Increased Federal Efforts Needed To Better Identify, Treat, and Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect

HRD-80-66: Published: Apr 29, 1980. Publicly Released: Apr 29, 1980.

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Because of congressional and public concern about child abuse and neglect, GAO undertook a review of the problems states and localities are having in identifying, treating, and preventing child abuse and neglect. The National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, established within the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), is the focal point for federal efforts to deal with child abuse and neglect. In the review, GAO evaluated the progress and problems of selected states and localities using as criteria the Center's recommended programs. However, the number of reported cases of abuse and neglect continues to rise. According to HEW, reports have risen over 100 percent in the last 4 years. But it is generally recognized that the actual number of cases is much larger than reported.

The Center estimates that each year 1 million children are abused or neglected and that 2,000 children die from injuries or conditions resulting from abuse and neglect. Moreover, GAO found that although states and localities have made progress in reporting, investigating, treating, and preventing child abuse, the states and localities do not have the capabilities to adequately provide treatment for abused and neglected children and their families. Also, the Center, who is responsible for helping states and localities develop prevention programs by identifying effective programs and approaches and by implementing, expanding, and improving such programs, has not provided adequate leadership and assistance to the states. Before 1978, the Center gave priority to identification, reporting, and treatment. But, the Center has not yet established criteria for assessing the effectiveness of prevention programs. This can in part be a result of the lack of support for the Center by HEW. Although responsibilities have increased, the Center's staff has remained about the same size since 1976, and in 1978 HEW withheld about $469,000 of the Center's research funds and transferred the money to a separate cross-cutting research program to fund projects with broader goals than child abuse and neglect.

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