Hearings provide feedback for Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities

Nov 18, 2014

Participation at public hearings to develop a national strategy to eliminate child maltreatment deaths has exceeded expectations, said NASW member Michael Petit, president of Every Child Matters Education Fund.

Petit and social worker Marilyn Bruguier Zimmerman, director of the National Native Children’s Trauma Center, serve on the 12-member Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities, which was created by the bipartisan Protect Our Kids Act in 2012.

A multitude of stakeholders in child welfare have appeared before the commission to report their challenges, successes and recommendations at public hearings in Texas, Florida, Michigan, and, most recently, Colorado. At press time, another hearing was expected to take place in Vermont in October. Additional hearings are expected in 2015.

Petit said the hearings have provided valuable insight for commissioners, who are tasked with drafting a recommendation report to the president and Congress in late 2016.

“It’s been a very strong outpouring,” Petit said of participants, which have included state leaders in child welfare from public and private agencies, advocacy groups, law enforcement and the justice system, as well as academics, including social workers Richard Barth and Martell Teasley. “Clearly, this is a very strong issue. It’s been very interesting to see how states are handling this.”

Petit said consistent themes have focused on the risk factors for child maltreatment, such as low-income households or an unrelated male living in the household; the challenges of coordination and collaboration of different systems of care; and the need for resources to prevent child abuse. He said testimony has revealed that today’s families are under tremendous stress and that children are suffering as a result.

“The U.S. has a more severe child protection problem than other rich, industrialized countries,” Petit said. “It speaks to the fact that there are real social safety net issues that are causing family’s to be stressed.”

The commission also is looking at ways to gain consistent data on child neglect and child maltreatment deaths.

David Sanders, executive vice president for Casey Family Programs, is chairman of the commission. He noted in a blog posting for the commission that many states and localities have made changes in how child abuse and neglect cases are defined and reported.

“To report an increase or decline in deaths as a ‘trend,’ we must call into question whether these declines truly reflect a greater safety for children,” he said.

The commission is seeking opinions from organizations and associations involved in child welfare, including social work. At press time, several commissioners were planning to host a teleconference with some of NASW’s national office staff in October.

“NASW is a prime vehicle for social work policy and practice,” Petit said. “They have a strong presence in every state. (Social workers) have a strong presence in the formal child welfare system, in child protection agencies, courts and other systems.”

Petit said he expects the meeting will highlight the needs of the child welfare workforce to aid in reducing child maltreatment.

“In terms of training and access to treatment services, (NASW has) a broad understanding,” he said. “We know NASW has addressed long-standing workforce issues. I hope the commission will look at that as to what is the best strategy to stop (child maltreatment) deaths.”

For more information: Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities

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