Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics
What Story do the Numbers Tell?
Select which items belong together and which one is different:
- Massachusetts ranks third in the nation on overall child well-being.
- Massachusetts children lead the nation in educational achievement.
- Massachusetts has the lowest teen birth rate for 15-19 year olds in the country.
- Massachusetts has the highest percentage of children covered by health insurance.
- Massachusetts has the lowest overall child death rate in the country.
- Massachusetts has the highest rate of child abuse and neglect in the U.S.
Ready for the answer?
The first five items reported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count project are based on robust, defensible data. The last item reported in the federal Child Maltreatment 2014 Report should not be presented as a stand-alone fact.
A recent Boston Globe Editorial “Scrutiny could save children’s lives,” provides the seemingly incontrovertible statement that Massachusetts has “the highest rate of abused and neglected children in the nation…” In support of transparency around child abuse cases, which is what the editorial was arguing for, it would have benefited readers to be informed that comparing states on child maltreatment rates is an “apples and oranges” exercise, and not all purported “facts” are what they seem.
States operate their child protection systems on one of five levels of evidence. The strictest, “clear and convincing,” requires that an individual making a report of child abuse, must convince the state that their concern is “substantially more likely than not to be true.” Eight-five percent of states require less strict levels of evidence, i.e. “credible” “probable cause” or “preponderance.” Only six, including Massachusetts, accept reports at the lowest level of evidence. In these states, a concerned citizen or mandated reporter need only have “reasonable” cause to believe that a child is suffering from abuse or neglect. This clearly impacts the number of reports received and investigated by child protection agencies, the data that states then report to the federal government, and the facts that the media then promote and the public come to believe.
For example, Kansas which requires the strictest “clear and convincing” evidence, reports only 2.8 of 1,000 children are victims of child maltreatment in their state, whereas, Massachusetts with the lowest level of “reasonable” evidence reports 22.9 of 1,000 children are victims. The high bar Kansas sets is also reflected in the percentage of confirmed physical abuse cases reported there, which is twice as high as in Massachusetts - 21.2 % of cases versus 10.8 %. Sexual abuse cases there constitute 29% of all cases, yet only 2.3% in Massachusetts.
Failure to identify the types of maltreatment being substantiated continues to fuel the public’s false belief that most maltreated children are suffering from serious, life-threatening physical abuse. In fact, 94% of all confirmed cases in Massachusetts involve child neglect which because of its chronic negative impact on a child’s physical and emotional health, is also serious. However, this high rate is more likely a product of family economic challenges and Massachusetts’ persistent and unacceptable 15% child poverty rate, rather than the result of parental incompetence or cruelty.
Massachusetts citizens and professionals report more cases of child maltreatment because its “reasonable cause” policy encourages them to. Also, several high profile cases have sensitized the public to the need to report any suspected child maltreatment. This is not uncommon. Note that in post-Sandusky Pennsylvania, the percentage of sexual abuse reports now comprises over 60% of all reported child maltreatment.
No state in the country can point to a child protection system without flaws and challenges. The mandate to address the needs of children living in dysfunctional families involved in violence, substance abuse, and poverty is the toughest burden of any state agency. Advocating for better child protection policies at the Department of Children and Families, and more support for efforts to prevent child abuse from ever occurring must be our priorities.
We should recognize, however, that more reports lead to more identified victims and that’s a good thing for kids. Rather than using unexplained data which promotes the notion that our state, its citizens, and its child protection system are callous to children and incompetent to protect them, let’s consider it a badge of honor that our Commonwealth casts a wide net to early identify and respond to children suffering from abuse and neglect.
Jetta Bernier, Executive Director
14 Beacon Street
April 13, 2016
We Need Your Support
Since its formation in 1959, MassKids has continued to tackle the complex and sometimes controversial issues facing vulnerable children.
- In the 60s, MassKids worked successfully to remove mentally ill children from adult psychiatric wards.
- In the 70’s our data alerted the state to the growing problem of drug-addicted newborns, and to the links between teen suicides and sexual identify issues.
- In the 80’s we worked to protect homeless and runaway youth from HIV, filed a class action against the state for its inadequate child protection system, and conducted the first media campaign in the country on child sexual abuse prevention.
- In the 90’s MassKids was the first group to work to prevent infant deaths and disabilities from Shaken Baby Syndrome, and to successfully challenge the withholding of necessary medical care for seriously ill children by their faith-healing parents.
- Since 2002 our work to address child sexual abuse has resulted in the engagement of numerous communities and thousands of citizens across the state through our Enough Abuse Campaign which the CDC has called “a trailblazing effort.”
MassKids latest concern is for young girls who reside in our state whose families support the practice of FGM – female genital mutilation. The long-term physical and psychological trauma resulting from this practice have been documented internationally by the United Nations and locally by physicians at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. MassKids is working with the Women’s Bar Association to develop strategies to combat this practice. We want to find ways to engage, rather than alienate, members of communities whose traditional beliefs have supported the practice as necessary to ensure the future marriageability of their daughters. MassKids seeks to speak out for these girls because their voices – and quite literally their screams – are not being heard by those on whom they most depend upon for their safety and health.
