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Commission seeks data standards in child maltreatment cases

By Paul R. Pace, News staff

There were 1,620 child maltreatment deaths reported in 2012, but research suggests that the real number may be under reported by 1,000 or more children because of a lack of consistency in how child deaths are documented across the U.S.

David Sanders, left, chairman of the national Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities, and Commissioner Michael Petit discuss the proceedings at the CECANF Florida public hearing held in 2014. It was one of several public hearings the commission has conducted across the U.S.

Improving standards of data collection in child maltreatment deaths is a major goal of the National Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities, said NASW member Michael Petit, a member of the commission and president of the Every Child Matters Education Fund.

“That is something we’re going to address, part of the difference in how states keep records,” Petit told NASW leaders at a special meeting in October. David Sanders, chairman of the commission and executive vice president for Casey Family Programs, joined Petit in meeting with the NASW board of directors, the association’s CEO, Angelo McClain, and its national child welfare staff.

Child maltreatment deaths are a crisis not only for families and the community, but also for those who work in the field of child welfare, Petit said.

“We definitely need guidance on a number of issues, but particularly workforce issues,” he said.

The 12-member commission, which was created by the bipartisan Protect Our Kids Act in 2012, includes social worker Marilyn Bruguier Zimmerman, director of the National Native Children’s Trauma Center.

Commissioners are reaching out to organizations and associations involved in child welfare in an effort to learn best practices in preventing child abuse fatalities and insight into what federal, state and local policies have proven effective in preventing such deaths.

Commissioners held public hearings in several states in 2014 and more are planned for this year. The information will aid the commissioners as they begin to draft a recommendation report to Congress and the president by 2016.

Petit suggested that child welfare agencies in general need to adopt a “fire department approach” to how they respond to calls for investigation. When a fire department responds to an emergency, he said, firefighters don’t ask questions first, they show up to assess the scene.

“Every case needs a response,” Petit said. “If a referral comes in, there is usually something going on. It probably doesn’t arise to the level of abuse or neglect in the vast majority of cases, but something is going on.”

From the January 2015 NASW News. NASW members can read the full story after logging in.


  1. Kathleen Fitzpatrick LMSW

    I’m an NASW member. I’ve been a sw since the 70s working in child welfare for all but the last 20yrs when I opened a private practice. You can change all the policy & procedures you want & without any true value for children. & those of us who work to help them, nothing will change. Nothing has gotten any better in my career. Actually help for addiction, poverty sexism & racism is worse than @ the beginning of my career. Well keep studying & writing your reports & good luck. What’s that definition of insanity talked about in the addiction field?

  2. Kathleen brings excellent points to the table. I’m surprised that, in the two years since this commission was formed, the best they have come up with is standardization of data collection and identification of only one process that is predicted to decrease the number of child deaths from mistreatment? They’re still trying to identify “best practices” across the U.S., with no identified correlation toward outcomes?

    Yes, the definitiion of insanity, according to Einstein, is continuing to do things the same way and expecting different results. Social Work has taken this approach to its interventions for decades. It’s the same old formula: We “know” that what we’re doing is good, so please give us more and more money to keep doing what we’ve been doing. If we’re to provide services to help people, shouldn’t we be heart-centered to analyze the efficacy of our interventions and then change our practice accordingly?

    I’ll be happy to work with this commission and any one else who wants to take a performance improvement or research/evidence-based practice approach to improving care.

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