I recently had a bit of a heated debate with a anonymous tweeter ‘Preserved by Faith’ who was very sure that 71% of children killed by a family member are killed by their mother. She relied upon statistics provided by Mark Rosenthal’s ‘Breaking the Science’
These appear to be credible and are taken from the US Department of Health and Human Services.
|Child abuse and neglect||Child fatalities|
|Mother and Other||222,836||565|
|Mother total (alone or with someone other than the father)||1,674,935||2269|
|Father and Other||37,836||77|
|Father total (alone or with someone other than the mother)||698,965||936|
|Both total (Involving one parent acting alone or in concert with someone not the child’s other parent)||2,373,900||3,205|
|Percent of cases involving one parent acting either alone or in concert with someone other than the child’s other parent|
|Mother Involved But Not Father||70.6%||70.8%|
|Father Involved But Not Mother||29.4%||29.2%|
What I don’t know because the table doesn’t make it clear, is how many of these mothers and fathers were living together at the time the child died. Is part of the reason that more children are killed by mothers because more women than men are primary carers of children? The vast majority of lone parents are mothers. In the UK in 2014 for example 91% of lone parents were women.
But probably a more interesting percentage that can be gleaned from these figures is that children killed by parents acting alone. I haven’t analysed those figures when a parent ‘acted’ with another because no explanation is given of what that means or what degree of culpability was afforded the parent as opposed to the ‘other’.
1,704 were killed by a mother acting alone. That represents only 0.12% of the1,452,099 children who are neglected by their mother alone. For fathers, who by themselves neglected 661,129 children, they killed 0.13% (859). So in terms of parents acting alone, fathers kill MORE children than mothers.
She then moved on to assert that mothers were more likely to abuse children than father’s full stop, referring to an Australian article ‘Why aren’t we talking about abusive mums?‘. Again I wonder to what extent this is reflection of the fact that women are overwhelmingly more likely to be lone carers, and considerably more likely to be poor.
Lets look at this article. It has a link to its claim that ‘children are far more likely to suffer abuse or neglect at the hands of mothers – but that link is simply to another article offering the experiences of ‘Sarah’ who was sexually abused by her mother and I couldn’t find any reference to statistics there.
It does however quote this study
The Child Family Community Australia reports, “A British retrospective prevalence study of 2669 young adults aged 18-24 (May-Chahal & Cawson, 2005) found that mothers were more likely than fathers to be responsible for physical abuse 49 per cent of incidents compared to 40 per cent).”
So no 70/30 split in terms of physical abuse.
It then says this, but provides no link to any published statistics in support
DHHS data in the UK shows that of children abused by one parent between 2001 and 2006, 70.6 per cent were abused by their mothers, 29.4 per cent were abused by their fathers.
I wonder if that is actually a reference to the statistic quoted by Mark Rosenthal given the reference to ‘DHHS’ which isn’t a UK body. With such precise statistics quoted, the lack of any link is odd.
‘Preserved by Faith’ also referred to this data from the American Society for the Positive Care of Children. But this doesn’t seem to break down the figures to show what proportion of the abusers were mothers and what proportion fathers or step fathers. However they are a shocking light shone on just how dangerous parents are for children.
NATIONAL CHILD ABUSE STATISTICS
- 4 million child maltreatment referral reports received.1
- Child abuse reports involved 7.2 million children.1
- 3.4 million children received prevention & post-response services.1
- 207,000 children received foster care services.1
- 75.3% of victims are neglected.1
- 17.2% of victims are physically abused.1
- 8.4% of victims are sexually abused.1
- 6.9% of victims are psychologically maltreated.1
- Highest rate of child abuse in children under one (24.2% per 1,000).1
- Over one-quarter (27.%) of victims are younger than 3 years.1
- Annual estimate: 1,670 to 1740 children died from abuse and neglect.1,3
- Almost five children die every day from child abuse.1,2
- 80% of child fatalities involve at least one parent.1
- 74.8% of child fatalities are under the age of 3.1
- 72.9% of the child abuse victims die from neglect.1
- 43.9% of the child abuse victims die from physical abuse.1
- 49.4% of children who die from child abuse are under one year.1
- Almost 60,000 children are sexually abused.
- More than 90% of juvenile sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator
- Estimated that between 50-60% of maltreatment fatalities are not recorded on death certificates.
- Child abuse crosses all socioeconomic and educational levels, religions, ethnic and cultural groups.1
But what is the point of all of this?
I don’t think the statistics show that mothers are more evil and more prone to abuse children than fathers. I think the statistics show that mothers are more likely to be in a situation where they will be poor and under stress. I really don’t know what ‘Preserved by Faith’ was trying to argue. She seemed to have a pretty clear animus against her step children’s mother but it wasn’t clear if she was trying to argue that the mother was therefore more likely to murder her children so custody should be given to their dad, now married to ‘Preserved by Faith’.
I could see that ‘Preserved by Faith’ was pretty angry and upset at what she perceived to be the situation. And yes, if its true what she set out, that’s a hard road to travel.
But does the path get any easier by relying on partial statistics to make some general point that as mothers are 70% of child killers, then HER step children should spend 50% of their time with their dad?
The tragedy of these cases is that the adults involved often cannot look beyond their own anger and they fall back on tired generalisations about ‘men’ versus ‘women’. If their rage is palpable to me – a complete stranger they ‘meet’ on the internet, I wonder what is is like for the children in their lives who presumably have a much more immediate and proximate exposure to such negative emotions. Their mother and father are not statistics for them.
Who Kills Children? Re-examining the evidence is a paper from the Bristish Journal of Social Work in 2013. The full article is available only on subscription but the abstract is interesting. It doesn’t support my speculation that poverty is linked to greater rates of child death.
Violent children’s deaths have become a surrogate indicator of effective child protection but can those who kill children be better identified? A decade-long study of child homicide assailants (population of 2.5 million) is re-examined in the context of nineteen Western nations’ child mortality rates and child-abuse-related deaths, correlated with four international measures of relative poverty, focusing on income inequality. Child mortality rates of the nineteen countries were ranked and correlated with levels of poverty. Child mortality and poverty strongly correlated but, unexpectedly, child-abuse-related deaths did not. Child homicide assailants are extremely rare, but three distinct within-family assailant categories can be identified: mentally ill parents, mothers with a child on the Child Protection Register and men with previous convictions for violence. Mentally ill parents were the most frequent assailants, but violent men killed over five times the rate of mentally ill parents. The juxtaposed results indicate that the assailants’ problems are essentially psycho-criminological, especially violence, rather than socio-economic, although poverty worsens most situations. Despite the dangers of ‘false positives’, children’s services need to give greater weighting to the child protection–psychiatric–violence interface to assist front line staff in improving risk assessment and contribute to reducing the impact that parental mental illness can have on the child.
Filicide: Mental Illness in Those who Kill Their Children 2013 paper which concluded: 6144 people were convicted of homicide, 297 were filicides, and 45 cases were filicide-suicides. 195 (66%) perpetrators were fathers. Mothers were more likely than fathers to have a history of mental disorder (66% v 27%) and symptoms at the time of the offence (53% v 23%), most often affective disorder. 17% of mothers had schizophrenia or other delusional disorders. Overall 8% had schizophrenia. 37% were mentally ill at the time of the offence. 20% had previously been in contact with mental health services, 12% within a year of the offence.