In 2017, the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System estimated that 1,720 children died from abuse and neglect. Even one child’s death is one too many, and we know those numbers probably don’t even tell the full story. Right now, the lack of a clear definition for “child maltreatment fatality” lets too many kids slip through the cracks. And one child’s death is one too many.
That’s why I joined my Republican colleague Senator Roy Blunt to introduce our bipartisan Child Abuse Death Disclosure Act, to provide policymakers and public health officials with a clearer picture on exactly how many children we are losing each year.
We can’t solve the problem if we don’t even have accurate data on how bad it is. Our bill would allow states to collect important information to better assess when and why child abuse fatalities occur.
It would require the Department of Health and Human Services to consult with state and local officials, child welfare practitioners, pediatricians, public health officials, and law enforcement to develop a national standard definition related to child abuse deaths. Without a standard, national definition for “child maltreatment fatality,” we are never going to able to accurately track this problem.
Our bill would also require states to report case-specific information to the National Center for Fatality Review and Prevention to better understand the circumstances around a child’s death, including requiring that states to look into whether the family had access to housing, mental health services, or drug treatment services. It would also promote culturally competent training to address disparities in child protection reporting and investigations.
The only way we can prevent more of these tragic deaths is if we get an accurate picture of the problem, and treat child abuse prevention like the public health issue that it is. That’s why we need to tailor our responses to meet the needs of families in Ohio and around the country.
We’re all in this together. The fight to end child abuse and neglect deaths starts with community awareness and responding to at-risk families before they are in crisis.
Our bill has the support of child advocacy organizations, including the National Children’s Alliance and the Child Welfare League of America. And with Senator Blunt on board, I’m hopeful that we can make real progress on this commonsense, bipartisan plan to save children’s lives.
Sherrod Brown is a Democratic U.S. Senator representing Ohio.