Today, the subcommittee on Human Resources of the House Committee on Ways and Means held a hearing on child deaths due to maltreatment. Committee Chairman Congressman Geoff Davis (R-KY) was joined by ranking member Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) and subcommittee members Congressmen Rick Berg (R-ND), Tom Reed (R-NY), Jim McDermott (D-WA), John Lewis (D-GA), and Joseph Crowley (D-NY). The hearing was held in conjunction with the release of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) study on the data reporting systems for child deaths due to maltreatment. The GAO found that the annual National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS), vital records, and law enforcement databases chronically underreport child deaths due to maltreatment.
Witnesses who provided testimony came from a variety of fields ranging from medical to nonprofit. All of the panelists noted a significant problem in state child death reporting systems and cited that varying definitions of child maltreatment and criteria for counting child deaths among states make understanding the true scope of the problem difficult. As Panelist Jane McClure Berstain, Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, noted, “Some states do not report [the data] at all, some states report that they have no maltreatment deaths, and for the other states, total numbers range from 1 up to 279.” The panelists placed a strong emphasis on the importance of counting deaths accurately in order to provide funds for initiatives to prevent future deaths.
While the panelists and representatives agreed that the data reporting system was a significant problem, panelists Michael Petit, President of Every Child Matters Education Fund, and Theresa M. Covington, Director of the National Center for Child Death Review, provided a possible solution when they called for the creation of a National Commission to oversee the collection of data on child deaths due to maltreatment. Petit also called for reform of the strict confidentiality laws that deny the press, elected officials, and the public information on child fatalities that would be helpful for gaining a better understanding of child abuse and neglect in the United States. Other panelists noted the importance of continuing to provide funding for prevention and education services to poverty-stricken families and young mothers, two groups at risk of future child abuse and neglect.
In recent years, the CWLA has worked to raise awareness about child deaths due to maltreatment by promoting initiatives like Child Abuse Prevention Month.