Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities


Child maltreatment fatalities and near fatalities have consistently drawn the attention of state lawmakers.

Nationally, in 2014, there were approximately 1,546 child abuse and neglect fatalities, according to the Child Maltreatment 2015 Report, released by the Children’s Bureau. A recent federal commission, charged with examining child abuse and neglect deaths, estimates that the actual number could be much higher and that approximately four to eight children die from abuse and neglect each day. The issue is continually at the forefront of decision-makers’ minds in all branches of government.

While these numbers are staggering, they are often considered undercounts due to reporting differences across states, as well as varying definitions of child abuse and neglect fatality and differences in the way states collect information.

In order to gain a better understanding of  child abuse and neglect fatalities, Congress created the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities by enacting the Protect Our Kids Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-275). The purpose of the Commission was to research the issue and develop a strategy and recommendations to help reduce child abuse and neglect fatalities across the country. The Commission, following two years of testimony and evaluation, released its final report in March of 2016.

Child Fatality Reviews

“Child Death Review (CDR) is a process that works to understand child deaths in order to prevent harm to other children. It is a collaborative process that brings people together at a state or local level, from multiple disciplines, to share and discuss comprehensive information on the circumstances leading to the death of a child and the response to that death. These reviews can lead to action to prevent other deaths locally, at a state level and nationally.”

                (National Center for the Review and Prevention of Child Deaths)


State Child Fatality Review Statutory Citations


In the late 1970s, local child death review teams were created in Los Angeles, North Carolina and Oregon to better identify, investigate and respond to child abuse fatalities. Other states developed similar efforts. In 1989, Missouri conducted a study that indicated that child maltreatment deaths were undercounted; Missouri also held a national meeting in 1994 which encouraged other states to begin reviewing child deaths. Following states’ lead, in 1993, the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) required states to report on child death review in their program plans and in 1996, CAPTA required each state to establish at least 3 citizen review panels and that at least one of them review child maltreatment deaths. By 1997, all states had state or local child fatality review teams. These programs may be statewide or local, depending on the states, and they consist of volunteer members who do a retrospective look at child fatalities in order to make improvements to the child welfare system to prevent future fatalities or near-fatalities.

See the National Center for the Review & Prevention of Child Deaths for more about child death review programs across the country.

State Legislation

Historically, states have addressed many aspects of child maltreatment fatality, including the establishment of child fatality review, public disclosure of information on child fatality, the reporting of child fatality, opening child fatality and near-fatality court proceedings to the public, adding to the lists of those entities that are to be notified of child maltreatment fatalities, investigation requirements, and authorizing the organization of multidisciplinary teams to oversee the child fatality review process, confidentiality, training and reporting of child fatalities.

For more information about child fatality enactments and to view the full bill text, visit NCSL’s Child Welfare Enacted Legislation Database.

Broader Child Fatality Issues

While this page focuses on child abuse and neglect fatalities, there is a broader child fatality conversation happening across the country that includes child maltreatment prevention and traffic safety. Here are a few NCSL resources on the broader child fatality issue that may be of interest:

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About This NCSL Project

The Denver-based child welfare project staff focuses on state policy, tracking legislation and providing research and policy analysis, consultation, and technical assistance specifically geared to the legislative audience. Denver staff can be reached at (303) 364-7700 or

NCSL staff in Washington, D.C. track and analyze federal legislation and policy and represent state legislatures on child welfare issues before Congress and the Administration. Staff in D.C. can be reached at (202) 624-5400 or

Additional Resources