Massachusetts family law lawyer Jason V. Owens reviews new federal data indicating that Massachusetts has the highest rate of child abuse and child neglect in the United States by a substantial margin.
On January 25, 2016, the federal Office of Health and Human Services released a new report entitled “Child Maltreatment 2014” documenting that Massachusetts has the highest child abuse and child neglect rates in the nation. The federal data is only the latest in a string of media reports, government reports and judicial decisions detailing Massachusetts abuse and neglect cases in connection with the struggles of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families. It should be noted that the 2014 fiscal year ended in September 2014, but new data is available through fall of 2015 showing little improvement in the sky-high Massachusetts abuse and neglect rates.
According to the federal data, 31,863 children were the victims of abuse or neglect in Massachusetts in fiscal year 2014. The Massachusetts abuse/neglect rate of 22.9 victims per 1,000 children was significantly greater than the next highest state, Kentucky, which had a rate of 20.6 victims per 1,000 children. Even more troubling, Massachusetts had far and away more victims than the #3 state, Rhode Island, with a rate of 16.0 victims per 1,000 children. For those keeping track at home, this means that Massachusetts had 43% more child victims of child abuse and neglect than the #3 state in the nation. The Massachusetts abuse/neglect rate was more than twicethe national average of 9.4 victims per 1,000 children.
Speaking to the Boston Globe, state officials told Globe reporters Matt Rocheleau and Andy Rosen that the state’s ultra-high abuse and neglect rates were the result of “greater public awareness and increased vigilance by the state”. Needless to say, explanations like “increased vigilance” and better reporting would be far less concerning if the agency tasked with protecting abused and neglected children – DCF – was the not the subject of a constant string of criticism from virtually every level of government and the judiciary. The trend does not appear to be improving, either. The Globe reported that through September 2015, the rate of abuse and neglect in Massachusetts remained steady and extraordinarily high in fiscal year 2015, with 31,114 new victims, or 22.4 victims per 1,000 children through September 2015.
Click here to view a .PDF version of the “Child Maltreatment 2014” report released on January 25, 2016 by the Office of Health and Human Services. The report also reveals that Massachusetts was one of only a handful states that failed to provide the feds with data showing the state’s response time in hours to reports of neglect or abuse. In defense of DCF, Massachusetts was tied for second in the U.S. with Indiana – behind only to Utah – for the highest workload per state caseworker. Indeed, at the end of the day, it is not DCF‘s fault that Massachusetts parents and caregivers appear to be among the most abusive and neglectful in the nation. In most cases, DCF is simply cleaning up the mess of bad parenting.
The report comes at a particularly difficult time in Massachusetts, where the line between child abuse and parental discipline has recently been blurred by judicial decisions that seemed to create more ambiguity than than resolution when it comes to defining child abuse.
About the Author: Jason V. Owens is a Massachusetts divorce lawyer and Massachusetts family law attorney for Lynch & Owens, located in Hingham, Massachusetts.