Child Abuse Prevention Efforts Continue

Michael PetitMichael Petit of Every Child Matters addresses a gathering at last year’s event.

NASW continues to address the prevention of child abuse and child neglect fatalities as an active member of the National Coalition to End Child Abuse Deaths.

Association staff attended a coalition planning meeting in September to refine the group’s efforts to garner federal attention to child maltreatment deaths.

Besides NASW, the coalition includes the Every Child Matters Education Fund, the National Center for Child Death Review, the National Children’s Alliance and the National District Attorneys Association.

Each coalition member is promoting the recently released second edition of the Every Child Matters report: We Can Do Better: Child Abuse and Neglect Deaths in America.

Michael Petit, an NASW member and president of Every Child Matters, said that while strides have been made to address child neglect at the federal level, more needs to be done.

Citing federal data from 2001-2008, the report states that 12,180 children died from child abuse and neglect. “Several studies have concluded there actually is significant undercounting of maltreatment deaths and that the true number may be several thousand more over those eight years,” Petit said in the report.

He explained that the efforts of thousands of local and state child protection workers could be greatly enhanced by expanding federal planning, coordination and funding aimed at reducing child neglect deaths.

President Barack Obama and the 111th Congress have shown concern for the well-being of children in early budget and policy efforts. However, the hope is that the second edition of this report will underscore the attention needed to improve federal policies and resources to safeguard children.

The report explains that direct protection services rest with state and local governments. But with states facing mounting budget crises, the federal government has the power and resources to ensure equal protection to children across the country, Petit said in the report.

He goes on to say that recruiting and retaining highly trained social workers and other child welfare workers are critical elements to help prevent child abuse and child maltreatment deaths.

Manageable workloads and better pay for social workers and child welfare workers are keys to improving the system, he said.

NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark commented in an NASW press release that “a professionally trained child welfare workforce and the community prevention efforts can help mitigate family crises before the unthinkable occurs.”

Petit noted in the same release that “child abuse and neglect deaths are tragic and avoidable. They deserve more attention from state and federal lawmakers.”

The We Can Do Better report outlines a series of suggestions to improve the child welfare and neglect system nationwide.

The suggestions include building a joint collaboration of child welfare agencies and law enforcement. “Written protocols and joint training between child protective services and law enforcement are essential for protecting children,” the report states.

The report also addresses how additional funds are critical to allow child protective workers and front-line staff to have more manageable workloads and access to better training, and to provide a range of services to at-risk families.

Dina Kastner, NASW government relations field organizer, participated in Capitol Hill visits in September with members of the House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee, asking for the creation of a commission to study the problem of child abuse deaths.

“There is interest in developing a field strategy to engage the coalition members’ state chapters in reaching out to key members of Congress in their home districts,” Kastner said.

Joan Levy Zlotnik, director of the NASW Foundation’s Social Work Policy Institute, and NASW Senior Practice Associate Roxana Torrico Meruvia represented NASW at the coalition’s second meeting with Bryan Samuels, commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families within the Department of Health of Human Services. Samuels and the coalition discussed the links between prevention of deaths from child abuse and neglect and the overall need to enhance the capacity of communities and agencies to prevent child maltreatment, Zlotnik said.

Gail Woods Waller, NASW’s communications director, serves on the communications subcommittee for the coalition. Waller said the subcommittee developed a national news release announcing the coalition’s endorsement of the second edition of the We Can Do Better report and is reaching out to promote the coalition’s message to various media outlets. The group also produced a YouTube video that features campaign spokesperson Tamara Tunie, a cast member of the NBC television show “Law and Order: SVU.”

NASW has also urged members to sign an online petition requesting that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sponsor congressional hearings on child abuse fatalities.