In 2015, when you consider supporting an organization that is working tirelessly and effectively for the most vulnerable children of our state, please choose MassKids. Your donation is critical to our ongoing work, since, as we have learned, foundations are often reluctant to support issues they haven’t already included in their wheelhouse or issues they believe might be too difficult or controversial. These are precisely the issues that MassKids has been drawn to over its 55-year history. Our mission is to speak out for the most vulnerable children of our state and to amplify their tiny voices. Please add your voice to make ours and theirs stronger by making a generous contribution to MassKids today.
What your gift would help us to achieve:
- Expand the Enough Abuse Campaign on child sexual abuse prevention to new Massachusetts communities;
- Train and deploy cadres of new trainers on child sexual abuse prevention through our 2-day "Training of Trainers" in new Campaign communities;
- Provide consultation to schools and youth organizations around improving screening practices for new employees and volunteers, reporting cases of sexual abuse, and establishing codes of conduct to identify inappropriate behaviors before they can escalate to illegal acts of sexual abuse;
- Print and distribute our teaching tools: "Straight Talk about Child Sexual Abuse: A Prevention Guide for Parents" and our "Sexual Abuse Safe-Child Standards" for Youth-Serving Organizations;
- Continue enriching our websites with the latest information on all aspects of child abuse and ways to prevent it;
- Continue to educate parents of newborns, family-serving professionals, health care providers and hospitals about Shaken Baby Syndrome/Abusive Head Trauma through dissemination of our highly regarded teaching DVDs, booklets and trainings.
Your gift would enable us to persue our current Legislative Agenda:
- MassKids supports mandating comprehensive child sexual abuse prevention education for staff and volunteers in schools and youth-serving organizations. Bill language drafted by MassKids stresses that reporting cases after the fact or trying to identify victims – features of legislation in other states – does not constitute a comprehensive prevention strategy. MassKids supports also training to spot behaviors that might indicate an adult poses a sexual risk to children; understand and respond to child-on-child sexual abuse; and, institute codes of conduct in schools and youth-serving organizations that can identify early-on the physical and psychological boundary violations that, if left unchecked, could develop into reportable sexual offenses.
- MassKids proposes a bill to address educator sexual misconduct and abuse – a problem the U.S. Department of Education reports is affecting 10%, or 4.5 million, American school children K-12. The bill would require public and private schools to complete extensive and specifically detailed reviews of applicants who would be directly involved with children. It would prohibit schools from knowingly transferring or facilitating the transfer of any school employee if the school knows or has reason to believe the employee engaged in sexual misconduct with an elementary or high school student.
- MassKids supports legislation to make it a criminal offense for any school employee having supervisory responsibility of a student - irrespective of the student's age - to engage in any sexual behavior with that child or youth. Currently, educators who sexually abuse a student who has reached the age of consent (16) will most often escape any criminal charges.
- MassKids seeks to add five new categories of professionals mandated to report suspected child abuse under the state's 51a child abuse reporting law. These include: coaches, tutors, domestic violence workers, animal control and humane officers, and commercial film or photo processors.
- In 2000 the African Women's Health center at Brigham and Women's Hospital estimated that 227,887 women and girls were at risk for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Girls at risk currently reside in Massachusetts, including Boston, Lawrence, and Worcester. FGM is recognized internationally as a human rights violation, torture, and an extreme form of discrimination against women and girls. MassKids supports legislation drafted by the Massachusetts Women's Bar Association that would strengthen our state's current child abuse laws to make sure that the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is understood as being illegal and unacceptable.
Massachusetts Citizens for Children (MassKids) is the oldest state-based child advocacy organization in the country. Our mission is to improve the lives of the state's most vulnerable children through advocacy by concerned citizens. It was founded in 1959 by pediatrician Martha May Eliot, MD, who served as Chief of the U.S. Children’s Bureau and held influential positions in both the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). With active support from Governor Foster Furculo, they established MCC as a permanent, independent citizens’ voice for Massachusetts’ most vulnerable children.
Throughout its 55-year history, our organization’s work has been grounded in the belief that all Massachusetts children have the inherent right -
- To be safe from abuse, neglect, and violence;
- To be economically secure and free from poverty;
- To receive quality medical and preventive care;
- To learn in quality child care and school settings; and
- To live in caring families and healthy communities.
Since 1986 MassKids has served as the Massachusetts Chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America. MassKids currently works to prevent child abuse through the work of the Shaken Baby Syndrome Prevention Center and the soon to be launched "Choose Your Partner Carefully" project. It leads the Enough Abuse Campaign - a multi-state initiative working to educate and mobilize parents, professionals and communities to prevent child sexual abuse. Click here for highlights of MassKids' work and accomplishments for children.