Fatal and Non-Fatal Child Maltreatment

By Caitlin Hunter and Heidi Radunovich

Example of child maltreatment
Creative Commons Licensing [Flickr, Punishment, October 14, 2008] retrieved on September 8, 2015
Children living in homes where there was recently a major life event are thought to be more at risk for being victims of fatal child maltreatment. What exactly are the factors which contribute to fatal child maltreatment, and what can be done to stop it from happening?

The purpose of the study by Douglas and Mohn (2014) was to examine the differences between cases of fatal and non-fatal child maltreatment on a national scale [1]. The focus was specifically on victim/family characteristics of fatal maltreatment and how those differed from non-fatal maltreatment victims. The researchers were also interested in the social services victims received prior to death, and how those services were different than victims of non-fatal maltreatment.

This study found that younger children were more likely to suffer fatal child maltreatment rather than non-fatal, and that the likelihood of fatal maltreatment was higher for males than females, and for those children who identified as African American. Children who had been victims of child maltreatment in the past, or who were in homes where there was other domestic violence, were actually less likely to be victims of fatal child maltreatment.  Children who were emotionally disturbed, had a learning disability, or had behavior problems were also less likely to suffer a fatality. These findings are interesting because they are inconsistent with prior research on the subject.

Fatality victims were more likely to have a younger perpetrator, and were also more likely to live in a household where housing is a problem, or in which there were financial difficulties. It was less likely for fatality victims to have received social services in the past. These services include: family support, foster care, court-appointed representatives, and case management. The author of this study stressed the importance of this last finding, stating that the use of services could be a very important protective factor against fatal child maltreatment incidents. Ensuring the use of services are not only useful in their own ways, but they also keep the child visible in the community, lessening the risk that maltreatment will go unnoticed.  


[1] Douglas, E. M., & Mohn, B. L. (2014). Fatal and non-fatal child maltreatment in the US: An analysis of child, caregiver, and service utilization with the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data Set. Child Abuse & Neglect38(1), 42-51. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2013.10.022

This post was written by Caitlin Hunter  & Heidi Radunovich, PhD, members of the MFLN Family Development (FD) team which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network FD concentration on our website, on Facebook, on Twitter, YouTube, and on LinkedIn.

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