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Information on Children and the Law

Kids Count

December 18, 2012

Contact: Nancy Parello, (973) 643-3876, (908) 399-6031,

NJ Babies Need Better Protection from Abuse/Neglect

Eighty percent of New Jersey children who died from abuse and neglect over a 5-year period were under 4 years old and nearly half of these babies were known to the state’s child protection system before they died, according to a new report released today.

“These facts spotlight a tragic truth:  Infants and toddlers are more likely to fall victim to abuse and neglect— and more likely to die from that maltreatment,” said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, which authored the report. “New Jersey must take stronger steps to protect these very young children from abuse and neglect.”

Abuse and neglect at such a young age often has serious, lifelong consequences, research shows. From zero to age three, a child’s brain grows faster than at any other time during their lives. Trauma at a young age can cause developmental delays and a host of other health and behavioral problems, according to the report, The Littlest Victims: Protecting Babies from Abuse and Neglect.

In New Jersey, children three and under make up the largest group of children involved with the state’s child protection system, now known as the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P).

On June 30, 2012, 25 percent of children under the division’s supervision and one-third of children in foster care were 3 or younger. Once in foster care, infants and toddlers are more likely to remain there longer than older children, according to state statistics.

Despite this heightened risk of harm, New Jersey requires no special training to guide workers in handling cases that involve infants and toddlers, uses safety and risk assessments that fail to consider age when determining whether a young child is safe and employs other practices that inadequately protect these young children.

Advocates for Children of New Jersey called for:

 Mandatory training for child protection staff and the judges and attorneys who handle these cases about the unique needs of infants and toddlers involved in the child protection system;

 Revisions to current policy regarding safety assessments and visitation to more adequately address the specific needs of infants and toddlers; and

 Improved data collection about infants, toddlers and their families who are known to the child protection system.

“Because young children make up such a large percentage of the caseload, it is critical that workers understand the special needs of young children and their families and that state policy and practice supports them in meeting those needs,” Zalkind said. “Not only will this improve child protection, it will help more families stay safely together.”

“New Jersey has appropriately given special consideration and protections to adolescents in the child protection system to address their needs,” Zalkind added. “It is time to do the same for the littlest victims.”

Read the full report.

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