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October 2010Vol. 11, No. 8Using Citizen Review Panels to Prevent Child Maltreatment Deaths

Although child abuse rates appear to be declining in the United States, there has been no real change in the number of child maltreatment fatalities. In a new research study, "Effects of a Citizens Review Panel in Preventing Child Maltreatment Fatalities," authors Vincent J. Palusci, Steve Yager, and Theresa Covington explore Michigan's use of a citizens review panel (CRP) to examine child maltreatment fatalities in the child welfare system.

Child fatality review teams (CFRTs) have been instituted in most U.S. States to provide a multidisciplinary, multiagency review of all or most child fatalities. CRPs were first required in 1996 for States as part of reauthorization of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), and many States have instituted CRPs specifically to review child maltreatment fatalities. While both CFRTs and fatality CRPs review child deaths, CRPs are constituted expressly for the purpose of reviewing deaths of children known to the child protective services agency and are charged with making recommendations primarily to that agency within the child welfare system.

Michigan instituted its Fatality CRP in 1999 to identify, understand, and respond to the system issues and prevention possibilities in these deaths. For the purposes of this study, the authors compared the annual number of child maltreatment deaths associated with each finding in the annual reports made during two 3-year periods: 1999–2001 (Period I) and 2002–2004 (Period II). These two periods were chosen because they reflected adequate time for recommendations in Period I to be implemented and affect potential future cases in Period II.

The study identified a number of problem areas in the State's child welfare system. Most of those problem areas identified were addressed by the State child protective services agency with changes in law, policy, or practice, and there was a later reduction in the number of findings and in the number of deaths associated with those findings over time. The authors conclude that further research is needed to assess the impact of CRPs on child welfare practices, but that child fatality reviews by CRPs offer the potential to reduce child maltreatment deaths by improving child protective service practices.

This study will be published in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect and is currently available online. (226 KB)