State Child Fatality Reports Show Family Stress Contributes to Abuse

The Indiana Department of Child Services this week released the state’s latest child fatality statistics, having reviewed more than 292 child deaths during fiscal year 2011 with causes ranging from medical conditions to drowning, unsafe sleeping conditions in the home – even abuse and neglect.

DCS compiled a report specifically regarding 40 child deaths that had directly resulted from abuse or neglect and learned that DCS had prior history with six of the children. Further, among those children that died from abuse or neglect, a pattern of one or more significant stress factors were found in many cases, which included unemployment, low income, substance abuse, or domestic violence. In some cases, multiple stress factors were present in a single home.

The DCS report also indicated a pattern of child deaths at the hands of parents’ intimate partners, which is a trend that has continued year to year. As a result, DCS is asking parents to think carefully as to whom they leave with their children. DCS Chief of Staff John Ryan said tragedy can happen in an instant when a small child is left in the care of someone with no emotional bond with the child and low to no parenting skills.

Of the children who died from abuse, 48 percent were less than one year of age; of the neglect deaths, 38 percent of those children were under the age of one.

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. She said in addition to taking a close look within DCS about the six children with which DCS had prior history, they will also need to reach back into the communities, and out to law enforcement and community leaders.

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.

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.