Academic journal article Child Welfare

Extent and Nature of Child Maltreatment-Related Fatalities: Implications for Policy and Practice

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Extent and Nature of Child Maltreatment-Related Fatalities: Implications for Policy and Practice

Article excerpt

This article reviews significant research findings regarding child maltreatment fatalities over the last thirty years. Notably, the article focuses on several important subsets of children who die from maltreatment, including young children, children reported to child protective services, and children who live in families with poor parental attachment, mental illness, substance abuse, and domestic violence. The article then sets forth three proposals for broadening the United States' approach to child protection and reducing child maltreatment fatalities.

Despite the wealth of knowledge regarding child maltreatment deaths in the United States, there are still no proven solutions for addressing the problem. Similarly, despite improvements in child protective service (CPS) agencies' responses to child maltreatment, CPS reforms alone have not significantly reduced child deaths resulting from maltreatment. This article seeks to identify and focus on major findings in child maltreatment research to advance solutions that have clear implications for public policy, public health, and child welfare practice. By concentrating on situations in which children most frequently suffer severe injury or death, the authors propose interventions that have the potential to protect the greatest number of children.

Major Research Findings Regarding Child Victims and Perpetrators

During 2011, child protective service agencies across the country received an estimated 3.4 million referrals involving the alleged maltreatment of approximately 6.2 million children, and agencies confirmed 676,569 children as victims of abuse or neglect (Administration for Children and Families (ACF), 2011). Fifty states, along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, reported a total of 1,545 child maltreatment fatalities in 2011, resulting in a rate of 2.10 deaths per 100,000 children. While the number of reported child abuse and neglect fatalities has fluctuated during the past five years, the number of maltreatment fatalities reported in the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) is currently the lowest it has been since 2007. However, much of this decrease may be due to changes in counting and classifying child deaths in a few large states (Miller, 2012).

Child injury rates have similarly fluctuated over the past five years (ACF, 2011). A recent study found a 5% increase in the number of children hospitalized for serious injuries resulting from child abuse over the twelve years from 1997 to 2009 (Leventhal & Gaither, 2012). Notably, children under the age of one accounted for more than half of the severe cases of hospitalizations resulting from abuse in the twelve year period, and their rate of inflicted injury increased by over 10% during this time (Leventhal & Gaither, 2012). NCANDS data, on the other hand, which does not account for serious injuries resulting from maltreatment, shows a decline in physical abuse over the past five years.

Caretakers, particularly biological parents, are the most common perpetrators of maltreatment leading to fatality (Chance & Scannapieco,2002). In 2011, biological mothers and fathers accounted for 78% of child deaths from abuse and neglect. This number is consistent with reports of non-fatal maltreatment, which indicate that for more than 81% of victims, a biological parent, either acting alone or with someone else, abused or neglected the child. In 2011, mothers acting alone or with a non-parental individual committed 39% of maltreatment fatalities, biological fathers and mothers acting together committed 22%, and fathers acting alone or with a non-parental individual committed 17%. Individuals without a parental relationship to the child accounted for 13% of maltreatment deaths (ACF, 2011).

These numbers have remained fairly consistent for the last three decades. Individuals who are responsible for abuse and neglect fatalities are usually under the age of thirty, most commonly in their late teenage years or early-to-mid-20s (Chance & Scannapieco, 2002). …

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