With Child-abuse Deaths Up, Children’s Advocates Call for Federal Prevention Funding

A new report says that child-abuse deaths have risen in the last seven years, and child advocacy groups say more money is needed to work with parents who are at risk for abusing their children.

By Cindy Von Quednow

October 22, 2009 / infozine.com

Washington, D.C. - infoZine - Scripps Howard Foundation Wire - Almost 10,500 children died from abuse and neglect in the U.S. in the last seven years, according to a new report released Wednesday. The report found that more than 1,760 children died in 2007, a 35 percent increase from 2001.

Leaders from child welfare organizations and actors from NBC's "Law and Order: Special Victim's Unit" gathered at the Capitol to demand that elected officials act on the issue. The rally marked the beginning of a two-day summit to discuss preventing and eliminating child-abuse deaths.

"For many Americas, child abuse is an invisible problem, something they never witness either directly or indirectly," Dr. Carole Jenny, a professor of pediatrics at Brown University, said at the rally. "The bruises and scars of abuse, whether they are physical or emotional remain hidden from friends and from families."

Jenny said that children need to be a priority for both health care providers and politicians.

"Despite the fact that child abuse and neglect impact millions of Americans, we spend far less on preventing, detecting and treating it, than we do on many other rare diseases and conditions," Jenny said.

The report, issued by the Every Child Matters Education Fund, said that Texas has the highest number of child-abuse deaths, 1,509 from 2001 to 2007. The state spent $37.24 per capita on child welfare. The death rate is 4.71 per 100,000 population.

But that's $22.52 more than South Carolina, which spent the least, $14.72. It had 141 deaths, or 3.35 per 100,000 population. Rhode Island, which spent the most on childhood welfare per capita, at $181.34, had 15 child abuse deaths, or 1.39 per 100,000 population.

One of the recommendations the report make to elected officials is to provide adequate funding for a national system of child protection. The fund works with a number of other child welfare groups on children's issues and to bring attention to the issue, especially during elections.

Actors Tamara Tunie, who plays a medical examiner, and B.D. Wong, who plays a forensic psychiatrist, attended the rally and are to participate in the two-day summit. They are featured in a "Law and Order SVU" episode about child abuse that was to air Wednesday.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., called death by child abuse an "unspeakable tragedy," and said that the U.S. needs to take action by increasing funding to the Victims of Child Abuse Act and organizations that address child abuse.

"When we talk about the death of a child, we're talking not about potential, a light that might shine brightly or less so, we're talking about a life and a light that has been snuffed out," Casey said.

Teresa Huizar, executive director of the National Children's Alliance, said there are 700 children advocacy centers around country that deal with child abuse and neglect, but they don't exist in 1,250 counties. She called for a national and local partnership to address and prevent childhood mortality by abuse.

"We believe that a difference can truly be made for those children," Huizar said. "Next year, we can say we've reduced those numbers, and eventually the number of child abuse fatalities can be zero."

According to the report, children living in poverty are 22 times more likely to be abused than children living in families with higher incomes.

Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., said that they key to preventing and ending child abuse and neglect is through mentoring at-risk parents who come from violent homes, were in correctional facilities or are recent veterans.

"A lot of them don't know any better but to repeat the cycle of violence that they were brought up in," Kennedy said of parents who abuse their children. "We need to break the cycle and the way we do that is through evidence based intervention."

Max Skolnik, executive director of Kid Power DC, an after-school program in Washington, said he was shocked and disturbed by the statistics in the report.

"Children are so full of life, but when abuse takes hold of them that light starts to fade, and it hurts my heart to see children shut down," Skolnik said.

Darice Stevens, 37, a social work major at University of the District of Columbia, said more needs to be done to prevent child abuse across the country.

"It bothers me that children are being murdered," said the mother of four.


Insult to injuries; what's going to be done?

It seems to me, the above article implies the most severe cases of child abuse, (those that result in death), take place in homes not assisted by child protective services.  I'm wondering if it's there is an unwritten suggested belief that while some mentoring programs do seem to help at-risk parents,  more child protective services are going to be needed to assist families and children.

