In Recognition of National Children’s Awareness Month

By: Alejandra Barrera* 

The month of June has been established as National Children’s Awareness Month. It is the perfect time to raise awareness on the vulnerability of children exposed to violence and the importance of providing school-based mental health support.

At the most fundamental level, investing resources in children to help them flourish and develop to their full potential is a moral imperative. But investing in children is also important on practical grounds. Their well-being contributes to poverty reduction, income equality and economic growth in our common future.[1]  Since the foundation of an individual’s health and well-being is set in early childhood, it is during that time that we have to provide the most support with better policies and interventions.

While maltreatment and traumatic experiences are unacceptable for anyone, it’s particularly detrimental and damaging during childhood as children are going through a process of cognitive, emotional, and physical development. Today, children and youth are in high need of mental health support given the high exposure to different forms of violence, such as domestic violence, bullying, and gang and gun violence that are prevalent in our schools and communities. These environments put children in a state of distress that can eventually lead to lasting physical, mental and emotional harm.

A report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds, and 91 percent of child abuse is committed by parents.[2] Further, 4 to 5 children die from abuse or neglect every day in the U.S., and 75 percent of these children are under the age of 3 years old.[3] U.S. teens and young adults have reached their highest suicide rates. In 2017, suicide claimed the lives of 5,016 males and 1,225 females between the ages of 15 and 24 in the United States.[4] More than 3 million adolescents aged 12-17 reported at least one major depressive episode in the past year.[5]

The latest Child Maltreatment report published by the Children’s Bureau at HHS’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF) shows us that as society, we are making progress in reducing victimization and deaths due to maltreatment; however, the numbers of victims and deaths are still higher than they were five years ago, which is concerning.

In 2017, Children Protective Services agencies received a national estimate of 4.1 million referrals of child maltreatment in the United States involving more than 7.5 million children. Of that estimated 7.5 million children who were included in referral, 3.5 million children received an investigation or alternative response. An estimated 674,000 children were determined to be victims of maltreatment. In total, three quarters or 74.9 percent of victims were neglected, 18.3 percent were physically abused, and 8.6 percent were sexually abused.  For 2017, an estimated 1,720 children died of abuse and neglect at a rate of 2.32 per 100,000 children in the national population.[6]

D.C. has historically had one of the country’s highest child fatality rates. [7] In 2008, 182 children died in the District; by 2013, it dropped to 91. Child fatality statistics show that total deaths have increased steadily again since 2013, rising to 100 in 2014 and 124 in 2015, though the city’s overall rate of child deaths decreased from 2008 to 2015. According to Child Fatality Review Committee in the District of Columbia, between 2011 and 2015, only 17 of the child fatalities reviewed were the result of abuse or neglect.[8] In the Child Maltreatment report, DC reported four fatalities in 2017, and its child fatality rate per 100,000 children was 3.21, demonstrating the city's commitment to reducing violence of any form against children. [9]

For this FY 2020 budget, Councilmember David Grosso and the Committee on Education worked to fund a number of priorities that focused on child welfare.[10] These investments included fully funding bills such as the School Safety Act, which will ensure schools are working to prevent and properly handle cases of sexual assault and abuse through better policies, including protocols for responding to and reporting allegations.  

Additionally, the Fair Access to School law will reduce the use of exclusionary discipline and address the root causes of student behavioral issues through school-based mental health services. Councilmember Grosso and the Committee on Education were also able to  fully fund Students in the Care of D.C. Coordinating Committee Act that will create a committee to identify challenges and resolve issues that students in detainment, commitment, incarceration, and foster care face in order to improve educational outcomes.  

The commitment of the community, parents, caregivers, teachers, leaders, government officials, and students themselves have helped shape policies that better serve our children as a whole, however there is room for continued improvement in the District’s child welfare system. 

Advocates, parents, and Councilmembers alike have all called for the allocation of additional funding to support and expand school-based and community-based mental health services so that kids can get the help they need, or tackle risk factors that lead to dysfunctional families, which in many cases increase the likelihood of child maltreatment or neglect. Additionally, the city should continue working to implement a comprehensive counseling program in our schools by setting counselors-to-student ratios.

Though more work can be done to strengthen our policies, the city should take pride in its efforts thus far. The D.C. Council and the Mayor have demonstrated a shared commitment to comprehensively addressing critical issues facing children and youth, by bringing new approaches and bills that seek to optimize child well-being in the District of Columbia. Through these efforts and continued engagment with the community, the District of Columbia will become a leader in advancing robust policies that protect the health and well-being of our children and youth.  

*This post is part of an ongoing series of posts by Councilmember Grosso’s staff to support professional development. All posts are approved and endorsed by Councilmember Grosso. Alejandra is a former intern and now current Office Manager with the Office of Councilmember Grosso.*

[1] (UNICEF, n.d.)

[2] (Health Alliance, 2018)

[3] (Health Alliance, 2018)

[4] (Los Angeles Times, 2019)

[5] (Los Angeles Times, 2019)

[6] (Children's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2019)

[7] (Washington City Paper, 2019)

[8] (Washington City Paper, 2019)

[9] (Children's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2019)

[10] (David Grosso DC Council At-Large Blog, 2019)