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Vol. 6, No. 3
June 2001

Child Maltreatment Fatalities

North Carolina's child welfare workers are engaged in the noble, difficult task of protecting children and supporting families. Each year they receive and investigate more reports of abuse and neglect. In 1999-2000 they investigated reports on 100,682 children; almost a third of these children (31,828) were found to have been maltreated. During this same time period, social workers were responsible for ensuring the safety and well-being of approximately 11,000 children in the state's foster care system.

Every day child welfare workers provide families with services they need, help adults become better parents, and guarantee kids have a nurturing place to live. Every day, unnoticed by the public, they score quiet victories for families and children.

Occasionally, however, things go wrong. In the worst of these cases, children die. In the 1999-2000 fiscal year, the North Carolina Division of Social Services reviewed the deaths of 30 children known to the child welfare system. Seventeen county DSS's were involved in one or more of these tragic deaths.

The public and social workers themselves often see these deaths as social workers' fault. It's a logical conclusion: if their job is to protect children, and a child known to the system dies, they must be to blame.

However, there have been many child fatality cases in which the child welfare workers involved have conducted themselves flawlessly, using sound judgement and following all necessary procedures.

The point is, if you are a child welfare worker, this could happen to you, to a child with whom you work. This fact must be regularly and explicitly acknowledged by everyone working in child protective services, family support, family preservation services, foster care, and adoptions. It is also critical for workers and their agencies to prepare for this possibility.

This issue of Practice Notes is a starting point for exploring this grim topic. In it you will find facts about child fatalities, an overview of the agencies and systems who prevent and respond to child deaths in North Carolina, and suggestions of ways to prepare for the possibility of a child fatality in your community.



Preventing Child Fatalities

Two Things You Can Do To Protect Infants

Interview with the N.C. Child Fatality Review Team

Lessons Learned

North Carolina's Response To Child Fatalities

Not Invisible, Not In Vain

Child Fatalities and the Media

Child Fatalities and the NC Public Records Law

Click here to read or print the entire issue as a pdf file.

Additional resources related to this topic:

  • Survey: Child Welfare Professionals' Perceptions of Child Maltreatment Fatalities. (Sept. 2010). Researchers at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts are conducting an anonymous, online study about child welfare workers and their perceptions of children who die from abuse or neglect.  If you are a child welfare worker (or you were in the past) and you have heard of a child maltreatment death, please follow this link for more information! Link:

  • Investigating Child Fatalities (Oct. 2005)
    The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) has released a new title in its series of Portable Guides to Investigating Child Abuse, Investigating Child Fatalities. The guide uses the term "child fatality investigation" to mean the inquiry made by law enforcement into the death of a child when investigators believe that child abuse or neglect may have caused or contributed to the fatal injury. The main purpose of the guide is to provide practical information to law enforcement officers, Child Protective Services investigators, prosecutors, child fatality review team members, and other professionals involved in these cases. The guide explains how child fatalities differ from other homicide cases and offers specific guidelines for conducting the investigation, documenting the investigation, questioning suspects, and testifying in court. The guide is available for download from the OJJDP website at

  • Infant Homicide Rates Continue to Rise. This link takes you to a summary of a report by Child Trends. The full report can be found on the Child Trends DataBank web site at health/violence/72InfantHomicide.htm.
    (Update added 02-07-03)

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