More efforts needed to prevent child abuse

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Lloyd Doggett

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett

Guest viewpoint by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett

As a grandfather of three young girls, who bring so much happiness to our family, it is difficult to understand a child being subjected to harmful neglect or abuse, especially from a family member.

Even one case is too many, but we continue to see these tragedies with 655 children dying due to abuse or neglect in Texas in the past five years. As we observe National Child Abuse Prevention Month this April, we must redouble our commitment to prevent children from suffering or dying at the hands of those who should be caring for them.

Much of what needs to be done to reduce child abuse — and fatalities stemming from such mistreatment — is as simple as dedicating more local, state, and federal resources.

Over the past two years, repeated reports of inadequacies in the caseworker system have led to the kind of attention to this problem that has the potential to truly create lasting change.

One problem has been child caseworkers who find themselves overburdened with an unrealistic workload. Thus, the turnover rate of new front-line caseworkers in Texas remains over 40 percent annually.

A caseworker losing critical contact with a family can lead to an absence of treatment, counseling, or care, and, ultimately, to tragedy.

One study has shown that a child with one consistent caseworker has about a 75 percent chance of achieving placement in a permanent home, but when a case is handed off to another worker, a child’s chance of reaching permanency within a year plummets to less than 20 percent.

To assess the true national scope of the problem and provide a roadmap to make improvements, I successfully authored the Protect Our Kids Act that created the National Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities.

I testified before the commission during its first hearing last June in San Antonio at the UTSA Downtown campus to assess the efforts currently taking place to combat child maltreatment.

In addition to reducing caseloads, more of our efforts should be focused on prevention rather than reaction after abuse has occurred. One such effort that has proven effective is nurse home visiting, which helps economically disadvantaged parents become the parents that they want to be.

With guidance from qualified professionals, it provides services to families who have a child with disabilities. Nurse home visiting has been shown to dramatically reduce child abuse and neglect injuries and improve educational outcomes for children most at risk of maltreatment.

We can work together to prevent the tragedy of child abuse by supporting the dedicated individuals and organizations like the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Texas, Voices for Children, ChildSafe, the Child Protection Center and CASA, who tackle these issues daily.

It is my hope that the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities will take the information it has been gathering to help in correcting the systematic failures in the prevention of child abuse and neglect nationwide.

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett represents the 35th Congressional District of Texas.

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  1. Don, the 14%er on

    U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett is right to be concerned about child abuse. And the pity is, most child abuse is perpetrated by a parent. But what most people don’t know is that most abuse and neglect is perpetrated by the mother!
    If we are to redouble our commitment to prevent children from suffering or dying at the hands of those who should be caring for them, we most reach out to women. Mothers abuse children about twice as often as fathers.
    Approximately 40 percent of child victims were maltreated by their mothers acting alone; another 18.3 percent were maltreated by their fathers acting alone; 17.3 percent were abused by both parents. [USDHHS, 2007]
    The overwhelming majority of perpetrators of child maltreatment deaths are biological parents, especially mothers. National statistics report that about 78% of fatalities in 2003 were perpetrated by biological parents. Of those, 39% were committed by mothers (either alone or with a non-parent), 19% were committed by fathers (either alone or with a non-parent) and 20% were committed by mothers and fathers together. [United States Administration for Children & Families, Child Maltreatment 2003: Reports from the States to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data Systems – National statistics on child abuse and neglect. 2005]
    The DHHS data shows that of children abused by one parent between 2001 and 2006, 70.6% were abused by their mothers, whereas only 29.4% were abused by their fathers. And of children who died at the hands of one parent between 2001 and 2006, 70.8% were killed by their mothers, whereas only 29.2% were killed by their fathers. [“Child abuse and neglect” and the “Child fatality” tables from each of the DHHS’ “Child Maltreatment” reports between 2001 and 2006]
    It is only after we admit who are the perpetrators of child abuse can we begin to seek to resolve the problem.

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