Report outlines how to prevent abuse and neglect to save children’s lives

As many as eight children die daily in the United States after their parents or caregivers abuse or neglect them, but a plan released today could help protect thousands of young lives.

A report from the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities outlined a national strategy with greater federal, state and local leadership and accountability, better use of data and research to make decisions about children’s welfare and more information-sharing across agencies to support at-risk families.

And the need for action is gaining urgency, the report says.

From 2000 to 2010, the number of children who died from abuse and neglect went up, and even today’s estimate is likely a conservative one, says David Rubin, a commissioner and pediatrician at the University of Pennsylvania.

“We live in a child welfare system right now that is heavily reactive,” Rubin said. “In that context, you’re never going to prevent fatalities.”

In 2013, an act of Congress created the federal commission to craft a national strategy to prevent fatal acts of abuse and neglect against children. Since then, commissioners have heard testimony from families, social workers, physicians, law enforcement officials and more nationwide about what’s needed to protect children.

But how?

According to the report, a consensus among all 12 commission members was that agencies must do a better job identifying and supporting children most at-risk of fatalities and their families, along with sharing electronic data in real time about children and reviewing each time a child suffers life-threatening injuries.

Combined these are huge factors in figuring out which child is most in danger, explained David Sanders, the commission’s chairman and the executive vice president for Casey Family Programs.

“It’s clearly possible for us to dramatically reduce deaths,” Sanders said in September. “We have to think about child safety beyond the child protection system.”

Other recommendations where members reached consensus was for more accountability across agencies and elevating the federal Children’s Bureau within the Department of Health and Human Services, the report said.

The one recommendation that they did not achieve consensus upon was funding, but they offered four options, the report said.

“We have to think about child safety beyond the child protection system.” — Chairman David Sanders

One suggested that Congress should give $1 billion more in funding for child protection services while another plan urged an overhaul in federal funding to offer states and local jurisdictions more flexibility to proactively target needs.

Ahead of the report’s release, U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett, a Democrat from Texas who helped establish the commission, praised the report and called on state and federal leaders to do more to “give vulnerable children hope,” he said Wednesday in a written statement.

“The report provides a modest map to prevent child abuse, but we need the political drive to steer these changes into law and avoid lurching from one tragedy to another.”

Editor’s Note: This report was clarified for agreement on recommendations.

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