Brown Pushes Bipartisan Effort to Help Improve Reporting of Child Abuse Deaths, Prevent Future Fatalities


Senator’s Bill Follows Tragic Child Abuse Deaths in Ohio

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) hosted a news conference call as he leads bipartisan legislation with Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) to require states to report data on all child abuse-related deaths and develop recommendations to prevent child abuse deaths from occurring in the first place. Brown’s bill follows high-profile child abuse deaths in Ohio, including the tragic death of 22-month-old Rylee Sellars in the Miami Valley and the death of five-year-old Ta’naejah McCloud in Cleveland.

This bill would also provide policymakers and public health officials with a clearer picture of the number of child abuse fatalities that occur and allow states to collect important information to better assess when and why child abuse fatalities occur.

“Right now, too many Ohio kids are slipping through the cracks. To prevent more of these tragic deaths, we must have complete and accurate data. It’s time to treat child abuse prevention as the public health issue that it is, and tailor our response to meet the needs of families in Ohio and around the country,” said Brown.

In 2019, the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) estimated that approximately 1,840 children died from abuse and neglect. That’s up from the estimated 1,720 in 2017. The federal Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities (CECANF) indicated in its 2017 final report that NCANDS data does not fully capture the entire number of child abuse fatalities and recommended significant reforms, including improved data collection and interagency collaboration, increased funding to child welfare programs, and the development of a standard definition of “child maltreatment fatality.”

The Child Abuse Death Disclosure Act would:

  • Require states to develop a multidisciplinary team to annually examine the circumstances of all child abuse-related deaths and report case-specific information to the National Center for Fatality Review and Prevention. The taskforce would also be required to develop recommendations to prevent child abuse deaths and submit an annual report to state and federal officials to publish on a national public website.
  • Require HHS to consult with state and local officials, child welfare practitioners, pediatricians, public health officials, and law enforcement to develop a national standard definition related to child abuse deaths or child maltreatment fatalities.
  • Promote training on child maltreatment fatalities for child death review teams to address disparities in treatment by officials or outcomes in child maltreatment fatalities based on race or culture and encourage best practices. States may also fund training for pediatricians and medical providers.

Brown was joined on the call by Helen Thompson, who lost her daughter, Rylee Sellars, in 2013 at the hands of her then-boyfriend. Following this tragedy, she created the Rylee Sellars Foundation, to advocate for children and address child abuse across the Miami Valley.

“The Child Abuse Death Disclosure Act will bring much needed reform on the federal and state levels in the manner of which child abuse related deaths are reported. Improving data collection will bring a larger spotlight on how big this epidemic truly is. Our goal has always been to help educate others in the hope of preventing more families from going through the tragic heartache that we endured,” said Ms. Thompson.

Brown will also be joined by Dr. Jonathan Thackeray, Chief Medical Community Health Officer at Dayton Children’s Hospital, who works to improve the recognition of and response to sentinel injuries in infants.

“Thank you Senator Brown for calling attention to this critically important issue. We have to increase our understanding of child abuse deaths, and most importantly how we can prevent them. The provision in the proposed legislation requiring development of multidisciplinary teams in states to look at each child abuse related death is certain to inform prevention efforts, and help with addressing and reducing disparities in treatment and outcomes based on race and other factors. I’m particularly excited about the legislation’s provisions to allow states to train medical professionals to identify and respond to injuries indicative of maltreatment in infants, or what we often call ‘sentinel injuries.’ This has been an area of research and quality improvement in Ohio for several years now and those of us who do this work each day believe additional training will yield significant results. Early detection and response of sentinel injuries is certain to prevent many cases of abuse, and child abuse fatalities,” said Dr. Jonathan Thackeray.

The bill is supported by: the Ohio American Academy of Pediatrics, Ohio Federation for Health Equity and Social Justice, Providence House, Inc., Ohio Grandparent Kinship Coalition, American Academy of Pediatrics, National Children’s Alliance, Child Welfare League of America, Children’s Advocacy Institute, Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, Family Focused Treatment Association, Futures Without Violence, Children’s Defense Fund, Juvenile Law Center, Ray E. Helfer Society, National Association of Counsel for Children, First Focus Campaign for Children, American Academy of Forensic Sciences, American Society of Crime Lab Directors, American Board of Forensic Toxicology, International Association for Identification, National Association of Medical Examiners, Society of Forensic Toxicologists, and the National Child Abuse Coalition.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics is proud to endorse the Child Abuse Death Disclosure Act, which will help prevent child abuse deaths. The bill allows states to train medical professionals to identify and respond to injuries in infants that indicate maltreatment, a needed investment since research has shown that previous injuries are common in infants who die as a result of severe physical abuse. We thank Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) for their leadership advancing this bill to help keep children safe,” said Lee Savio Beers, President of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“This legislation will have an important impact on infant and childhood deaths by looking at the big picture and asking not just why did this child die, but what can be done in the future to prevent these deaths. A child fatality review team made up of a diverse group of pediatric, forensic, legal, law enforcement, and public health experts, will significantly decrease future childhood deaths. We applaud Senator Brown and Senator Blunt for helping us to improve this gap,” said Dr. James Gil, President of the National Association of Medical Examiners on behalf of the Consortium of Forensic Science Organizations.

“Child abuse and neglect fatalities are preventable, and the Child Abuse Death Disclosure Act represents a critical step forward in our nation’s strategy to ending them. In supporting much-needed data and interagency collaboration, this legislation will strengthen not only our nation’s response to fatalities, but also the child protective system overall,” said the National Child Abuse Coalition, a group of 26 national organizations, in a statement.

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