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ICYMI: Tameria Greene’s death shows work must be done to protect kids

January 24, 2013

Tameria Greene of Detroit should have celebrated her ninth birthday on January 2. Instead, her family was preparing for her funeral after she was fatally stabbed on December 30. Although the death of any child is tragic, Tameria’s is especially heartbreaking. On her birthday, authorities charged her mother — the very person who should have cared for her most — with responsibility for her death.

Tameria’s death occurred despite the efforts of child welfare officials to protect her.  As this paper reported on Jan. 3, “For two years, the Michigan Department of Human Services tried to remove 8-year-old Tameria Greene and her brothers from their mother’s care, even petitioning the court as recently as November.” The article goes on to say that the agency was unsuccessful.

As a former attorney who handled child welfare issues and now the Chairman of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, I have been working with my colleagues to reduce tragedies like this across the country. In all my years working to protect children, there has been no greater ally than Maura Corrigan, Michigan’s DHS Director. And, despite much progress, advocates like Maura and I are still looking for more ways to help children in need.

Back in 2010, I asked Congress’ investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office, to review the factors behind the nearly 2,000 child deaths from abuse and neglect each year. This review revealed that many more children die from abuse and neglect each year than are officially recorded. It also explained how it is difficult for different groups involved in child welfare cases to share information that might prevent child deaths from abuse or neglect.

My committee held hearings, and in December U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas and I introduced the “Protect our Kids Act of 2012” to establish a national commission to develop real solutions.  This bill passed the House on December 19 and the Senate on January 2, and the President signed it into law on January 14.

Usually, I’m not a big fan of commissions. But there are times when a problem is so big and involves so many different agencies and levels of government that no one solution is enough.  This commission will bring together child welfare, law enforcement, health care and other experts to review prevention methods, evaluate what is and is not working, and develop a comprehensive national strategy to reduce fatalities from child abuse and neglect.

The Protect our Kids Act will also provide a needed measure of accountability. All federal agencies that are affected by a recommendation will be required to submit a report to Congress within six months detailing how they intend to address that recommendation. This will ensure that the work of the commission is put into action, reducing child deaths from abuse and neglect.

The improvements resulting from this commission and Congress’ implementation of its recommendations will come too late for little Tameria Greene and her family.  But her tragic death is a solemn reminder of why this work is so important for so many other children who might experience the same tragic end.  It’s time to get on with this critical work.