Pass child protection bill in April

More than four children die every day in the United States as a consequence of child abuse. Over 80 percent of those victims are not old enough to attend kindergarten. More than 80 percent die at the hands of at least one parent. These 1,600-plus yearly victims are among the three million cases of child abuse reported each year that affect more than six million children.

The negative repercussions of child abuse reverberate through society for years. Abused children are 59 percent more likely to be arrested as a juvenile, 28 percent more likely to be arrested as an adult and 30 percent more likely to commit a violent crime. Among the nation’s prison population, 14 percent of men and 36 percent of women were abused as children.

Eighty percent of child abuse victims suffer a least one identifiable psychological disorder and are 25 percent more likely to have a teen pregnancy. By some estimates, as many as two thirds of people receiving treatment for substance abuse were abused or neglected as children. Studies indicate about 30 percent of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children.

Exacerbating the tragedy these dispiriting numbers expose is the shameful reality that too little is being done to fix the problem. One would hope that, in the 21st century, we could point to some progress in alleviating the abuse of the most innocent and helpless members of our society. But that is not the case. For the three years – from 2000 to 2002 – an average of 1,400 children died from maltreatment. A decade later, for the three years from 2010 to 2012 an average of 1,600 children died from maltreatment.

But these are just numbers. For behind each one there is a human face and a gut-wrenching story of communal failure. In New Hampshire, it’s the face of 3-year-old Brielle Gage of Nashua, who died in November of injuries allegedly inflicted by her mother, Katlyn Marin, who remains in jail since her Jan. 3 arrest for second-degree murder.

Brielle’s death caused outrage across the state because she and her four siblings were returned to their mother’s care even though Marin and her then live-in boyfriend were the target of a child abuse and neglect investigation at the time. There has never been an explanation as to how or why that decision was made following a dangerousness hearing at Nashua Family Court early last May.

Legislation aimed at strengthening the state’s child protection statutes so as to prevent a similar tragedy passed the state Senate last week and is headed toward likely passage in the House.

Under the provisions of the bill, child protection agencies would be empowered to obtain authorization to enter homes where they know or believe a child is in imminent danger. The bill also establishes a commission to review fatal cases of child abuse.

Perhaps the most important component of the legislation is that it fundamentally alters the burden of proof in child protection cases to favor the safety of the child.

While the Division of Children, Youth and Families currently has to prove “through a preponderance of evidence” that a child has been harmed in order for the agency to stay involved with a case, the bill requires a court to find there is no imminent threat of harm to a child before he or she is returned to his or her home.

? If that provision was law last year, Brielle Gage would likely still be alive today.?

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. It would be fitting for the New Hampshire House to promptly approve this needed bill so that Gov. Maggie Hassan can sign it, along with a proclamation recognizing the issue, before the month is out.