Indiana Child Fatality Reports shows Stress on family big contributor to abuse
Today the Indiana Department of Child Services released the state's latest child-fatality data during a news conference at the Statehouse. DCS reviewed more than 292 child deaths from state-fiscal year 2011, varying in causes ranging from medical conditions, to drowning, to unsafe sleeping conditions in the home, to abuse and neglect. In eighty-two of the fatalities, unsafe sleeping conditions was a factor.
In addition, a report was compiled specifically regarding 40 child deaths directly resulting from abuse or neglect. DCS had prior history with six of those children. Among those children that died from abuse or neglect, a pattern of one or more significant stress factors were found in many cases, such as unemployment, low income, substance abuse, or domestic violence. In some cases, multiple stress factors were present in a single home.
The report also found a pattern of child deaths at the hands of parents' intimate partners, which is a trend that has continued year to year.
DCS says it is asking parents to think carefully about with whom they leave their children.
"When you have a child, and particularly a small child, left in the care of someone with no emotional bond with the child, with low to no parenting skills, and managing multiple stressors, tragedy can happen in an instant," said DCS Chief of Staff John Ryan.
Of the children who died from abuse, 48 percent were under the age of one. Of the neglect deaths, 38 percent of those children were under the age of one as well.
"Our infants and toddlers are often isolated at those ages, and there aren't as many eyes to see them as school-age children," said Ryan. "And smaller children take a lot of supervision, care and patience—which may be too much to ask of someone with low or poor parenting skills, or dealing with multiple stress factors."
DCS helps tens of thousands of families each year, and filed more than 10,600 child-protection court cases in 2011.
Steps to prevent more deaths
New DCS Director Mary Beth Bonaventura said her agency, which is required by federal and state laws to keep families together whenever safely possible, will be taking a "360-degree" look at the problem.
"One child we all agree is heartbreakingly too many, but 40 is devastating," said Bonaventura. "In addition to taking a close look within our own agency about the six children with which we had prior history, we also need to reach back into the communities, and out to law enforcement and community leaders."
Bonaventura will be taking the abuse and neglect report data to the Indiana Statewide Child Fatality Review Committee, and the newly established Commission on Children.
"What we're seeing is that the problems leading to this epidemic are bigger than DCS can tackle alone," said Bonaventura. "We need the help of these bodies to get to the root of these problems in communities across Indiana, and to get agencies working together and investing together to combat many of these stress issues before they escalate into abuse or neglect—or worse."
DCS local offices conducted an informal inquiry with law enforcement agencies across the state in late 2012 to discover their observations on the most significant risk to child safety in their communities. Substance abuse among parents was the most commonly cited risk to children's safety in the home.
Last year the DCS hotline took more than 170,000 reports of child abuse and neglect, compared with more than 150,000 in 2011.
"We need all Hoosiers to remember that they are first responders when it comes to reporting child abuse and neglect," said Bonaventura. "If you see something, please say something."
Anyone suspecting child abuse or neglect, or a child that may be at risk of either, should contact the DCS hotline at 800.800.5556.
A copy of the full SFY 2011 fatality report specific to child abuse and neglect can be found at: http://www.in.gov/dcs/
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