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Violent Deaths: A National Reporting System Is Needed

8/13/2001:   One of the areas of greatest concern for the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA), as advocates for children, is the violent death of a child. The sudden loss of a child’s life to violence affects our families and communities like no other event. As difficult as it may be to believe, we have too little information available nationally to capture the data about these deaths in ways that are needed to strengthen our arguments in support of our children’s safety. No national usable database system currently exists to gather and link the numbers and causes of violent deaths with the circumstances.
  • The National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collects victims’ demographic information and cause of death based on death certificates.
  • The FBI Uniform Crime Reports provide information about offenders and partial information about what sparked the incident.

About 50,000 violent deaths occur each year in the United States, but we do not know crucial details. Rather than being available to guide prevention efforts, critical information either is not collected or sits in filing cabinets in separate agencies. Thus, we cannot answer even basic questions such as:
  • Do trigger locks reduce children’s deaths caused by firearms?
  • How many women killed in domestic violence attacks had a restraining order against the offender?
  • How often do murder/suicides occur? How often do they include children?
  • How often are multiple children killed in one incident?

Now an effort is underway to correct this situation. CWLA is among more than 100 organizational members of the HELP Network, based at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, that support the Just the Facts Campaign to establish a National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS). National and regional medical, health, injury prevention, and advocacy groups also support development of the reporting system.

In 1999, the Harvard Pilot Project began a model uniform system for tracking violent deaths. Funding for the model program, now operating in 13 sites, runs out in 2002. The Bureau of Justice Statistics, FBI, and Surgeon General agree that NVDRS, led by CDC, should be coordinated and funded at the federal level, with data collection at the state level. NVDRS will compile and combine data from medical examiners, coroners, crime labs, and vital statistics registrars, thus providing a more complete understanding of when, where, and how violent deaths occur. Implementing NVDRS will cost about $20 million annually, a tiny fraction of the $2.3 billion in annual medical costs for treating firearms injuries alone—nearly half paid for by taxpayer dollars.

Law enforcement, advocacy groups, health professionals, community organizations, and policymakers anticipate that the NVDRS will have effects and benefits similar to those that have resulted from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). Since 1975, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, through FARS, has compiled data from all 50 states on fatalities resulting from automobile accidents. This information was used to develop safety interventions, such as child restraint laws and anti-drunk driving campaigns, and the rate of traffic fatalities—and injuries—has declined dramatically.

For more information on NVRDS, contact http://www.jtfcampaign.org.





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