States would be required to report all deaths related to child abuse and create recommendations for curbing them under a bipartisan bill being pushed in the U.S. Senate.
The bill, which has not yet been published, aims to give policymakers and public health officials a reliable baseline number to work with as they grapple with the problem, said Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, in a Wednesday news conference in Washington, D.C. Also sponsoring the bill, titled the Child Abuse Death Disclosure Act, is Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri.
A similar bill Brown introduced in 2019 went nowhere despite support from the American Academy of Pediatrics and other groups.
Brown said he was inspired to act again by a pair of tragic child abuse deaths in Ohio in recent years, and noted that the bill attempts to act on some of the recommendations by the federal Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities in its final report from 2016.
That report found that the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System doesn’t capture the entire number of child abuse fatalities for a number of reasons. It recommended improving data collection, better information-sharing between agencies, more funding for child welfare programs and the development of a standard definition of “child maltreatment fatality.”
Whatever the real number is, the Administration for Children and Families’ most recent report tallied 1,840 child deaths from neglect and abuse in 2019, about five a day and up a bit from two years earlier.
Physical and sexual abuse tend to be a factor in fewer than half of those deaths, but some of the death cases involved neglect as well. About three-fourths of the deaths involve children under 3 years old, and most of those children didn’t live to see their first birthday.
Policymakers are eager to find out not only how many children die, but also what circumstances are likely to be red flags. This information can help them figure out the best way to prevent the deaths and what interventions might work.
“To prevent more of these tragic deaths, we must have complete and accurate data,” Brown said. “It’s time to treat child abuse prevention as the public health issue that it is and tailor our response to meet the needs of families in Ohio and around the country,” Brown said.
The Child Abuse Death Disclosure Act would require states to develop a multidisciplinary team to examine the circumstances of all child abuse-related deaths and report case-specific information to the National Center for Fatality Review and Prevention. The team would also be responsible for developing recommendations for prevention and publicly report every year to state and federal officials.
In addition, the Department of Health and Human Services would have 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 or child maltreatment fatalities.
The bill would also promote training on child maltreatment fatalities for child death review teams to root out racial and cultural bias. States would be encouraged to fund training for pediatricians and medical providers as well.