WASHINGTON -- Child abuse cases in the United States have increased 50-fold in the last 20 years to nearly 3 million annually -- a trend attributable to tough economic times, the prevalence of violence in American society and a breakdown in neighborhood life, according to a blue-ribbon panel of experts.
To combat what it called a national tragedy, the U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse, established by Congress in 1988, recommended yesterday a comprehensive effort on the part of government, community leaders and residents to strengthen neighborhoods.
"Research has made it painfully clear that the rate of child maltreatment in a neighborhood is tied to the quality of life in that neighborhood," the board said.
"Neighborhoods that are considered dangerous and frightening by residents have higher rates of maltreatment than neighborhoods that residents regard more positively, even when those neighborhoods have equivalent income levels and similar ethnic composition."
Specifically, the board recommended that federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development should work with city and county planners and community organizations "to develop a neighborhood child protection plan for every neighborhood in their jurisdiction."
Such a plan should include "constructive opportunities for youth to network with each other, with positive adult role models, and to find positive roles for themselves in their community," the report suggested.
It also recommended that business, civic and religious organizations "adopt a particular high-risk neighborhood that they make a commitment to strengthen," including parents, grandparents and neighborhood youth in the project.
"The best protection for children is intervention by concerned neighbors," said Deanne Tilton Durfee of El Monte, Calif., the board chairwoman.