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Child Fatalities from Maltreatment: National Data Could Be Strengthened

GAO-11-811T Published: Jul 12, 2011. Publicly Released: Jul 12, 2011.
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This testimony discusses child fatalities from maltreatment. Every year, children in the United States die after being physically abused, severely neglected, or otherwise maltreated, frequently at the hands of their parents or others who are entrusted with their care. Infants and toddlers are the most vulnerable to such abuse and neglect. According to estimates by the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS), 1,770 children in the United States died from physical abuse or other forms of maltreatment in fiscal year 2009. Some experts believe that more children have died from maltreatment than are captured in this estimate and that there are inconsistencies and limitations in the data that states collect and report to NCANDS. In addition, many more children are severely harmed and may nearly die from maltreatment, but NCANDS does not collect data specifically on near-fatalities. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) maintains NCANDS, which is a voluntary state data-reporting system. HHS provides oversight of state child welfare systems, and in all states, child protective services (CPS) is part of the child welfare system. When state CPS investigators determine that a child's death is considered maltreatment under state laws or policies, CPS documents the case, and the state's child welfare department reports it to NCANDS. This testimony today is based on our July 2011 report, which is being publicly released today and addresses three issues: (1) the extent to which HHS collects and reports comprehensive information on child fatalities from maltreatment; (2) the challenges states face in collecting and reporting information on child fatalities from maltreatment to HHS; and (3) the assistance HHS provides to states in collecting and reporting data on child fatalities from maltreatment.

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