Not Surprisingly, Government Finds Parents Wanting


This paragraph jumped out at me, from Donita Naylor’s Providence Journal report today claiming that “1,450 R.I. kids [are] neglected or abused”:

The report, titled Young Children in the Child Welfare System, said that the R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families investigated 3,270 reports of abuse or neglect and confirmed neglect in 85 percent of the cases, physical abuse in 11 percent and sexual abuse in 1 percent of the cases. Some children suffered more than one form of maltreatment, the report said.

The numbers in the RI KidsCount report are presented in a somewhat confusing way, but Naylor’s summary is incorrect.  There were 3,270 investigations of “maltreatment,” of which only 1,305 (or 40%) were confirmed (or “substantiated”), accounting for 1,450 victims because each case can cover multiple children.  Of course, each child can be the victim of multiple types of maltreatment and multiple instances of each, so of the 2,295 instances of maltreatment affecting those 1,450 children, 85% (1,943) were “Neglect.”  Of those, 41% (795) were due to “Lack of Supervision.”

Understanding the data suggests a number of corrections to one’s impression.  Reading Naylor’s write-up, one would think 97% of all reports turn out to be proven or substantiated.  In reality, 60% of all investigations are proven to have no basis.  That suggests that people are pretty quick to report abuse that doesn’t happen.

The high incidence of “Neglect” and “Lack of Supervision” claims might make one wonder how high the bar is for that particular “maltreatment” and how often that softer kind of supposed abuse is the last thing the DCYF can pin on an adult accused of worse abuse.

Taking out “Neglect,” only 352 cases of abuse were confirmed in which children were harmed (“Physical Neglect,” for instance, is a separate category for neglect that actually led to an injury).  One could arguably add back in “Neglect” that involved “Exposure to Domestic Violence,” which involved 675 instances, but there could be overlap with the other abuses when counting children, and children could have counted for multiple instances each.

We shouldn’t accept any abuse of children, but we also shouldn’t let government agencies rewrite the definition of “abuse” to drive up budgets and the amount of authority given to bureaucrats.  After all, one conspicuous recommendation included in Naylor’s report is to “support policies that prevent poverty, unintended pregnancies and lack of housing, education and quality child care.”

Those issues quickly branch away from child welfare and into much broader areas in which government is always striving for more authority to tell people what to do and to whom to give their money.