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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Panel: Fatal Abuse Of Children Unparalleled

LOS ANGELES -- The level of violence aimed at young children in the United States has reached public health crisis proportions, annually claiming the lives of at least 2,000 children and seriously injuring upward of 140,000 others, a federal advisory panel declared in a report scheduled to be released Wednesday to Congress.

The U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect, concluding a 2 1/2-year nationwide study that included public hearings in 10 states, found a level of fatal abuse and neglect that is far greater than even experts in the field had previously realized.

Abuse and neglect in the home is a leading cause of death for young children in this country, outstripping deaths caused by accidental falls, choking on food, suffocation, drowning or residential fires, the report found.

The vast majority of abused and neglected children are under 4 years old. In fact, the homicide rate among children in this age group has hit a 40-year high, a chilling trend similar in scope to the violence directed at teenagers from street gunfire, according to the report.

But as grim as the enumerations of violent acts is the report's finding that the child protective system has largely failed to shelter the nation's children.

The report describes an alarming environment of under-reported child-abuse fatalities; inadequately trained investigators, prosecutors and medical professionals; inconsistent autopsy practices; and a public that continues to see the deaths as "rare curiosities."

"When it comes to deaths of infants and small children ... at the hands of parents or caretakers, society has responded in a strangely muffled, seemingly disinterested way," said the panel, composed of experts on child abuse.

"Little money has been spent to understand this tragic phenomenon. The true numbers and exact nature of the problem remain unknown and the troubling fact of abuse or neglect often remains a terrible secret that is buried with the child."

The 15-member panel was established by Congress in 1988 to evaluate the scope of child abuse in the United States and recommend ways to improve the child protective system.

This year's report, titled "A Nation's Shame: Fatal Child Abuse and Neglect in the United States," represents the most comprehensive study yet undertaken of child deaths at the hands of parents or caretakers. It attempts for the first time to fill in some of the who, how and why of child deaths.

It found, for example, that most physical-abuse fatalities are caused by angry, extremely stressed-out fathers, stepfathers or boyfriends who unleash a torrent of rage on infants over such "triggers" as a baby's crying or feeding.

Likewise, studies now suggest that mothers are most often held responsible for deaths resulting from bathtub drownings, starvation or other neglect.

Among other major findings:

?Head trauma is the leading cause of child abuse deaths. So-called Shaken Baby Syndrome is so lethal that up to 25 percent of its victims die and most survivors suffer brain damage.

?Domestic violence is strongly linked to the deaths. An estimated 50 percent of homes with adult violence also involve child abuse or neglect.

?Only 21 states have statutes that allow parents to be prosecuted for killing their children under "felony murder" or "homicide by child abuse" laws.