Contact: Dominic Slowey
Abused, Neglected and Ignored:
Nearly 1 Million American Children Victimized Annually
New Book Calls for Immediate Systemic Changes to Child Welfare Systems
To End Epidemic of Child Abuse
WASHINGTON DC (Nov.18, 2008) – A sobering new book, Childhood Denied: Ending the Nightmare of Child Abuse and Neglect, presents an urgent new agenda for the next President, the new Congress, and statehouses across the country to remedy the appalling problem of child abuse and neglect. Every year in America, nearly one million children are victims of abuse and neglect and more than 1,500 of them die – the result of a child welfare system that is in dire need of reform.
The book, due in print December 5, offers a compelling and often critical assessment of child welfare systems across the country and details public policy and legal changes that will help protect childhood victims of abuse and neglect who are left at the mercy of poorly designed and secretive child welfare systems.
“Whether the change that is being promised for America by the new President-elect and the Congress trickles down to vulnerable children is an open question,” said Dr. Kathleen Kelley Reardon, professor of management at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, who co- authored the book with veteran writer Christopher Noblet. “Abused and neglected children are invisible to the political system and much of the general public. We need a nationally coordinated agenda that puts children first.”
The authors were advised by First Star, a leading national advocacy organization for abused and neglected children, including the 800,000 who experience foster care in any year. The book builds on two recent First Star studies that graded states on how well they protect children. One study looked at whether foster children are provided appropriate legal representation. Another assessed whether states’ confidentiality policies protect children or their abusers. The majority of states failed both tests.
“We are not good as a country in thinking of the negative future we are leaving all our children through bad policy, bad implementation and widely uneven performance in the present,” First Star’s President Peter Samuelson, said. “Kids don’t sue the government, they don’t vote and they don’t pay lobbyists. So we squander their future and blight our own. This is not rocket science: best practice already exists; we just don’t widely apply it. This is the most important book in thirty years for lay readers who care about the children.”
Reardon, who is also a former professor of preventive medicine at USC, and Noblet call for wholesale changes in the country’s child protection systems including a constitutional amendment protecting the rights of children.
“More than 100 countries provide children with specific protections under their constitutions – including Iraq,” Reardon said. “But the United States constitution is silent.” Reardon and Noblet argue that the debate over a Children’s Rights Amendment would regardless of outcome focus needed attention on the plight of abused and neglected children, and would provide momentum for critical reforms in every state. In order to change the Constitution, three-quarters of the states would have to approve the amendment.
The authors point out that the homicide rate among small children in the U.S. makes it the most deadly country among the developed nations for children. A 2007 UNICEF report ranked the U.S. 20th out of 21 wealthy nations in terms of children’s welfare. The U.S. ranked last on health and safety as measured by infant mortality, low birth weights, immunization and deaths from accidents and injuries.
In 2006, 3.6 million children in the U.S. were involved in investigations by child protective service agencies. Of these reports nearly 1 million children were determined to be victims of abuse and neglect; 1,530 of them died. Three-quarters of the children who died were under the age of four; half of them did not reach their first birthday. Child abuse has a monetary cost to society as well: approximately $258 million a day.
To begin addressing one aspect of the problem, Reardon and Noblet call for creation of a Caseworker Education and Training Corps, based on the military’s ROTC program, which would recruit and train students and pay their college tuition in return for a pledge to work in child welfare agencies.
“Most social workers receive minimal training and are supervised by people with not much more preparation, yet they make life-altering decisions on behalf of children,” the authors said. “In Texas, it takes more weeks of training to become a state-certified manicurist than it does to become an investigating social worker.”
Other specific policy and law changes recommended in the book include:
- Providing children with the right to professional, client-directed legal counsel;
- Making court proceedings and state records more accessible to the public to promote and enforce agency accountability;
- Strengthening training programs for judges;
- Ensuring that once a case is assigned to a judge, that judge will hear all motions and successive cases involving that child or family;
- Coordinating care among service providers – including schools, counselors, health care providers, social service workers, and civil and criminal systems;
- Improving screening and monitoring of foster homes;
- Placing children with siblings whenever possible;
- Creating university-based residential care for foster children.
Reardon, Noblet and Samuelson said action is needed now, because the problem keeps getting worse. “Our federal and state governments have been neglectful parents,” First Star’s Samuelson said. “We hope the new President and every member of Congress – Republican and Democrat alike – will elevate the plight of these children to the level of a national crisis and convene a national discussion to reform the current child welfare and foster care systems. Their disrepair poses a high threat to our nation and to the safety and happiness of children who are the future.”
December 2008 Hardcover: 978-1-4129-3976-8 $64.95
240 Pages Paper: 978-1-4129-397-75 $39.95