Child Maltreatment: Strengthening National Data on Child Fatalities Could Aid in Prevention,

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Government Accountability Office

Officially, the number of children who died of maltreatment in the United States in 2009 was 1,770. That’s the count from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System.

But no one knows the real number, a Government Accountability Office official told a congressional subcommittee in July, because the states don’t have the same standards or resources for investigating and reporting child deaths.

The testimony of Kay E. Brown, director of the Education, Workforce and Income Security division of the GAO, coincided with the release of this new report, which concludes that the Department of Health and Human Services’ official numbers represent a substantial undercount of such deaths, partly because 24 states reported only the deaths of children who had had contact with child protective services.

These states did nothing to cull numbers from medical examiners, police records or even hospitals, and they and many others failed to determine the underlying circumstances of a child’s death. Not represented in the child maltreatment deaths were many incidents that were ruled as accidental – including parents rolling over on infants who were sharing their bed – and deaths that were ruled as sudden infant deaths that may actually have been intentional suffocations.

Michigan officials told GAO investigators that they have difficulty getting medical records from children who are taken across the state line for treatment.

In Michigan in an average year, CPS recorded 40 maltreatment deaths, police reported 26 and vital records reported 16 child abuse deaths – but few of those deaths were reported in more than one place. An extensive investigation revealed that the true child abuse death toll in Michigan for the year was 100 children. Similar lapses in reporting are suspected in about half the states.

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