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The term of the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities expired on March 18, 2016.

Ending Fatalities Is Within Our Reach

Filed in Commissioner’s Blog By on March 18, 2016

By Dr. David SandersDavid Sanders, Chairman

March 18, 2016

Anyone who has ever been a child welfare director carries forever the memories of getting that midnight call or learning from the media that a child in his or her jurisdiction has died from abuse or neglect. For me, it felt like being hit in the stomach.

When I was a child welfare director 10 years ago, we never discussed strategies to prevent these deaths. Our priority was simply to manage the crisis. As my fellow Commissioners and I traveled the country over the past two years, we found that this conversation is beginning to change. We still have to manage crises, but as child welfare leaders, we are ready to get ahead of the curve in order to prevent fatalities.

I am convinced that access to the findings of this Commission would have helped me immensely as a child welfare director, guiding me in making practice and policy decisions that would have reduced fatalities immediately. For example, it would have helped me to know:

  1. Infants and toddlers are at high risk of an abuse or neglect fatality compared to other age groups. They require special attention.
  2. A call to a child protection hotline, regardless of the disposition, is the best predictor of a later child abuse or neglect fatality. This points to the importance of the initial decision to “screen out” certain calls. Screening out leaves children unseen who may be at a high risk for later fatality.
  3. Involvement of health care and public health agencies and professionals is vital to safety for children. Well-coordinated interagency efforts are essential.
  4. The importance of child protection workers’ access to real-time information about families cannot be overestimated. It is critical that all services that come into contact with children—such as hospitals, law enforcement, or assistance programs—are communicating with CPS to ensure that they have the information they need to keep kids safe.
  5. It is critical to have an accurate national count of child protection fatalities. Better data allow us to begin to understand what works and what doesn’t.
  6. The Nurse-Family Partnership program has been demonstrated to save lives.

Our Commission’s final report, Within Our Reach: A National Strategy to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities, outlines a strategy for how to use these findings to realign our organizations and communities to protect children at highest risk of fatality from abuse or neglect. CPS agencies will always play a critical role, but waiting until a severe injury has occurred to allow CPS to intervene misses numerous opportunities to protect these children in their communities. By combining a proactive approach to child safety with a more strategic response, we hope to make prevention of fatalities from abuse and neglect standard practice.

Child protection is perhaps the only field where some child deaths are assumed to be inevitable, no matter how hard we work to stop them. This is certainly not true in the airline industry, where safety is paramount and commercial airline crashes are never seen as unavoidable. As a Commission, we believe we can reverse the assumption that some children will inevitably die from abuse or neglect.

We wish to thank those who have taken this journey with us, including all those who testified and met with us to discuss their work, to offer their suggestions, and to share their hopes. Their research, knowledge, and hard questions helped us reach the recommendations we present in our final report.

We recognize that this problem is complex, but from the time we began meeting, we knew we owed it to children to come up with a national strategy that will make a difference. We believe we have done so.

CECANF Final Report.

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