Preventing Child Deaths Due to Abuse and Neglect

In recent months, we have been inundated with news about child abuse tragedies. Several high profile cases made national headlines including the Casey Anthony trial, the Marchella Pierce case in New York City, and the gruesome story of Nubia Barahona in Florida that detailed serious injuries inflicted on the child’s twin brother. Unfortunately, the list goes on. Multiple cases in Kentucky have landed on major newspapers as well.

In the United States, a child is abused or neglected every 36 seconds – and, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, only 40% of abused children with substantiated cases receive services. Even more alarming are the number of child deaths resulting from abuse and neglect – with nearly seven such child abuse and neglect deaths every day in America—some 2,500 a year…many more than the number of American fatalities in two wars in the same period. In Kentucky, child deaths and near deaths increased 39 percent between 2006 and 2009, causing widespread alarm.

While these numbers are alarming, there may be cases never documented by states. Currently, child welfare systems operate independently from state to state, and even county to county. Also, states count and report child abuse data differently, leaving the actual number of abused children and child abuse and neglect related fatalities unknown.

All too often, the media tells horrible stories of abused or neglected children who have suffered at the hands of a perpetrator, and the stories typically start by deciding where the finger should be pointed. Was law enforcement to blame? Or was it the child welfare agency’s fault? The focus is on who should take the blame for the avoidable deaths of so many children, but little attention goes to addressing what changes need to be made.

Instead of pointing fingers, the real question should be “What strategies must be instituted for real change to take effect in child protective services across Kentucky and the country, and how do we prevent this epidemic of deaths from occurring?”

This is the primary question raised by the 2012 Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children. As we investigate this issue and learn how to work statewide and at the national level, it is important to look at various solutions, especially those that will prevent abuse in the first place.

The National Coalition to End Child Abuse Death recommends:

  • Expanding prevention services for at-risk families,
  • Decreasing high caseloads and increasing the qualifications of child protection workers,
  • Better coordination of law enforcement and child protective services,
  • Changes to the current confidentiality laws associated with child abuse and neglect deaths,
  • Better reporting mechanisms for investigations; and
  • Increasing funding for child protective services.

How can we stop these preventable deaths?

The Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children will continue to ask this question throughout the next year. Any death is one too many and we must work to end child abuse and neglect.

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