Missouri is in the middle of a massive review of child abuse that will likely take the form of new legislation to address the growing problem. But legislation alone may not be the only result of this expanding investigation. A massive overhaul of the social service delivery system as well as review and reform to the foster parent program may also spring from this year's legislative session.
Into the fray this week came State Auditor Claire McCaskill who raises some interesting and informative points on the number of child abuse cases that end in death. Her numbers are telling when examined in detail. We can only hope someone is listening.
Of the 147 child abuse deaths in Missouri over the past five years, at least 103 of those cases were known to state workers who had visited the homes because of prior abuse or neglect allegations. In other words, there is a distinct pattern in homes where abuse or neglect has previously been reported. It is in those homes where the greatest likelihood of a child death can be expected.
That throws water on the current review of the foster parent program despite the highly-publicized death of a 2 year-old Springfield boy in a foster home last year. That case has prompted lawmakers to examine the foster parent program. It also is the reason a high-level commission was formed last month by the Missouri Supreme Court.
Just five children in state custody or in the foster parent program died in the last five years in Missouri. Now granted, one death is too many. But compared to the number of deaths that came from homes previously visited by the Division of Family Services, it clearly points the finger in a different direction.
Here, of course, is the problem. On average, 8,000 calls are made EACH MONTH to the state's child abuse hotline. The overwhelming majority of those cases are never substantiated because many are false claims and others are impossible to prove. So given the enormity of the situation, it's also impossible to fully investigate and monitor every claim that is made.
We need to focus our attention and money where the greatest problem exists. And right now- given the current information available - that seems to reside in those homes where prior abuse calls have been made. The problem is immense but then again, the stakes couldn't be any higher.