WASHINGTON— Two years ago, a 13-year-old American boy from Indiana, Christian Choate, died after years of abuse, allegedly at the hands of his father, that authorities discovered only after it was too late.
“After his death, police found letters he had written about how he wondered when anyone would check on him or give him any food or water,” US Congressman Geoff Davis said Tuesday as he convened a hearing on Capitol Hill into the under-reporting of deaths of US children from abuse and neglect.
“It is hard to know which child deaths are more tragic — those we know about, or those we do not.
“But our job today is to make sure that all deaths of children due to maltreatment are recorded, so we can learn from all of them and use that knowledge to work with state and local partners to prevent more of these tragedies from occurring in the future,” Davis said.
Actress Tamara Tunie, who plays a medical examiner in the television series “Law and Order,” said the number of children who die from abuse or neglect is underreported, even as such deaths increasingly grab the headlines.
“On ‘Law and Order’ we investigate fictionalized crimes and often have to deal with difficult story lines, but nothing compares to the real and tragic cases that we hear about with increasing regularity,” Tunie said.
She cited the widely televised case of toddler Caylee Anthony, whose badly decomposed body was found six months after she disappeared — a disappearance that her mother did not report until a month after it happened.
Anthony’s mother was found not guilty last week of the murder of her two-year-old.
“An estimated 2,500 children die each year from abuse and neglect” in the United States, Tunie said, adding: “That’s seven children a day.”
But according to official records compiled by the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS), 1,770 children in the United States died from abuse or maltreatment in 2009, the most recent year for which data are available, Kay Brown of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said.
“Some experts believe that more children have died from maltreatment than are captured in this estimate and that there are inconsistencies and limitations in the data that states collect,” she said.
Many states only report as deaths from abuse fatalities of children who were known to the state’s Child Protective Services (CPS), Brown said, citing a report compiled by the GAO and released at the hearing.
“Yet not all children who die from maltreatment were previously brought to the attention of CPS,” Brown said.
Davis said he hoped the hearing would encourage better documentation of such deaths in order to prevent them from happening.
“Our role is to be the voice for the voiceless,” he said.
In letters left behind by Choate, the boy from Indiana asked “‘why nobody liked him and how he just wanted to be liked by his family,'” Davis said in his opening statement.
“It’s hard to fully comprehend the depth of the sadness this boy must have experienced during his too-short life,” he said, vowing to do better for children who die at the hands of abusive guardians.