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Despite the enormous literature on child abuse, there is little information on situations in which children are killed. Unlike other studies, which may be based on large statistical compilations but do not emphasize the murder of children, or detailed accounts of just a few cases, The Loss of Innocents is the first book to employ an extensive database of materials, allowing a large number of cases to be studied. The Loss of Innocents is a detailed analysis drawn from data in child abuse articles in The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Omaha World Herald, The Louisville Courier-Journal, and The Lexington Herald Leader during the period 1971-1993. From her exhaustive research, Cara Richards gathered details from over 700 cases involving more than 1,000 victims and 990 perpetrators. These cases offered Richards a wealth of information about the circumstances of the crimes, facts about the perpetrators, socioeconomic background of victims' families, and much more. From this large sample, patterns of dangerous circumstances, and specific types of killers were identified.
The thorough analysis presented in The Loss of Innocents goes beyond the facts and suggests new directions for research, intervention, and-most important-prevention. A major goal of this book is to help prevent the killing of children by suggesting ways in which social case workers, judges, police, and others can recognize a situation that is imminently dangerous. The Loss of Innocents looks at clues that can help officials decide when parental rights should be terminated immediately, when a brief separation is enough to remedy an abusive situation, and when a child will be safe despite problems. It is designed to help decision-makers reach judgments about child placement that are more accurate. It may also provide data to evaluate the limitations and utility of confidentiality laws. Further, Richards presents in the final chapter of this book a 16-point list of ways to reduce violence against children.
Her recommendations range from simple suggestions such as encouraging the maintenance of the family and improving counseling for unwed pregnant teens to more specific tactics that include exercising a greater willingness to terminate parental rights, strengthening laws to protect children when parental and child rights conflict, and re-evaluating the usefulness of confidentiality laws. By providing anlaysis of how, why, and by whom children are killed, The Loss of Innocents seeks to improve risk assessment of abused children and ultimately reduce the number of tragedies occurring each year.
Cara E. Richards is professor emerita of anthropology at Transylvania University.