By Anne Allen
COLUMBIA, Mo. – Approximately 1,700 children die of maltreatment every year in the United States, according to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System; however, researchers estimate that the actual number of child fatalities due to abuse and neglect is nearly double that number. During a 13-month health policy fellowship at the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), an MU nursing researcher will investigate better ways to identify child maltreatment deaths on death certificates then use this data to estimate a more accurate number of child fatalities due to abuse and neglect nationally.
Patricia Schnitzer, associate professor at the University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing, will link data from10 states’ child death review programs with death certificate data maintained by the NCHS. The child death review data contain details on the circumstances of death that are not available on the death certificate but are essential for classifying child maltreatment. Although death certificates identify many deaths due to physical abuse, most neglect-related deaths are not identified as such on death certificates.
“Take for example a death certificate that states that a young child died from an accidental drowning,” Schnitzer said. “On its own, the death certificate does not contain the information needed to determine if maltreatment was involved. However, the child death review provides important details of the circumstances surrounding the death, such as a lack of adult supervision. When we determine how many young children drown because of a lack of supervision, we have information necessary to develop effective and focused prevention programs.”
Completion of this project provides an opportunity to further our knowledge of child maltreatment deaths in the United States, use NCHS data to obtain national estimates of fatal maltreatment and monitor trends over time, Schnitzer said.
“Collaboration with the National Center for the Review and Prevention of Child Deaths and the 10 states committed to sharing their child death review data, is essential to the success of this project,” Schnitzer said. “I am grateful for the states’ diligent death review and data collection processes and commitment to improving the welfare of children.”
The NCHS/Academy Health Policy Fellowship program brings scholars in health services research areas to the NCHS headquarters for 13 months to conduct research using NCHS data that addresses issues of interest to policymakers and the health services research community.