The Associated Press released a story today with the headline “Abused kids die as authorities fail to protect.” The main thrust of the story is that kids are dying from abuse in situations where authorities should have known they were being abused. The story describes the child welfare system as “failing.” For some of the kids that have died, that is undoubtedly the case.
I found the story especially interesting because it demonstrates the dilemma social services is often faced with. It gets attacked from one side for removing too many children, and criticized from the other side if a child is not removed and is later harmed. From a broad public policy perspective, this is probably a false dichotomy, as it may be possible to remove fewer children and still increase child safety by taking other measures or better targeting removals. For individual child protection workers though, the dilemma is very real.
The AP also released the state-by-state breakdown of the data it collected. The data is probably not especially useful for comparison between states because of the extreme inconsistency in how it was collected. However, it is interesting to note that South Dakota reported zero fatalities from 2008-2013. There are a number of possible reasons for this, although one possible reason could be a child protection culture with a “better safe than sorry” attitude regarding removal.