Despite protections, a grim toll of children abused and neglected

Matthew Blaz was known to Montana child services officials and to police. In 2013, just a couple of weeks after his daughter, Mattisyn, was born, he went home drunk and threw his wife onto the floor even as she held their baby.

There were protections available, and Blaz’ wife had a child protective services worker come over the day after she was assaulted. Matthew Blaz was ordered to stay away from his wife. But, as often happens in domestic violence circumstances, she became convinced he had changed and let him come back home.

When Mattisyn was just 2 months old, prosecutors said, Blaz spiked her “like a football,” and the child died.

This report, from the Associated Press, is chilling and mind-boggling to all responsible parents, particularly at this time of year, when families are focused on making their children happy.

The AP surveyed 50 states, the District of Columbia and the military to find out just how many children know to authorities died of abuse or neglect over a six-year period. The numbers were likely incomplete because, as the wire service reported, record-keeping isn’t reliable and is often shrouded in secrecy.

Even so, the AP found that at least 786 children, most younger than 4, had died from 2008 to 2013. In North Carolina, the number of such deaths from 2008 to 2012 was put at 12.

But to the credit of lawmakers and state and county officials, North Carolina has an extensive network to monitor children under the watch of social services workers. This state is addressing the issue with the seriousness it deserves with a clear and established system to ensure that officials can intervene to prevent children from being hurt. The key is to maintain an adequate number of case workers, something on which state lawmakers must keep an eye.

Child protective workers are understandably reluctant to take a child from a home if there is no tangible evidence of abuse and the child appears content. And as in the case of Mattisyn Blaz, there are instances where abuse is a clear threat but a parent decides the danger has passed.

As the AP noted, there apparently is no national child abuse database, so some abusers simply move to another state when authorities start bearing down. The lack of central information also means it’s hard to know just how great a problem this is. The AP used data from agencies that receive public help and have an obligation to open records.

The actual number of children who die as a result of abuse could be much higher.

Clearly, there’s no simple solution to the problem of child abuse. But a national database, which ought to be possible through social services agencies and law enforcement, is one place to start. And neighbors should always, always, signal authorities if they suspect there is trouble in a home and children are at risk.

States need to review laws designed to protect children to balance the rights of parents and individuals with the rights of innocent kids. In all cases, defenseless children must come first.