Coalition: End the 'National Media Blackout' on Child Abuse and Neglect Deaths in Order to Aid Needed Reforms

Dec 14, 2010, 13:30 ET from National Coalition to End Child Abuse Deaths, Washington, D.C.

"National Epidemic" of Nearly 2,500 Deaths Each Year Covered Significantly Less at National Level Than Other Issues Involving Far Fewer Deaths; Above-Average Child Maltreatment Death Rates in FL, NE, NM, TN, OK, TX, AR, MO, LA, OH, GA and CO Highlighted.

WASHINGTON, Dec. 14, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Every death is tragic, but why does the national media in the U.S. ignore the nearly 2,500 deaths each year that result from child abuse and neglect?  Why do other issues involving far fewer deaths – such as the H1N1 virus, food-borne illnesses, Toyota accelerator malfunctions and coal mining – get far more attention from major news media outlets?

These are the tough questions that are being posed today by the National Coalition to End Child Abuse Deaths (NCECAD) in calling for an end to the "de facto national media blackout" on coverage of deaths due to child abuse and neglect.    The Coalition stressed that the lack of media attention to U.S. child abuse deaths is the No. 1 impediment to the enactment of needed federal and state reforms, including a seven-step national strategy to curb child deaths due to maltreatment, $3-$5 billion in additional federal funding, and reform of state confidentiality laws.

The little-reported-on national scourge of child abuse and neglect deaths is so severe in the U.S. that it even eclipses the combined number of annual U.S. combat fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to NCECAD data.   The most current figures show the following annual numbers for much more widely publicized causes of death:  

  • U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan: 479.
  • H1N1 pediatric fatalities: 281.
  • Food-borne illnesses: 74.
  • Toyota accelerator malfunction: 34.
  • Coal mining accidents: 33.
  • Total of above: 901.

(See the NCECAD data online at http://www.endchildabusedeaths.org.)

Though U.S. government reporting tracks only about 1,800 child maltreatment deaths (which is still twice all of the other causes listed above, including combat deaths in Iraq/Afghanistan), flaws in the abuse/neglect reporting system obscure a true child death toll that is estimated at an annual average of nearly 2,500.  The flaws leading to underreporting of child abuse and neglect are, in fact, one of the issues that would be remedied under the Coalition's recommended reforms. (See below.)  

A search of Google News for "child abuse deaths" shows more than 700 stories for January-November 2010, with nearly all of the stories being of the local "crime beat" variety and with almost no national coverage in the mix.  This contrasts sharply with much more nationally oriented news reporting on the other topics, including flu deaths (1,180 stories), food illness deaths (over 3,000 stories).   The Coalition emphasized that it in no way is minimizing the importance other causes of death and, instead, is seeking to ensure that child abuse and neglect deaths get the attention they deserve from the news media.

While the child abuse/child neglect crisis is one of major national concern, it also is of particular significance in the top 12 states that are above the national average for child abuse/neglect deaths (2.33 per 100,000 children):  Florida 4.62; Nebraska 3.80; New Mexico 3.78; Tennessee 3.72; Oklahoma 3.42; Texas 3.32; Arkansas 2.99; Missouri 2.95; Louisiana and Ohio (both at 2.71); Georgia 2.67; and Colorado 2.65.

Michael Petit, President, Every Child Matters Education Fund, said:  "The plain truth here is that our nation is suffering from what is nothing short of an epidemic of child abuse and neglect deaths and the U.S. media is turning a blind eye to this problem.   We are here today to call for an end to this de facto national media blackout so that more Americans and policymakers can come to understand the need for action that will otherwise never happen if this crisis continues to lag in obscurity.   This is a real wake-up call for national media, which we are calling on to start doing its job in casting a long-overdue spotlight on child abuse and neglect deaths."

Scott Burns, executive director, National District Attorneys Association, said:  "A District Attorney's job is not just to prosecute offenders, but to protect victims.  Who is more vulnerable than a child?  There are what experts believe to be nearly 2,500 child abuse and neglect deaths each year in the U.S.  This is staggering compared to the number of widely publicized Toyota accelerator deaths (34), H1N1 deaths (281), and even the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan (479).  While each death is tragic and important, child abuse deaths receive virtually no national media attention.  America can do better." 

