Breaking the Silence on Child Abuse in America

10/23/2011 07:11 pm ET | Updated Dec 23, 2011

In response to the recently aired investigative news report on child abuse fatalities in the United States by the BBC, I want to call attention to the importance of child advocacy in the U.S. This issue deserves our attention now more than ever before.

This multimedia, 22-minute story, entitled "America's Death Shame," began airing Monday, Oct. 17 on BBC World News affiliates, including PBS and NPR stations in most American cities. The focus of the broadcast is on the magnitude of child abuse -- and particularly child-abuse-related deaths -- in America. The underlying sense of shock at the enormity of this problem is apparent throughout the broadcast and serves as a powerful reminder that this is not the norm anywhere else in the industrialized world and should not be accepted as such in the United States.

One statistic cited in the report states that 66 children under the age of 15 die from physical abuse or neglect every week in the industrialized world, and of those, 27 die in the U.S. -- the highest number of any other country. How is it, the report asks, that every five hours a child dies from abuse or neglect in America? How is it that America has the worst child abuse record in the industrialized world?

To understand the issue, the BBC examined Texas, one of the states with the highest total number of child deaths from abuse and neglect in the U.S. In 2009, the rate of deaths from child abuse In Texas was 4.05 per 100,000 children -- as compared to 2.46 per 100,000 children in New York (as noted in "America's Death Shame"). The BBC interviewed Texas Child Protective Services workers, law enforcement officials, doctors and lawyers, and even spent time at the Houston Child Assessment Center, a Children's Advocacy Center fully accredited by the National Children's Alliance. The findings were startling, and sadly, they are not uncommon in communities across the country.

This is familiar territory for our organization and for the thousands of individuals who assist in fulfilling our mission every day; however, what the BBC report brings to light are connections that are all too often ignored. For example, the report draws a connection between Texas' low rate of removal of children from the home, and the state's high child death rate as a result of abuse. The report also questions the premise of the federal mandate of family reunification, under which all federally funded child protection agencies operate (as noted in "America's Death Shame").

It is our opinion, and that of many of our colleagues in the Children's Advocacy Center arena, that a strong social safety net can mean the difference between life and death for a child. The truth is, child death resulting from abuse and neglect is a preventable problem. In support of the BBC's stance, to achieve maximum prevention, we must focus on the following strategies:

  1. Prevention programs, including nurse visitation programs to at-risk parents and children, education programs, and social safety net programs.
  2. Breaking the silence: far more cost-effective than integrated programming, we as a society must break the silence surrounding child abuse. By engaging in a national discussion on the epidemic of child abuse deaths, we will raise awareness of the issue and hopefully earn the attention of our federal government, which has the power to enforce a national strategy to protect our children against abuse and neglect.

The BBC report takes us one step closer to our goal by presenting an opportunity to start and enhance the conversation in local communities. I encourage readers to share links to the report and the accompanying radio interviews -- helping to break the silence and protect our children on a national level.

Please visit The National Coalition to End Child Abuse Deaths to learn more about how you can get involved and support this movement.