Child abuse rate in Massachusetts tops all states

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BOSTON – Massachusetts had the highest rate of child abuse and neglect in the nation in 2014, with almost 31,900 cases reported, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The rate of abuse or neglect rose to 22.9 cases per 1,000 children in the state in 2014, the report shows. That’s up from 14.5 cases per 1,000 children in 2013, when the state ranked ninth, with about 20,300 cases.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, has focused on changing procedures and the culture of the state’s child-welfare agency, the Department of Children and Families, in the wake of highly publicized cases of murder and neglect involving children touched by the agency over the past few years. The mother and boyfriend of one, known for months as Baby Doe, now face charges in connection with the death of the toddler, since identified as Bella Bond.

The department describes abuse or neglect as “any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act or failure to act, which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.”

It says there are four major categories used by most states in reporting such treatment: neglect, physical abuse, psychological maltreatment, and sexual abuse.

State officials told the Boston Globe that some of the increase in reported cases stems from greater public awareness because of the high-profile cases that have made headlines in recent years. Baker mentioned the troubled department in a speech this month that outlined his administration’s priorities, and last year spent considerable time addressing the media on child abuse and DCF issues.