February 01, 2013

Federal Act Seeks to End Child Deaths

Claire Chiamulera

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

When a child dies due to abuse or neglect, communities mourn. As an advocate for children and families, you may ask “What could have been done differently?”

Child abuse and neglect-related fatality data1 from fiscal year 2011 revealed:

  • 1,545 children in the United States were reported to have died from child abuse and neglect (experts believe the number to be much higher due to underreporting).
  • Over 42% of the children in the United States who die from child abuse and neglect are under age one, and almost 82% are under age four.
  • Of the children who died in 2011, 70% suffered neglect exclusively or combined with other maltreatment, and 48% suffered physical abuse exclusively or combined with other maltreatment.

These trends have caught the attention of Congress, prompting the creation of a new commission. The Protect Our Kids Act of 2012 (H.R. 6655), presented to the President on January 3, 2012, creates the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities. The commission’s work will be funded at $2 million per year for up to three years from the TANF Contingency Fund for State Welfare Programs. 

Congress called for the commission after finding that many deaths from child abuse and neglect are preventable, many child deaths are underreported, and national standards for reporting child deaths are lacking. The commission will study current efforts to reduce child fatalities, including:

  • effectiveness of child welfare services provided under Title IV and subtitle A of Title XX of the Social Security Act to reduce fatalities due to child abuse and neglect;
  • effectiveness of best practices in preventing child fatalities intentionally caused by negligence, neglect, or failure to exercise proper care;
  • effectiveness of federal, state, and local policies and systems that collect data on child fatalities;
  • current barriers to preventing fatalities caused by child abuse and neglect;
  • trends in demographic and other risk factors that predict or relate to child maltreatment;
  • methods for prioritizing child abuse and neglect prevention within services for families with the greatest needs;
  • methods for improving data collection and use.

After the study, the commission will recommend ways federal, state, and local agencies, and nonprofit and private sector organizations, can reduce child fatalities. It will also devise guidelines for the types of information they should track to improve child fatality interventions.

The commission will submit its recommendations and guidelines, with recommendations for any legislative or administrative action, in a report to the President and Congress two years after it first convenes.

The new commission adds to a number of steps Congress has taken in recent years to help reduce child fatalities due to abuse and neglect. These include:

  • giving states flexibility through the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act of 2011 to develop child welfare demonstration projects that permit innovative programs and services aimed at preventing child abuse and neglect and keeping children in their homes;
  • providing funding through the Child and Family Services Improvement Act of 2006 for efforts to enhance the safety of children at risk of foster care placement due to parental substance abuse;
  • providing funding through the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 for activities, such as residential family treatment program and family group decision making, that help parents care for their children; and
  • requiring states through the Child and Family Services and Improvement and Innovation Act of 2011 to describe efforts to improve data collection on fatalities from abuse and neglect.

The ABA Center on Children and the Law has historically been at the forefront of this issue. It conducted the first two national projects on improving responses to child deaths caused by abuse or neglect. In the early 1990s, the Center produced a range of materials, including the first review of state child fatality laws and death review procedures. In the late 1990s it convened the first national conference on child death review and produced the first model training curriculum on this topic, entitled Child Fatality Review Teams: Training for the Future.

Claire Chiamulera, CLP Editor

Endnotes

1. The Protect Our Kids Act of 2012, H.R. 6655, S. 3705.