Teresa Huizar, director, National Children's Alliance, said: "Child abuse deaths are misunderstood by the public, and often reported by the media, as isolated and largely inexplicable family events.  They are neither.  Rather, they are preventable tragedies and our national shame.  We are calling on policymakers to implement a national strategy to end these needless deaths." 

Joan Zlotnik, director, Social Work Policy Institute, National Association of Social Workers, said:  "Every day, too many children are abused, neglected and murdered in our communities. The only way to truly protect these vulnerable lives is to address the most serious problems facing families in crisis. Well-trained professionals serving in community-based prevention programs and in adequately funded service agencies are essential, but they are not enough. Our national leaders must decide that vulnerable lives are also valuable lives, and then support policies that make real change possible."

SEVEN-POINT PLAN ON U.S. CHILD ABUSE/NEGLECT DEATHS

The following recommendations are supported by the National Coalition to End Child Abuse Deaths:

  1. Building upon the best of current child protection systems, the government should develop a strategy for stopping maltreatment deaths. It should include public health and social services aimed at strengthening families and preventing maltreatment in the first place: voluntary, universal home visiting, substance abuse and mental health treatment, teen pregnancy prevention, pre-natal care, and other policies proven to work, along with state of the art assessment tools to identify and properly assess those at risk.
  2. Current levels of federal spending are far below the level needed to protect all children at imminent risk of harm. An estimated $3-$5 billion in additional funds are required, for example, to allow child protective workers and other frontline personnel to have smaller caseloads and better training not only so that they will be better prepared to immediately protect children but so that they will consider lifelong careers in child protection thus bringing needed maturity and experience to the system. Continuing education and training across disciplines should be mandated, focusing especially on licensure, accreditation, and support for sub-specialties. Funds are also needed to provide a wide array of public health and social services to help at-risk kids, including comprehensive in-home services for all children already in the system.
  3. In consideration of expanded federal spending, states should be required to adopt national standards drawn from existing best practices and policies for protecting children.
  4. Originally intended to protect living child victims from publicity, confidentiality laws have become a hindrance to a better public understanding of child abuse and neglect fatalities. The withholding of information, especially between jurisdictions and between agencies can be detrimental and cost children their lives. Congress should consider modifications to confidentiality laws to allow policy makers, the press, and the public to better understand what protection policies and practices need to be improved in the aftermath of a child's death, while still protecting the rights of children and families.
  5. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) should standardize definitions and methodologies used to collect state data related to maltreatment deaths and should require states to provide such data to the Department and within and across systems in order to receive federal funds. This would require that state child death review teams be adequately funded.
  6. HHS, in cooperation with state child protective and public health agencies, should conduct a public education campaign to encourage reporting of child maltreatment, and to enlist communities in the protection of children.  Because much maltreatment and many maltreatment deaths arise from neglect and abuse, neglect should receive equal focus in the campaign and by those involved in child protection.
  7. To better protect children at imminent risk of severe harm, the federal government, led by HHS, and in cooperation with states, should adopt a model protocol for assuring that civil and criminal legal proceedings are closely coordinated between child protection and law enforcement agencies.

ABOUT THE COALITION

The National Coalition to End Child Abuse Deaths is made up of five national organizations that came together following the release of the report "We Can Do Better: Child Abuse and Neglect Deaths in America" at the Summit to End Child Abuse and Neglect Deaths in October 2009. The report recognized the growing number of American children who die each year as a result of child abuse and neglect -- nearly 2,500 -- and several studies suggest that this is a low estimate of the actual number of deaths. Among rich democracies, this rate is three times higher than that of Canada and 11 times higher than that of Italy. The Coalition members are: National Association of Social Workers, National Center for Child Death Review, National Children's Alliance, Every Child Matters Education Fund and National District Attorneys Association.

EDITOR'S NOTE:  A streaming audio replay of the news event will be available on the Web at http://www.endchildabusedeaths.org as of 5 p.m. EST on December 14, 2010.  

SOURCE National Coalition to End Child Abuse Deaths, Washington, D.C.



RELATED LINKS

http://www.endchildabusedeaths.org