At the Front Line of Child Abuse

Article excerpt

Despite the best professionals and organizations around the country, incidences of child abuse and neglect continue to rise. The College of Human Ecology's Family Life Development Center is a resource to organizations, professionals, and researchers involved in the endless battle against this national tragedy.

In the early 1970s, following the lead of the federal government, the states began to turn their attention toward fighting the growing problem of child abuse and neglect. In New York, the state legislature began to search for an academic center that could serve as a resource for professionals and paraprofessionals working with families and children. After considering several options, the state established the Family Life Development Center in the College of Human Ecology in 1974.

"There was a need for guidance, and the state had the foresight to realize it was important to have a university linkage to help think through some of the issues of child maltreatment as well as to provide research," says John Eckenrode, co-director of the FLDC and a professor in the college's Department of Human Development.

Twenty-five years later, the need for the FLDC and similar centers is greater than ever. Despite the enormous amounts of money and professional expertise that have been directed at finding solutions, the incidence of child maltreatment continues to be a national tragedy. Here are just a few numbers from 1995:

* Child protective service agencies in 49 states reported more than 1 million instances of substantiated or indicated child abuse and neglect.

* More than 2 million cases involving 3 million children were investigated.

* Roughly 53 percent of victims suffered neglect, 25 percent suffered physical abuse, 13 percent were victims of sexual abuse, 5 percent suffered emotional abuse, and 3 percent suffered medical neglect. Some children suffered several kinds of maltreatment.

* Agency reports from 45 states revealed that 996 children died from maltreatment. Most were three years old or younger. Not all child fatalities are reported to child protective service agencies.

In New York State, the statistics are equally troubling. More than 100,000 cases of child abuse and neglect are investigated every year. Eckenrode says that an examination of the epidemiological data shows a steady increase in reports from the mid-80s to the mid-90s.

"There has been some recent evidence that it's leveling off," he says. "But if it is, that's not good news because it's leveling off at a high point. Also, some people are concerned that welfare reform efforts, if they're not undergirded by support to families being moved off welfare, may come back to haunt us in the form of increased child maltreatment reports.

"We won't really know until we see how state efforts play themselves out two or three years down the road. Some may be doing a good job supporting families. Some may not."

The sheer magnitude of the problem in New York has resulted in a beleaguered army of 3,000 child protective service workers who investigate reports of abuse and neglect throughout the state. Before they begin their work in the field, most come to Ithaca to attend a two-week workshop conducted by FLDC staff. The center provides education for nearly 1,000 service workers in 11 such workshops each year. Only those working in New York City receive their experience elsewhere.

"This is our longest-running program," says senior extension associate Michael Nunno of the workshops, which are conducted under a long-term contract with the New York State Department of Social Services, currently the Office of Child and Family Services. "We also have five different courses that we offer in two-day advanced training sessions, which we conduct around the state."

Over the years, the FLDC has conducted many other educational programs for professionals who work with families and children. …