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Fall in child abuse deaths

The number of children dying a violent death has fallen substantially in England and Wales over the past 30 years, research has revealed.

The authors of the study, published in Archives of Disease in Childhood, attribute this to improvements in child protection services since the deaths of Victoria Climbie and Peter Connelly. However, at least one child or young person still dies every week as a result of assault.

Figures show that annual rates of death due to assault fell dramatically in children between 1974 and 2008. There was an almost seven-fold fall in violent deaths in infants from 5.6 to 0.7 per 100,000, and a three-fold fall in violent deaths in children aged one to 14 years from 0.6 to 0.2 per 100,000.

The picture in adolescents is less encouraging. During the 1970s rates of death from assault fell among adolescents. They have since remained static in girls in these age groups, but have risen in boys.

Violent death rates vary according to age, with the largest reductions in infancy, and smaller reductions in the middle childhood years. The authors suggest that in cases of infant death, the perpetrators are usually the parents, with people outside the family to blame in deaths of older children. They state, “This may suggest that policies around protecting children from abuse and neglect within the family are having some effect, while those aimed at protecting older youths from violence have so far been unsuccessful.

“These reductions are unlikely to be accounted for by changes in categorisation but appear to reflect real improvements in protecting children from severe abuse.”