Report: 760 kids die of abuse-neglect in 6-year-span
Butte, Montana – — At least 760 children died of abuse or neglect in the U.S. in a six-year span in plain view of child protection authorities — many of them beaten, starved or left alone to drown while agencies had good reason to know they were in danger, the Associated Press has found.
To determine that number, the AP canvassed the 50 states, the District of Columbia and branches of the military — circumventing a system that does a terrible job of accounting for child deaths. Many states struggled to provide numbers. Michigan had 22 kids who died from abuse or neglect from fiscal year 2009 through 2013 (2008 was missing).
Most of the 760 children whose cases were compiled by the AP were under the age of 4. They lost their lives even as authorities were investigating their families or providing some form of protective services because of previous instances of neglect or violence or other troubles in the home.
Take Mattisyn Blaz, a 2-month-old Montana girl who died when her father spiked her “like a football,” in the words of a prosecutor.
Matthew Blaz was well-known to child services personnel and police. Just two weeks after Mattisyn was born on June 25, 2013, he came home drunk, grabbed his wife by her hair and threw her to the kitchen floor while she clung to the newborn.
Jennifer Blaz said a child protective services worker visited the day after her husband’s attack, spoke with her briefly and left. Her husband pleaded guilty to assault and was ordered by a judge to take anger management classes and stay away from his wife. Convinced he had changed, his wife allowed him to return to the home.
She said the next official contact between the family and Montana child services came more than six weeks later — the day of Mattisyn’s funeral.
The system also failed Ethan Henderson, who was only 10 weeks old but already had been treated for a broken arm when his father hurled him into a recliner so hard that it caused a fatal brain injury.
Maine hotline workers had received at least 13 calls warning that Ethan or his siblings were suffering abuse. The caseworker who inspected the family’s cramped trailer six days before Ethan died on May 8, 2012, wrote that the baby appeared “well cared for and safe in the care of his parents.”
Many factors can contribute to the abuse dilemma nationwide: The child protective services system is plagued with worker shortages and a serious overload of cases.
Budgets are tight, and nearly 40 percent of the 3 million child abuse and neglect complaints made annually to child protective services hotlines are “screened out” and never investigated.
Also, insufficient training for those who answer child abuse hotlines leads to reports being misclassified, sometimes with deadly consequences; a lack of a comprehensive national child welfare database allows some abusers to avoid detection by moving to different states; and a policy that promotes keeping families intact can play a major role in the number of deaths.
Because no single, complete set of data exists for the deaths of children who already were being overseen by child welfare caseworkers.
But the number of abuse and neglect fatalities where a prior open case existed at the time of death is undoubtedly much higher than the tally of 760.
Eight states reported a total of 260 open-case child deaths over the six-year period, but those were not included in the AP count because the states could not make a distinction between investigations started due to the incident that ultimately led to a child’s death and cases that already were open when the child received the fatal injury.
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