The percentage of proven child abuse and neglect cases in foster homes, schools, day care centers and other group settings fell to an all-time low last year, but New Jersey officials and child advocates are not sure if that is good news, reports the Newark Star-Ledger. The state unit that pursues allegations of harm to children that occurs outside their family homes corroborated 3 percent of allegations last year — a sharp drop from just two years earlier, when it proved 11.4 percent. The unit has received an average of 3,200 complaints a year.
The rates first slipped in 2006, after the state tightened rules on how the Institutional Abuse Investigations Unit determines whether an allegation of harm to children has merit. State officials say the ongoing $1 billion overhaul of the child welfare system has produced safer foster homes and a policy to rely less on detention centers and shelters. But child advocates worry that the percentages are lower because allegations aren’t getting the attention they deserve — and that this could force children to spend all or part of their days in dangerous places. “Maybe they have set the bar high, to where it’s possible they are screening out cases,” said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of the Association for Children of New Jersey.