Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Five Children Will Die Today

A study released today by the Every Child Matters Education Fund, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that works to make children and their families a political priority in this country, says that five children in the United States die per day from child abuse or neglect.

The report estimates that "10,440 children in the U.S. are known to have died from abuse and neglect between 2001 and 2007", that is double the number of U.S. soldiers that have died thus far in the Iraq war. Every Child Matters concluded that child abuse deaths may be 50% higher than the study's estimate due to different definitions of abuse between the states and a lack of record-keeping and inconsistent reporting in these types of cases.

All of the statistics are staggering, perhaps the most disturbing being that approximately 75% of all child deaths under the age of four are the result of abuse and/or neglect.

Though Idaho is one of five states with the lowest child death rate due to child abuse, Idaho spends only $42.59 per capita on services to protect children ahead of only seven states (Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, Nevada, Maine, Mississippi and South Carolina). Services that protect children include direct and indirect costs like hospitalization, the state's mental health care system/infrastructure, children's health care, child and family welfare services, and special law enforcement organizations that deal specifically with juvenile delinquency.

While budget crises and the economic recession are forcing each of the states to make cuts across the board, the Every Child Matters study serves as a reminder that we are already doing far too little to protect our nation's children and we must not allow for child's services to be cut ahead of other state agencies and programs. When family services are stretched too thin, struggling families no longer have access to substance abuse programs, mental health services, and the financial/economic assistance programs that are necessary to keep many families afloat. The stress of these services no longer being available and the stress of poverty alone contributes to a higher rate of child abuse and neglect.

The study personalizes the issue by listing one child death per state during the 2001-2007 period. Idaho's fourteen child deaths during the studied period are represented by Elizabeth Goodwin, an autistic, Coeur d'Alene 6-year-old, who drowned in October of 2002 as a result of neglect. Goodwin had survived 6 years of abuse and neglect at the hands of her caretakers, caretakers who are each now serving ten years in state prison. Had the study continued through 2009, Idaho might very well have been represented by the tragedy of Robert Manwill, a Boise 8-year-old who died after suffering blunt force trauma and whose body was dumped in a canal by his mother and her boyfriend while many in the Treasure Valley offered countless hours of their time searching for the missing boy.

As IdaBlue points out, the "shades of gray" in the Manwill case have left many following the story without a clear understanding of what exactly happened to Manwill and if the case truly deserves to be treated as a death penalty case. Given that his mother's boyfriend was admitted to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation just following Manwill's death, it could be possible that mental health services were not available to him and this may have contributed in the death of young Robert. It is also wholly plausible that a strain on caseworkers in the area prevented one from keeping a close eye on Robert's family, a family with a history of child abuse, when the signs of new and current abuse may have been readily apparent.

Here in Idaho, the Every Child Matters study may go largely unrecognized, but at this time with a governor who would gladly shrink the size of government rather than ensure that state agencies, especially those that protect children and support families vulnerable to falling back into a pattern of abuse, have the resources they need to offer unfortunately necessary services, we must make sure that budget cuts aren't made that will be reflected in a spike in child deaths due to abuse and neglect.

This morning on MSNBC, one of the actresses from Law & Order: SVU was being interviewed alongside Michael Petit, the president of Every Child Matters, and tonight on NBC's SVU, the hour drama will discuss child abuse and these staggering statistics in the traditional heartbreaking way in which the show has approached these topics over the years.

This morning as I read the study's findings, it was disheartening to think that our wealthy, civilized country sports a child death rate from child abuse and neglect that is 3 times higher than Canada's and 11 times higher than Italy's. In fact, the United States' child abuse death rate is higher than Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada and France. Not only do we live in a country that's media descends on swine flu deaths in the pediatric population rapidly and with the hope of scaring Americans, we live in a country that brings very little attention to child deaths due to abuse and neglect, even during the month we've set aside for Domestic Violence Awareness & Prevention. I live in a state that sets aside very little money to protect children and prevent child abuse and neglect.

What exactly should we expect from a country that allows entire industries, in entire states like Idaho, to deny health care to victims of domestic violence because they've classified domestic violence as a pre-existing condition?

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