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NJ trails nation in validating child abuse claims

Of the nearly 93,000 child abuse and neglect claims made in New Jersey during 2012, the most recent year for which state data are available, about 10 percent were ruled as valid complaints.

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The state’s substantiation rate, which is 8 percent lower than the national average, has been a concern of child advocates for nearly a decade. State officials, meanwhile, claim these numbers fail to produce “meaningful information.”

Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, said it’s hard to draw solid conclusions from the data, but the information raises some questions.

Taking an optimistic approach, Zalkind said the numbers could mean that a large volume of incoming complaints simply don’t count as abuse and neglect. On the other hand, the low rate could mean that investigations are not as thorough as they should be, or that the standard for deciding what is maltreatment is very rigid.

“It might leave children at risk,” she said.

In the meantime, “routine” abuse reporters such as doctors and teachers are getting frustrated by the low percentage of substantiated cases, Zalkind suggested.

“If they make an allegation that they don’t feel has been investigated, it’s much harder to pick up the phone the next time and make a report,” she said.

In an emailed response, the state Department of Children and Families said comparing state child abuse complaint substantiation rates is an invalid comparison, as each state uses different standards.

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