Over 750 American kids ‘beaten, starved or left alone’ over 6-yr period
The stories behind the statistics are filled with tragedy and despair and involve children – many of them younger than the age of four – who have become the victims of their care givers. To make matters worse, many of the children’s cases were being investigated by child protection agencies, yet they were still victimized.
Consider the case of Mattisyn Blaz, a 2-month-old infant from
Montana who was killed by her father.
Jennifer Blaz left for work on Aug. 16, 2013, leaving her husband, Matthew, to care for the girls. For unknown reasons, the father became agitated and threw the baby, causing fatal injuries, according to prosecutor Samm Cox.
Six weeks earlier, a child protective services worker showed up at the Blaz’s home after it was reported that Matthew Blaz had physically abused his wife. A judge ordered Blaz to enroll in anger management classes and to stay away from his wife.
According to Jennifer Blaz, the next contact between her and child protection services came more than six weeks later — the day of Mattisyn's funeral.
Last month, Matthew Blaz was sentenced to life in prison, without the possibility of parole.
Another tragic episode of child abuse involved 10-week-old Ethan Henderson, whose father threw him into a recliner, causing the infant to die from a fatal brain injury.
Maine children caseworkers had received multiple indications that
Ethan or his siblings were suffering abuse at the hands of their
father. According to AP’s findings, Ethan appeared at his daycare
center with bruises on his arm.
Six days before Ethan died on May 8, 2012, a child welfare official recorded that the baby appeared "well cared for and safe in the care of his parents."
A disturbing footnote to the AP investigative report is the likelihood that the number of children who have been injured or killed by their care givers over the years is much higher than reported.
“The data collection system on child deaths is so flawed that no one can even say with accuracy how many children overall die from abuse or neglect every year,” AP revealed. “The federal government estimates an average of about 1,650 deaths annually in recent years; many believe the actual number is twice as high.”
The AP report examined data in "50 states, the District of Columbia and all branches of the military," casting a light on a system that, in its conclusion, "does a terrible job of accounting for child deaths."
"Many states struggled to provide numbers. Secrecy often prevailed."
Finally, the primary purpose of the report was to determine exactly how so many children died while their cases were being examined by child welfare officials. That question went unanswered, but at least the conversation has begun.
A spokeswoman for the US Department of Health and Human Services, which supervises child abuse prevention programs, said the agency had no immediate comment.
Last year, a judge in Kentucky slapped a $765,000 fine against
the state's Cabinet for Health and Family Services for failing to
release full records on child abuse deaths.
At the same time, however, no state has ever been found guilty of violating disclosure requirements and federal grants have never been denied, Catherine Nolan, who directs the Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, told AP.
In 1974, President Richard Nixon signed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act into law in an effort to address the crisis of child abuse through state-level observation.
However, more than 20 years later, a commission charged with measuring progress of the legislation issued a harsh report entitled, "A Nation's Shame: Fatal Child Abuse and Neglect in the United States."
The report cited "serious gaps in data collection."
''Until we develop more comprehensive and sophisticated data, our efforts to understand and prevent child maltreatment-related deaths will be severely handicapped," it said.
Today, it is clear that problems still exist in protecting children.
Michael Petit, head of the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities, said real change in the system charged with protecting America’s children will only come about when Congress demands that states do more to tackle the problem.
"The child safety net in this country is not equal to the size of the problem that's coming at it," Petit was quoted by AP as saying. "The system overall is in crisis."