Preventing Child Deaths

My sister, the youngest of five children, died from leukemia at age three.

She was incredibly gifted. The first word she spoke clearly was my challenging three-syllable name: Priscilla. She recited the Pledge of Allegiance at age two. I can still recall the sound of my father sobbing behind his bedroom door as he came to the realization that there was no cure for the disease that was taking the life of his beloved child.

My sister’s death had a profound impact on my family that continues to this day. It was during that time that I chose a lifelong mission of helping people.

Child deaths are not only the result of disease. I think that the most tragic child deaths are the result of abuse and neglect. The loss of these precious little ones also has a profound impact, or should have, on all of us.

Eliminating Abuse and Neglect Fatalities

Some of the brightest minds understood my father’s anguish and went to work on a cure for leukemia. Today, the five-year survival rate of children with the most common type of leukemia is 90%.

Yet over 1,500 children nationwide die each year from abuse and neglect, 70% of them under the age of three. Where are the bright minds at work to prevent these deaths?

You may recall that several years ago the supercomputer Watson handily defeated the humans in the game of Jeopardy! Afterwards, the developers solicited ideas as to how this computer might be put to best use. I suggested that Watson analyze the common features of child deaths from abuse and neglect in order to develop ways to prevent them. I didn’t receive a response.

But just when you start to lose hope, something happens! In 2012, Congress passed the Protect our Kids Act. One of the key provisions of the act was the establishment of the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities (CECANF), whose mission is to develop a national strategy and recommendations for reducing fatalities across the country resulting from child abuse and neglect. It will do this by:

  • raising visibility and building awareness about the problem,
  • reviewing data and best practices to determine what is and is not working,
  • helping to identify solutions,
  • reporting on findings and making recommendations to drive future policy.

The Commission has scheduled public meetings nationwide this year with two already held in San Antonia, Texas; and Tampa, Florida. Upcoming hearings are scheduled in Detroit, Michigan; Denver, Colorado; and Burlington, Vermont.

In Texas, Dr. Christopher Greeley, Professor of Pediatrics, University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston, provided testimony on targeting resources to do the most good. Dr. Greeley and others collect data statewide and focus on the areas with the highest concentration of child abuse deaths.

Here is what they’ve discovered are some contributing factors to these deaths:

  • Drug/alcohol impairment at time of incident
  • History of substance abuse
  • Maltreatment as a child
  • Domestic violence

These are some of the prevention strategies:

  • Home visitation
  • Parental support programs
  • Addressing maternal mental health
  • Addressing household violence and substance abuse.

It’s a collaborative approach that relies on mapping of incidents, tailoring prevention at the neighborhood level, and piloting strategies to verify benefit.

That’s how some bright minds are working to prevent child deaths. All of us have a stake in preventing deaths from child abuse and neglect. Let’s not stop until we get the survival rate above 90%!

To learn more about the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities, visit:

New IFPS Website

NFPN is pleased to announce a new website focusing on Intensive Family Preservation Services (IFPS).

The website is a repository of knowledge on IFPS. Current activity in the field of IFPS is posted on the IFPS blog (formerly, IFPS Coast to Coast), which is now part of the IFPS website.

Visit the website and blog at:


Priscilla Martens, Exec. Dir.
National Family Preservation Network | 888-498-9047

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