Thousands of people from around the nation are reported for suspected child abuse each year, and too many of these reports, approximately 40 percent, are overlooked without any investigation.
The Department of Human Services (DHS) and Child Protective Services (CPS) boast about protecting the majority of abused children, but what happens to all of the kids to whom they turn a blind eye and leave in the hands of a possible abuser? And more importantly, how is an oversight of this magnitude leaving the reputation of these organizations unscathed?
DHS and CPS are often thought to be a front line for getting children out of abusive or unacceptable living conditions. However, their most recent Child Maltreatment report, which was released in 2013, sheds a different light on how they truly handle child neglect and abuse referrals.
The report states that there were 3.5 million referrals of suspected child abuse in 2013, 62 percent of which were reported by professionals such as teachers and daycare workers. Given that these individuals are mandatory reporters of child abuse because of their frequent contact with children, the reason for these reports is not something to be taken lightly.
After the initial report, each of these referrals goes through a screening process in which they are either “screened in” or “screened out.” American Humane outlines the screening process, stating that in order to be screened in the referral must meet very specific state criteria.
Unfortunately, this means that the 39 percent of referrals made in 2013 that were screened out by the CPS will never be given a second look or investigated. This could be leaving countless children in potentially dangerous environments, simply because their situation did not fall into specific CPS set parameters.
It was also stated in the report that 61 percent of referrals are screened in and become official reports. These reports led to 3.2 million children receiving investigation for their living situation in 2013.
Of those 3.2 million children, 679,000 were found to be true victims of abuse, maltreatment or neglect. Unfortunately, a meager 58 percent of the proven victims received post response services to aid in improving the child’s living conditions.
What is even more alarming than the lack of help for these mistreated children is the way the help was implemented. The report states that 88.6 percent of abuse happens from a child’s biological parent, yet the majority of said abused children — 251,000 of the 396,000 — were given only in-home services. This means CPS chose to leave the child in a situation that was identified as unhealthy and unsafe.
Children who are physically neglected or abused, as well as kids suffering from sexual abuse are left in homes. Of the nearly 18,000 children sexually abused in 2013, only 2,752 of them were taken away from their abusive homes. This leaves a large percentage of the abused children alone and afraid of one or both of their parents.
While DHS and CPS work under the guise of protecting children, they seem to have an objective of keeping families together, rather than keeping children safe.
Child abuse, neglect and maltreatment need to be taken more seriously; every referral has been made for a reason and needs to be investigated. Children are losing their lives because of a broken system in which their safety is put second and their abusers are put first.
Darkness to Light champions the empowerment of adults in preventing, recognizing, and reacting responsibly to child sexual abuse and encourages educators to understand their role as mandatory reporters. Given that school personnel identify 52% of all child abuse cases classified as causing harm to the child, (more than any other profession or organizational type including CPS and the police), it is imperative that educators are trained and that we take their reports seriously.
When child sexual abuse reports made by educators are ignored or dismissed by CPS, legitimate efforts to protect children from harm have been thwarted. We must have a better system.
Given the systemic nature of the this issue, and ironically that this article was published in Iowa, a place where presidential candidates are caucausing, we wish we would see more dialogue from presidential candidates around child protection and child sexual abuse prevention specifically. We believe the issue of child sexual abuse should become a part of a national platform for any presidential candidate.
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