Texas’ Child Maltreatment Fatality Data Shows There is Still Work to Do

Every week, more than four Texas children die because of child abuse and neglect.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) recently released their Child Maltreatment Fatalities and Near Fatalities Annual Report for Fiscal Year 2019. The report collects and provides context for the number of child deaths that occurred throughout the state, a troubling reminder that we have much more work to do in preventing child abuse and neglect. This year, there were a reported 235 confirmed abuse or neglect-related child fatalities in Texas, the highest number of fatalities we have seen in the last decade since it peaked in 2009 at 280 deaths, and on the rise from a low of 151 in 2014. Texas’s number of child fatalities is well above the national average with a 2.70 per capita rate for child abuse and neglect fatalities over the national average of 2.39.

Overall Takeaways:

  • The top causes of child abuse and neglect related fatalities included:
    • Neglectful Supervision (total of 141 cases)
      • Drowning (48 cases)
      • Unsafe Sleep (30 cases)
      • Vehicle Related (19 cases)
    • Physical Abuse (total of 94 cases)
      • Blunt Force Trauma (56 cases)
  • In 91% of the child fatalities, there was no open Child Protective Services (CPS) investigation or case at the time of the child’s death.
  • There was no prior CPS history with either the child or the perpetrator in approximately 55% of the child abuse or neglect fatalities. This percentage remained steady from Fiscal Year 2018.

These percentages still reveal that several families had previous or active involvement with CPS. Therefore, families who experienced a child death were not receiving the support they needed or something about the services these families received did not work.

Victim Characteristics:

  • 72% of child deaths were between the ages of 0 and 3
  • There was an increase involving children age 4 through 6.
  • 56% of the child fatalities were due to neglectful supervision, which is specified as physical/medical neglect, and unsafe sleep practices accompanied by substance abuse.

This concerning information illustrates the importance of prevention and early intervention efforts like Project HOPES and home visiting programs that support families in the early years when brain development is at its peak and families may not be connected to other resources that could help them create safe and nurturing environments for their children before a crisis occurs. As the Prevent Child Abuse Chapter for Texas, TexProtects is on the front lines to increase access to evidence-based prevention programs so that children can be safe, and their families can get the support they need.

Another concern about what the data shows is that we are still seeing some populations disproportionately represented in child deaths across the state:

  • Hispanic children made up the largest percentage of deaths (35%).
  • African American children were the highest rate per capita (7.85 vs 3.14).
  • 29% of the fatalities were children with special medical needs.
  • Approximately 57% of all child deaths were male (133).

It is worth noting that Texas defunded the Office of Minority Health Statistics and Engagement in 2018, leaving one person at DFPS leading the efforts to address racial inequities. In the report, DFPS mentions their cross-sectional work with other agencies and stakeholders, but it is worth considering how that work can be more targeted and effective specifically as it relates to equity issues.

Underlying Issues Faced by the Perpetrators of Abuse/Neglect:

  • 48% of the child fatalities involved substance use of a caregiver.
  • A parent/caregiver in the child’s household reported active mental health concerns in 32% of the child fatalities.

This is where we can leverage federal dollars for prevention services eligible through the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) for families. These federal dollars intend to address the key drivers of child abuse and neglect: substance use, mental health, and lack of parenting skills. Key policymakers and state agencies are making decisions now about how to implement FFPSA in Texas. TexProtects believes that making high quality, evidence-based prevention services available to families that address these issues will provide parents and caregivers with the tools they need to meet their children’s needs and safely keep their families together.

The Child Maltreatment Fatalities Report makes clear to advocates and policymakers alike why it is so necessary that Texas invests in child abuse and neglect prevention efforts. Every week, more than four children die because of child abuse and neglect. At TexProtects, we believe these deaths can be prevented. Join us as we work to ensure that they are. 

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