At least 786 American children died of abuse or neglect in a six-year span in plain view of child protection authorities—many of the children beaten, starved, or left alone to drown while agencies had good reason to know they were in danger, the AP has found. To determine that number, the AP canvassed the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and branches of the military. Many states struggled to provide numbers; secrecy often prevailed. Most of the children whose cases were compiled by the AP were under the age of 4. They lost their lives even as authorities were investigating their families or providing some form of protective services because of previous instances of neglect, violence, or other troubles in the home. The number of abuse and neglect fatalities where a prior open case existed at the time of death is undoubtedly much higher than the tally of 760.
Many factors can contribute to the abuse dilemma: The child protective services system is plagued with worker shortages and case overloads. Budgets are tight, and nearly 40% of the 3 million child abuse/neglect complaints made annually to child protective services hotlines are screened and not investigated. Insufficient training for those who answer child abuse hotlines leads to misclassified reports, sometimes with deadly consequences, and a lack of a comprehensive national child-welfare database allows some abusers to avoid detection by moving to different states. Because no single, complete set of data exists for the deaths of kids who already were being overseen by child welfare caseworkers, the info compiled over the course of AP's investigation represents the most comprehensive statistics publicly available. (Read more child abuse stories.)