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What The Numbers Are Telling Us...

The Child Fatality Prevention website was created to raise public awareness about child fatalities and assist communities with identifying where additional resources or efforts are needed to assist struggling families. This section of the website will provide context to the data along with information and resources for how to use the data to understand trends and develop or support existing prevention efforts.

A Closer Look at Inflicted Trauma

Chart showing Perpetrator Relationship
Fig 1. - Perpetrator Relationship

Inflicted trauma has consistently been the fourth-leading cause of child deaths, but the shocking nature of these deaths tends to generate the most media coverage. Because the high-profile nature of these cases leads to some misconceptions and the data can be deceptive, these cases must be examined closely to get a true picture of the facts around these deaths.

Chart showing Biological Parents as Perpetrator
Fig 2. - Biological Parents as Perpetrator

A key trend in inflicted trauma fatalities is the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim. A common misperception is that the perpetrator is unrelated to the child and that, more often than not, it is the mother’s significant other. However, the data shows that in the majority of inflicted trauma fatalities, one or both biological parents are involved. Unrelated perpetrators – paramours, daycare providers, babysitters, and family friends – make up a small percentage of the actual perpetrators (Figure 1).

The idea of a mother harming her own child is shocking, so when it occurs it often is reported by the media, and that leads to another myth that the data refutes – in most instances, fathers are the perpetrators (Figure 2).

Chart showing Inflicted Trauma Compared to Total Fatalities
Fig 3. - Inflicted Trauma Compared to Total Fatalities

Another aspect to consider is the number of children involved in each case. In 2014, five cases involved 15 victims. Of the 28 inflicted trauma cases verified so far in 2015, three cases involved a total of seven children.

Inflicted trauma fatalities make up about 10 percent of the overall number of child fatalities (Figure 3). However, inflicted trauma fatalities often generate more media attention and public outcry than other types of child fatalities, so when they occur closely together it can give the appearance of a rising epidemic.

We cannot let myths and beliefs drive our actions. It is difficult to fathom what could drive a parent to injure his or her own child, but the data reveals we must work harder to grasp that sad fact so we can make better projections and more effective plans to address this tragic and unpredictable human condition.