A consideration of fatal child abuse and maltreatment

Harold Mandel's picture
Hungry, homeless kids
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Child abuse is a bigger problem than many people would like to believe. Raising a child properly is very demanding from an emotional, physical and financial perspective. When a baby is born suddenly a new life is dependent on you for survival and it's a 24 hour a day extra job to make certain that baby is taken care of properly. All emotional, physical and financial resources possible should be pooled together to help raise a child properly. A lack of a firm commitment to watch over a child, feed the child well, emotionally connect with the child's needs and provide adequate shelter and clothing for a child can result in child abuse.

There are four major forms of child abuse, reports the journal Forensic Science, Medicine, and Pathology, as follows:

1: Physical abuse

2: Sexual abuse

3: Psychological abuse

4: Neglect

In the industrialized world the United States has one of the worst records of child abuse. The experts think a large portion of these abuse cases are missed and go undocumented in state and federal reporting agencies. There are disparate risk factors associated with physical abuse and neglect cases, with substance abuse having been found to be a significant factor in all forms of abuse.

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There is a multidisciplinary approach required for the coordination and information gathering from various agencies when dealing with fatal child maltreatment and neglect investigations. A primary difficulty in making a determination of the accidental or non-accidental nature of these child abuse cases is that the account surrounding the events of the death of a child is taken from the caretaker.

Forensic science experts have been working on publishing a comprehensive overview of forensic research which can be used to identify child abuse and starvation, reports North Carolina State University. Dr. Ann Ross, a professor of anthropology at North Carolina State University and lead author of the paper, has said, “By pulling all of this information together in one place, we hope that we can save the lives of some children and find justice for others.” Dr. Ann Ross is co-editor of the book “The Juvenile Skeleton in Forensic Abuse Investigations.”

Dr. Ross says that she and her colleagues investigated issues of neglect in which children are actually starved to death. She has commented, “These are supposedly rare, but I’ve unfortunately seen this a few times in my capacity as an advisor to medical examiners." In her paper Dr. Ross offers some guidelines on how to use the mineral density of bones in order to determine whether a child was being starved.

Finding absolute proof that a child has been starved to death is difficult. It is almost impossible to assess normal indicators of starvation once a body has actually been decomposed. However, in this paper it is explained that forensic investigators can use a DXA scan, like those which are used to assess osteoporosis in older adults, to assess bone density and to determine whether a child has been severely malnourished.

Furthermore, because teeth are not as affected by malnutrition as bones are, the investigators can make a comparison of the development of an individual’s teeth and bones. For example it has been found that stunted growth of a child’s tibia can be a powerful indicator of starvation. Dr. Ross says that these techniques have actually been well-established but they are not in widespread use in the United States.

Dr. Chelsey Juarez, an assistant professor of anthropology at North Carolina State University and co author of the paper, has said, “We also combed the existing literature to focus on skeletal injuries that are indicators of abuse and that are unlikely or impossible to be caused by accident.” Consider that rib fractures are very rare in accidental trauma. Therefore, the presence of rib fractures in kids is extremely suggestive of abuse. It is also advised that forensic investigators should make efforts to determine whether the story they’re getting from a child’s caregiver is consistent with the injuries which they see on the child.

I have been shocked during the course of my career to witness an escalation in reports of child abuse. A child's young body and mind can be permanently damaged very quickly from abuse, which can also lead very quickly to death. It is therefore imperative that parents be counseled properly about what constitutes abuse. Parenting can be a very stressful time and so encouragement to help with the proper nurturing of children is important. When child abuse nevertheless occurs immediate medical attention is necessary.

Also, in an era of ever more difficult economic times for more and more families, the states and federal government have a legal and morale obligation to assist well meaning families obtain the financial resources needed to properly raise their children, if the private sector either lacks the resources to do so, or simply refuses to. Sometimes all that is really needed is a good job and the right support to do that job well. Also, I have noticed many churches often offer free bread and other food to help families of all religious backgrounds who are in need. The Christians who are doing this are really phenomenal people.

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