And yet, what is happening in homes/families "approved" by social services? 

A random sample from PPL's abuse case files reveals:

All this "care" resulted in death.  There are over 400 examples of care given to children lucky enough to be "saved" through child protective/placement services.  Some of those cases resulted in death, other young victims were "lucky" to survive, and move-on with their troubled lives.

The truth is, very few statistics regarding child abuse post placement are kept and reported.  [Heaven forbid state-services and private businesses/charities look bad for not doing their jobs as they are paid to do.  Heaven forbid the general public learns just how infrequent  "frequent checks" on the child in-care are made, so death of a child can be prevented.  Heaven forbid child safety and well-being remain long-term concerns and priorities for those placing at-risk children in (so-called) safe and loving homes.]

Therefore, if few cases are being reported as being post-placement abuse situations, how many of the almost 10,500 child deaths (in the last seven years) represent state negligence?  After all, it's one thing for a state agency to not recognize abuse taking place in a child's first home/family.  It's another situation, entirely, when abuse post placement is not being recognized and/or reported.  In my mind, that lack of reporting is inexcusable!

Darice Stevens, 37, a social work major at University of the District of Columbia, said more needs to be done to prevent child abuse across the country.

"It bothers me that children are being murdered," said the mother of four.

This mother of four (me), finds it horrifying to learn children placed in foster and adoptive homes are (still) being murdered, too.

Any idea what the federal government might be willing to do? 

While it's my own personal opinion Nurse Family Partnership offers great evidence-based family-preservation/teaching programs, I'm curious to learn what the US government wants to offer it's parents and children.  Maybe we should stay-tuned and see what the next episode of NBC's "Law and Order: Special Victim's Unit" has to say about the subject.

Some additional facts from Texas, and beyond

According to the Associated press, 42 percent of at least 1,227 Texas children dead of abuse or neglect since 2004 were CPS-probed homes.

The national advocacy group Every Child Matters released a study Wednesday showing Texas leads the nation in child abuse deaths from 2001 to 2007.

The deaths among repeat CPS complaints represent less than 1 percent of the 165,000 child abuse investigations completed by the agency each year. However, the growing incidence of child deaths coming from families with prior CPS histories, particularly in Houston, has prompted a review here and in Dallas of child abuse investigations.

Lawmakers are also looking for more answers about why certain families can't be located more quickly before a child dies.

Such deaths continue to occur despite a $248 million infusion to CPS in 2005, which brought in 2,500 additional caseworkers and support staff, along with better equipment like digital cameras and more laptop computers, so workers could enter information about a child more quickly.

The additional money, equipment and staff did reduce the $1 billion-a-year agency's crippling investigation caseload. The number of investigations per worker fell from 43 in 2004 to 22 cases today.

But the reforms, aimed at improving child abuse investigations, have done little to break chronic households from a cycle of abuse.

"The fact CPS had previous contact with the family doesn't automatically mean that CPS could have prevented that death," said CPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins.

Ultimately the person who killed the child — and in 77 percent of Texas cases, that's a parent — is responsible for these deaths.

Unfortunately, the word "parent" does not really identify the real relationship with a child.  Sure, on page 6 of the 2000 census questionnaire, people are asked to identify who is in the household, and how each person is related to "Person 1"... however, many abuse cases featured in the media do not make the distinction, "adoptive parent", "foster child", "step-parent", etc.  For instance, in a recent child-porn related case, very little mention goes to the fact that the man involved was an adoptive parent, and the victim was his adopted daughter from China. [See:  Boerne man guilty in child-porn case ]  Readers are given the truth, but not the whole truth... making me question just how much information gets shared when a child's death is recorded for statistical purposes.

There seems so much confusion as to what things are - and are not - these days... what is an orphan?  What is a parent?  What is criminal neglect?  What is abuse?  Is it too much to ask for universally acceptable standard definitions so each state can follow the same guidelines, as set by the United States federal government? 

If the federal and state government use different legal definitions for specific roles, how can accurate information/statistics be collect for serious review?

Pound Pup Legacy