Improving data collection standards is a major goal

National Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities

David Sanders, left, Michael Petit(Photo right) 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.

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.

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.”

Attendees at the October meeting noted that 60 percent to 70 percent of children who die from maltreatment have no previous record of involvement with the local child protection agency.

NASW board secretary Jacqueline Durham said federal guidelines are needed to help ensure the safety of social workers and other child welfare workers who are called to make home visits. Also, there should be more emphasis on child abuse prevention education for those trained to work with families, she said.

NASW submitted its suggestions that all child welfare staff meet the requirements outlined in the “NASW Standards for Social Work Practice in Child Welfare.”

NASW staff noted that child welfare workers with social work degrees, who are especially prepared for child welfare practice, are more likely to be retained, have a higher sense of self-efficacy, are more effective at addressing client outcomes and are more satisfied with supervision.

Joan Levy Zlotnik, director of the NASW Social Work Policy Institute, urged that the commission make recommendations that are sustainable through changes in government administrations.

NASW board member Enrico DeGironimo suggested that the mental health needs of families should be a component of the commission’s recommendations as well.

McClain told the commissioners that NASW will continue to provide information and recommendations to the commission as it moves forward.

“Strengthening families needs to be the aim of all our work,” McClain said, adding that it would be vital to draft “domains” that fit under professionalizing the workforce, supervision, case practice and community response to child maltreatment.

The commission needs the support of members of professional associations such as NASW to back the recommendations into practice once they are presented, Sanders said.

“Without a strong group of advocates to support (the recommendations), it will be a challenge,” he said. “It will take a broad array of supporters to actually implement many of them.”

More information:

  • NASW’s Standards for Social Work Practice in Child Welfare: {}
  • NASW’s Child Welfare Practice section