Nursing Faculty Member Receives National Fellowship

June 18, 2013

Columbia, Mo. — Patricia Schnitzer, an associate professor in the University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing (MU SSON) has been selected as the 2013 National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS)/AcademyHealth Health Policy Fellow. This 13-month, full-time fellowship with the NCHS, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) brings a visiting scholar in a health services research-related discipline to the NCHS in Hyattsville, Maryland, to conduct studies of interest to policymakers and the health services research community.

“This fellowship recognizes Dr. Schnitzer’s outstanding research accomplishments and potential for further major advances in science,” said Vicki Conn, MU SSON associate dean for research.

Schnitzer, whose research focuses on causes of childhood injuries, prevention of child abuse and neglect and improvements for public health surveillance, begins her project, “Improving National Data on Child Maltreatment Fatalities,” on September 1. Child maltreatment includes both child abuse and neglect.

Schnitzer’s project comes on the wave of a national push to improve the accuracy of identifying child maltreatment deaths which are undercounted each year. “It is very difficult to accurately document the number of children who die each year due to maltreatment,” Schnitzer said. “Accurate data are necessary for monitoring trends and informing prevention.” In 2011, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report documenting the national undercount of fatal child maltreatment. The national tally of child maltreatment deaths is compiled annually by the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS). Current NCANDS data document approximately 1,700 child maltreatment deaths each year while research suggests that the actual number of maltreatment deaths is closer to 3,000 deaths annually. The NCANDS uses information reported by child welfare agencies to get its count, but not all child maltreatment deaths are reported to or investigated by child welfare agencies.

Schnitzer’s goal is to create a method for better estimating the number of child deaths due to abuse and neglect in the United States using NCHS mortality data – that is, data from death certificates. For her project, she will collaborate with the National Center for the Review and Prevention of Child Deaths (NCRPCD) and 10 states that use the NCRPCD Case Reporting System to maintain and manage their child death review CDR program data. Schnitzer will link the CDR data from these 10 states with the NCHS death certificate data. The detail on circumstances of death available in the CDR data will be used to identify maltreatment deaths and inform improvements in coding and documentation of child maltreatment in death certificates. Schnitzer will focus on deaths of children less than 5 years old, as more than 90 percent of fatal maltreatment occurs in this age range.

The project will address the GAO recommendation to improve the comprehensiveness, quality and use of national data fatal child maltreatment. These improved national estimates can be used to monitor trends over time.

“Dr. Schnitzer brings her special expertise in epidemiology and her research on childhood injury to the work of this fellowship. Her past research and this work at the National Center for Health Statistics, CDC, will have an impact on health policy enhancing the health and safety of children,” said Judith Fitzgerald Miller, MU SSON dean.