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Report: US Officials Fail to Protect Abused Children

FILE - The tombstone of Anjelica "Baby Hope" Castillo, whose body was found crammed in a picnic cooler in 1991, is seen in the Bronx borough of New York, Oct. 13, 2013.

The Associated Press said at least 786 children in the United States have died of abuse and neglect in a six-year span, saying the children died "in plain view of child protection authorities."

AP said it discovered during its eight-month investigation that many of the children were "beaten, starved or left alone to drown while agencies had good reason to know they were in danger."

AP conducted the survey in the 50 U.S. states, plus the District of Columbia and branches of the military. The report said many states "struggled to provide numbers" and that "secrecy often prevailed."

The survey revealed that most of the 786 children known to have died were under the age of four. It said they died while authorities were investigating their families or providing protection because of previous neglect or troubles in their homes.

Flawed data collection system

The data collection system on child deaths is so flawed, AP said, that no one can say for certain how many children overall die from abuse or neglect every year.

The federal government estimates an average of about 1,650 deaths annually in recent years. The Associated Press reports many believe the actual number is twice as high.

AP said factors contributing to the nationwide abuse dilemma include tight budgets, worker shortages and case overloads in local child protection services offices.

The account said nearly 40 percent of the 3 million child abuse and neglect complaints made annually to child protective service hotlines are screened out and never investigated.

The survey said that a lack of a comprehensive national child welfare database allows some abusers to avoid detection by simply moving to different states.