A person who abuses a child deserves a special place in hell. Nothing is as evil as victimizing a young person. When we hear about these appalling crimes, we often assume Child-Protective Services intervenes immediately to stop those criminals who beat or sexually abuse children in their care, or to prevent other horrific abuses.
But, that is not so.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported in 2012 …
“Child Protective Services had a staggering 3.4 million referrals alleging maltreatment. Of those, 62% were screened in. (38% of referrals were screened out.)
“Of these screened in, 2.4 million received a response – either by professional report services (58.7%), nonprofessional report services (18%), or unclassified report services (23.3%).
“3.2 million unique children (Counting a child once, regardless of the number times he or she was a subject of a report.)and 3.8 million duplicate children (counting a child each time he or she was a subject of a report.) received a CPS response in the form of an investigation or an alternative response.
“686,000 children were deemed victims. (That includes 1,640 fatalities.) In more than 80 percent of cases one or both parents were the perpetrators. Among the victimized children, 18 percent were physically abused, 9 percent were sexually abused, and 8.5 percent were psychologically maltreated.
“2,498,000 were found to be unique nonvictims – 10.7% alternative response nonvictims, 58.0% unsubstantiated, 0.2% intentionally false, 1.5% closed with no finding, 9.7% no alleged maltreatment, and 0.7% other.
(Kurt Heisler. “Child Maltreatment 2012.” Children’s Bureau (Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Administration for Children and Families) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2012.)
"In 30 reporting states, 8.5 percent of child fatalities involved families who had received family preservation services in the past 5 years. In 35 reporting states, 2.2 percent of child fatalities involved children who had been in foster care and were reunited with their families in the past 5 years."
(Conor Friedersdorf. “In a Year, Child-Protective Services Checked Up on 3.2 Million Children.” The Atlantic. July 22, 2014.)
State policy usually establishes guidelines or requirements for initiating a CPS response to a report. High-priority responses are often stipulated to occur within 24 hours; lower priority responses may occur within several days. Based on data from 34 states, the FFY 2012 average response time was 69 hours or 2.9 days; the median response time was 58 hours or 2.4 days. The response time data have fluctuated over the past 5 years, due in part to the number of states that reported data for each year.
Ohio reports for 2012
Total Referrals: 160,293
Screened-In Referrals (Reports): 81,036
Screened-Out Referrals: 79,257
Screened-In Referrals (Reports): 50.6%
Screened-Out Referrals: 49.4%
Rate Per 1,000 Children Total Referrals 60.2
Children Who Received a CPS Response: 102,734
Children Who Received a CPS Response (Rate Per 1,000 Children): 38.6
Children Who Were Subjects of a Report By Disposition: Substantiated – 20,024, Unsubstantiated – 63,777, Alternate Response Non-victim – 24,784
Child Victims: 29,250
Child Victims Per 1,000 Children: 11
Ohio Average Response Time 42 hours in 2010, 21 hours in 2011, 11 hours in 2012
We abhor extreme child abuse. Yet, what about the overwhelming number of children suffering from neglect “without physical, sexual, or psychological abuse”? These young people suffer with severe conditions such as insufficient housing, inadequate health care, poor nutrition, and lack of supervision. As evidenced by research, child neglect is the most frequent form of child abuse, with children born to young mothers at a substantial risk for neglect.
Neglect is difficult to define, since there are no clear, cross-cultural standards for desirable or minimally adequate child-rearing practices. Research shows that neglect often coexists with other forms of abuse and adversity.
Child neglect can take many forms, some blatant, some so subtle as to be nearly undetectable. The American Medical Association (AMA) defines it as "an act or failure to act that results in serious harm or imminent risk of harm."
Studies point out that society as a whole is "ambivalent" to address how problems such as poverty, limited education, substance abuse, poor social skills, maternal depressive symptoms, aggressive or destructive child behaviors, and unemployment contribute to child abuse. These modifiable risk factors need immediate attention. Too often we react to abuse that has has already occurred and ignore instilling proactive measures that prevent the crimes.
In addition to addressing the basic risk factors of neglect, I believe, vigilant citizens must continue to report any signs of abuse. Despite the large number of referrals Child Protective Services screens-out, our duty allegiance lies with those innocent victims of maltreatment. We can rail at the inadequacy of the system and bemoan those children who fall “in the cracks,” but we must continue to be their voice. Whether a child is a victim of abuse or neglect or both, that child needs an advocate.
Do we need Child Protective Services reform? I strongly believe we do. But, perhaps the biggest problem in the system is to delineate correctly those things which we should not allow our government to ignore from those things we should not allow our parents to ignore. It is time to stop pointing fingers and, instead, begin acting like we care for all children – no matter how poor, no matter why deprived.
I can already hear the hard-line conservatives calling me a “bleeding liberal heart.” I hear them deriding welfare and social assistance while telling those less fortunate to “get a job.” I hear their epithets of “dirty bums” and “worthless addicts” and “ghetto ho's.”
I call the hardliners' attention to conditions that perpetuate a needy existence. I ask them to look into the longing eyes of children caught in traps of deplorable conditions. I ask them to consider helping these kids escape the pain that they endure. Provide them an education, a home, and a fighting chance. In the United States, our government must help those in need.
Report the individuals who abuse their children, please. But, also help insure that everyone lives in a society where opportunities flow – a society in which equality at least entails meeting basic needs and providing our children a brighter future. Lift up American families with resources that make all the difference.