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.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of HEW should require the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect to: (1) help States assess how many professionals are and are not reporting child abuse cases; (2) identify problems that hinder professionals from reporting and attempt to resolve them; (3) encourage organizations of professionals required to make child abuse reports to emphasize their importance, (4) help clarify who is responsible for training and educating professionals to recognize and report abuse and neglect; (5) help resolve disagreements about whether State, local, or community organizations should develop standards and definitions of abuse and neglect; (6) encourage the use of definitions and standards for community education and decisions about abuse and neglect; (7) emphasize the need for investigating all reports within 24 hours and encourage States and localities to make this a requirement in their policies and procedures; (8) encourage State and local agencies to increase their minimum qualifications for child protective services investigative staff; (9) identify ways protective services units can increase their staffs or otherwise deal with excessive caseloads; (10) emphasize to the States the importance of contributions that multidisciplinary case consultation teams can make in dealing with abuse and neglect cases and the importance of developing and using written treatment plans, central registers for case management, and sufficient legal assistance for protective services staff; (11) better coordinate Federal programs and resources; (12) identify approaches and programs showing promise of success; (13) develop information on the progress of States and localities in addressing abuse and neglect; (14) resolve any problems regarding duplication of programs or problems that otherwise restrict effective coordination; (15) assist the States in obtaining additional treatment services and identifying ways to increase staff and qualifications; and (16) reassess the Center's position on the need to follow up on closed cases. Finally, if HEW finds that the Center does not have the resources it needs, HEW should consider furnishing the Center the necessary staff and resources to carry out its responsibilities.

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