A stuffed animal and flowers lie near a swing in Wills Memorial Park in LaPlata, Md., where a toddler was found dead last year. His mother was charged with manslaughter and child abuse. (Matthew Barakat /Assocaited Press)

FOR TWO years, a federal commission has been studying the deaths of children from abuse or neglect. Traveling the country, talking to child welfare leaders and reading daily headlines about young lives lost, the commission came to a sobering realization: We accept these fatalities as inevitable. In a powerful report, the commission challenges that mind-set and urges a new goal — zero fatalities — and a new, proactive, public-health approach to prevent these deaths.

The Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities, established by the White House and Congress as the result of bipartisan legislation in 2012, last week released its conclusions calling for fundamental changes in child protection. Instead of a single government agency that waits until a child is severely injured before intervening, “Within Our Reach” calls for collaboration among agencies and professions that come into contact with children and data-driven decisions that take into account the social and economic conditions that put children at risk.

Previous efforts by the federal government to tackle the issue have not succeeded, and unfortunately the commission found few examples of evidence-based solutions. One notable exception is the home-based Nurse-Family Partnership. The commission held up that program as a model and additionally identified a number of findings that should help those charged with child protection to devise new strategies focused on prevention. A number of children die without coming to the attention of child protective services, the commission found, but having been seen by other professionals. That highlights the importance of coordination and the sharing of real-time information, which today is often blocked by legal and bureaucratic barriers.

We hope this thoughtful report is taken to heart by national, state and local policymakers. Some recommendations — like the need for states to review how they deal with reports of abuse and neglect for children under 3, those most at risk for fatality — can be immediately implemented. Others — such as how to direct funds from existing entitlement programs to those with real promise of being effective — will require more study and deliberation.

One thing, though, is clear. Continuing the present course will result in more of what the commission called “unfinished lives.” Consider that during each of the two years the commission met, heard testimony and deliberated, an estimated 3,000 children — “eight children a day, every day” — died from abuse or neglect. That’s something that should be unacceptable.