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

Protecting Children Today and Envisioning a Stronger Child Welfare System for the Future

Filed in Commissioner’s Blog By on February 8, 2016

As the Commission nears the end of its work on the issue of child abuse and neglect fatalities, it is clear that there are no simple answers to this complex challenge.

There have been promising findings from a few communities that have come together in ways that appear to be reducing deaths from child abuse and neglect. These approaches are hopeful, and the Commission will build its recommendations off of what we’ve learned about what works and what does not and what approaches appear to hold promise. Unfortunately, we found only a few well-researched programs that are demonstrated to reduce fatalities and only a handful of communities that had chosen to attempt to reduce fatalities. Furthermore, we found that a coordinated national response that reflects and responds to the urgency of the present crisis is lacking.

Based on the promising efforts we observed, we identified three major challenges facing communities that hindered efforts to reform child welfare and keep children safe:

  • First, there is a lack of sustained leadership and accountability at the federal, state, and local levels. Leadership on this issue will require strategic planning, coordination across multiple agencies, sustained focus, and a level of resources to bring about significant change.
  • There is also a lack of evidence-based research and clear data about the number of children who die each year and the circumstances of those deaths. There is no standard mandated reporting system for child abuse or neglect deaths, and definitions, investigative procedures, and reporting requirements vary from state to state.
  • And finally, a lack of cross-system collaboration places too much of the onus on CPS for identifying children at risk and preventing abuse before it happens, particularly when so many of the children who die from abuse aren’t previously known to the child welfare system.

As we have heard from agencies across the spectrum, in order for any strategy to succeed, it will need to include a multidisciplinary model that features meaningful and mutually accountable partnerships among CPS, the courts, law enforcement, the medical community, educators, neighborhoods and families, and more. We recognize that this kind of deeply rooted collaboration, while necessary to generate real and lasting solutions, takes time.

Yet we know that there is no time to waste if we are to save the lives of the many children who are in dangerous situations right now, today. As we completed this work, we read hundreds of headlines about children who have died each year at the hands of those who were supposed to protect them. Not a day has gone by that we haven’t thought about these children, pictured their faces, and reflected on the many lives cut short.

That is why, as we near the release of our final report, our Commission is reviewing options for both immediate recommendations that will begin to save children’s lives right away and comprehensive changes to create a redefined child welfare system of the 21st century.

Solving the issue of child abuse and neglect fatalities is within our reach, if we can apply the lessons of the past, act with urgency to protect children at risk today, and create a new vision for a more effective child welfare system of the future.

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