Left: State Senator Matt McCoy Right: Picture of Natalie Finn taken by a neighbor
After Finn’s death McCoy wanted all homeschoolers to receive safety visits from school officials.

Between 4 and 8 children die in America every day from child abuse and neglect, according to the report of the federal Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities (CECANF).

The U.S. Congress created and funded CECANF to analyze this problem on a national scale and find solutions.

For 2 years they held hearings around the nation with top experts and studied the issue on an unprecedented scale. They concluded that the best way to reduce deaths was to focus efforts on well-documented risk factors.

CECANF identified a number of risk factors.

CECANF did not identify homeschooling as a risk factor.

The single strongest predictor of a child’s potential risk for injury death is a prior report to social services. Those children are 5.8 times more likely to die from intentional injuries according to CECANF.

CECANF highlighted two vivid success stories where communities dramatically reduced neglect and abuse fatalities.

  • After a spike in childhood deaths in Hillsborough County, Florida, officials closely examined all open social services reports. Intensive help was afforded to families with multiple known risk factors. Abuse-related deaths dropped to zero among the families identified. (CECANF report, pages 38-41)
  • In Wichita, Kansas, a steep upswing in child deaths galvanized the community to action. Data showed that most deaths came from specific zip codes. Extra energy and resources were devoted to those zip code areas. Over 60 community organizations came forward to help. In 2011, 2012 and 2013, there were no maltreatment deaths. (CECANF report, pages 70-73)

Child abuse is a very emotional subject, as it should be. But emotions provide a poor foundation for a solution. Facts are a better foundation.

Wichita and Hillsborough did not base their response plans on emotional appeals, grand-standing, scapegoating, or fault finding. Nor did they create divisions within their communities.

They started with a solid foundation of facts. This allowed them to create common-sense plans that saved lives.

In the recent highly-publicized abuse cases involving homeschooling families, the families were the subjects of multiple prior social services reports. But these cases did not receive the kind of extra attention and resources that saved children’s lives in Hillsborough and Wichita.

This is a crucial time, when caring people are spurred to action to prevent future deaths from abuse and neglect. Directing energy and resources at the choice to homeschool—as though this were a risk factor—does a terrible disservice to children who are at serious risk of abuse and neglect right now.

All Iowans who sincerely want to reduce child abuse and neglect deaths should urge policymakers to start with the risk factors that CECANF identified, and build a strategy from there.

Read the full CECANF report here.

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