Commission to address child fatalities holds first meeting

Kurt HeislerKurt Heisler, a research analyst at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, speaks to members of the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities, during the commission’s first meeting in February.

NASW nominated several people to serve on the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities, which was created by the bipartisan Protect Our Kids Act. NASW was involved in getting the act passed into law last year.

Two of the commissioners NASW nominated are social worker Michael Petit, an NASW member and president of the Every Child Matters Education Fund; and Theresa Covington, director of the National Center for the Review and Prevention of Child Deaths at the Michigan Public Health Institute.

NASW Social Work Policy Institute Director Joan Levy Zlotnik and NASW Senior Field Organizer Dina Kastner attended the commission’s first meeting in February, which was open to the public.

Zlotnik said the commission’s goal over the next two years is to develop targetable and actionable recommendations on how to reduce fatalities from child abuse and neglect. The commission’s recommendations and guidelines will then be presented to President Obama and Congress at the end of the two years.

“NASW has been concerned throughout its history about the high number of children abused and neglected,” Zlotnik said. “The highest risk of child fatalities occurs when the child is under the first year of life. NASW has been very involved in seeing this commission come about. It serves as a lens of prevention of child abuse and neglect as well as a workforce to implement a system of improvement across federal, state and local agencies, private sectors and nonprofit organizations.”

The meeting was a good first step to address the problems of child fatalities, Kastner said.

“NASW is a member of the National Coalition to End Child Abuse Deaths, and the organization was integral in getting the Protect Our Kids act enacted into law, which created the commission,” she said.

The commission pointed out that 1,708 child fatalities have been reported in the last year, and Zlotnik said they believe many more fatalities than that have occurred but have not been reported to the child welfare system.

“There was a lot of discussion about data, and what we do have is inadequate,” she said. “It was said at the meeting that data needs to be gathered and aggregated and analyzed from multiple sources beyond just child protective services for more effective solutions to be identified.”

The commission has 12 members, with six appointed by Obama and six by Congress. Two social workers serve on the panel. They are Petit and Marilyn Zimmerman, director of the National Native Children’s Trauma Center and associate director of the Institute for Education and Research Fund at the University of Montana.

“Children should not have less protection as an accident of geography,” Petit said. “The issue (of child abuse and neglect fatalities) is of national concern, not just state concern, and we need a national strategy.”

  • The public can submit comments to the commission through the Federal Register, which will also announce the dates and times of future meetings. Click here for more.
  • For a blog about the commission’s first meeting, written by Zlotnik, click here.

Protecting our children

The Protect Our Kids Act was passed in January 2013. The bipartisan legislation had 17 co-sponsors in the House and six in the Senate. It was passed in the House by a vote of 330 to 77, and by a unanimous vote in the Senate. The act created the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities. NASW has been involved in seeing the commission come about.The 12 commissioners are:

Presidential Appointments

  • David Sanders, commission chairman, executive vice president for Casey Family Programs
  • Theresa Martha Covington, director of the National Center for the Review and Prevention of Child Deaths at the Michigan Public Health Institute
  • The Hon. Patricia M. Martin, presiding judge of the Child Protection Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Ill.
  • Michael R. Petit, president and founder of the Every Child Matters Education Fund
  • Jennifer Rodriguez, executive director of the Youth Law Center
  • David Rubin, attending pediatrician at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

Congressional Appointments


  • Marilyn Bruguier Zimmerman, director of the National Native Children’s Trauma Center
  • Amy Ayoub, a public speaker who has personal experience with child abuse/sex trafficking
  • Wade Horn, director. Deloitte Consulting


  • Robert E. “Bud” Cramer, D-Ala., former member of Congress
  • Cassie Bevan, lecturer at the Graduate School of Social Policy and Practice, University of Pennsylvania
  • Susan N. Dreyfus, president and CEO of the Alliance for Children and Families