state legislatures. A report released last week by the national Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities calls on states to take immediate action to get a better understanding of how many children are dying and what circumstances might be putting them at risk.
The national Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities formed its recommendations after hearing from state leaders, local and tribal leaders, child protective services staff, advocates and parents.
The report provides several steps states can take immediately, including examining child abuse deaths that have occurred over the past five years; reviewing child abuse and neglect report screening policies, especially for children under age 3 who are most at risk; and, supporting the sharing of real-time, critical information between child protective services (CPS) and other key partners such as law enforcement and medical professionals.
Other recommendations include a focus on children known to CPS who are at risk of child fatality, and Native American and African American children. The report also highlights concerns about how states will fund the recommendations, the need to focus on fatalities of older children and other issues raised by several of the experts on the Commission.
To view more recommendations and promising practices to prevent child fatality, view the Commission’s report and fact sheet.
While it is estimated that four to eight children die each day in the U.S. from abuse or neglect, Commission findings indicate that states do not have a good handle on exactly how many children die as a result of abuse or neglect.
Child fatality definitions and processes vary from state to state and the federal reporting system is voluntary. Additionally, the report reveals that while a CPS hotline call is the strongest predictor of a child’s risk for injury death before age 5, half of the children who died were not known to CPS but had been seen by other professionals, such as doctors and nurses. The Commission’s findings also uncovered legal and policy barriers that prevent information sharing that might protect a child from serious injury or death.
For more information about how state legislatures have addressed this issue, check out NCSL’s State Child Fatality Reviews Legislation 2007-2013.
In addition, NCSL, the National Governor’s Association, Casey Family Programs, the National Center for State Courts and the National Council for Juvenile and Family Court Judges will host a Three Branch Institute on Child Safety and Preventing Child Fatalities. The Institute will include up to eight states to participate in a process to develop a statewide strategic plan to address child fatality and child safety. For more information about the upcoming Institute, contact NCSL. For information about prior Three Branch Institutes, click here!
Nina Williams-Mbengue is the Program Director of the Child Welfare Project within NCSL’s Children and Families Program.