Child deaths from abuse and neglect rise in the US

Published on WSWS, by Naomi Spencer, Oct. 28, 2009.  – Download report: every child matters, 11 pdf-pages.

Five children died from abuse or neglect every day on average in the United States between 2001 and 2007, according to a new report. Over the period, 10,440 child deaths due to maltreatment were registered by state child service agencies. The findings, collected before the onset of the economic crisis last year, come as social services are on the chopping block throughout the country and child welfare providers have registered sharp increases in abuse cases.

The report, issued by the advocacy group Every Child Matters (ECM), found that 1,760 children died of maltreatment in 2007, a 35 percent increase over 2001. It cautioned that the actual number of abuse and neglect-related deaths is estimated to be as much as 50 percent higher because of inconsistent recordkeeping across states and widely varying definitions of what constitutes a child abuse and neglect death.

The US child maltreatment death rate is three times higher than that of Canada, and 11 times that of Italy. It is also more than double that of France, Japan, Germany and Britain. Noting far lower teen pregnancy, violent crime, imprisonment, and poverty rates in these countries, the ECM report points to more extensive social programs—child care, state health insurance, paid parental leave, visiting nurses—that help to serve as a safety net against child abuse and neglect …  

… Dayton, Ohio’s Daily News, for example, reported October 4 that in a region where unemployment has doubled, “Infants and toddlers have become helpless casualties of an economic crisis, suffering physical abuse at levels that rival anything local experts have seen in at least 20 years.” At the same time, regional caseworkers charged with managing hundreds of abuse cases told the paper that “the recession has stripped social services, leaving parents or caregivers with short fuses without a support system.”

With 228 child deaths, Texas had the highest number of fatal neglect and abuse cases in 2007, according to the ECM report. Underscoring the crisis, the Houston Chronicle reported October 22 that nearly 1,220 Texas children have died of abuse since 2004. Half of those children were in families that had been investigated by the state’s Child Protective Services (CPS).

In 2005, the state invested $248 million in the CPS for modernization and additional staff, but the increase was far short of the agency’s $1 billion annual investigation costs, and the agency has been crippled by high caseworker turnover. Of 431 special investigators hired in the past four years, 273 have left, and 236 of the positions currently sit vacant, the Chronicle reported October 12.

The ECM report found Kentucky had the highest per capita death rate of any state, at 4.09 per 100,000 children. Like Texas, Kentucky has pockets of extremely high poverty levels and shortages in social services. The state’s human services have undergone three deep budget cuts since 2008, amounting to $28 million. (full text).

Links:

US: Economic stress drives rise in child abuse and domestic violence, 30 December 2008;

Seven-year-old girl murdered in Brooklyn, 27 January 2006.

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