INDIANAPOLIS – Unemployment, lack of money, domestic violence and substance abuse.
Most of the 40 children who died from neglect or abuse in Indiana during the fiscal year 2011 were being raised in a household where one or more of the above factors were a regular part of daily life.
Thats according to Indiana Department of Child Services officials, who released a report detailing child deaths Monday.
The number of deaths because of neglect or abuse is a 60 percent increase from the 25 recorded for the fiscal year 2010, according to Department of Child Services officials.
In 2009, the number of neglect and abuse deaths was 39.
The jump occurred during the first year of implementation of the oft-criticized centralized state abuse and neglect hotline, but the Department of Child Services said the increase is unrelated.
Allen County reported three abuse deaths, compared with none the prior year. Its not exactly clear why the county – and the state – had an increase in such deaths.
In a lot of physical abuse cases, its the mothers boyfriend, said Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards, whose office is part of a local Child Fatality Review Team, which looks over child deaths in the area.
They do not have the patience to care for young children, Richards continued. I think they understand what theyre doing, but their frustration threshold is very low, so they fly off the handle.
Statewide, 25 percent of the abuse and neglect deaths came at the hands of an intimate partner unrelated to the child, according to the DCS report.
Most of the time, it was the boyfriend.
Officials with the department cautioned parents to think twice about whom they may be leaving in charge of their children when they are away.
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, DCS chief of staff John P. Ryan said in a statement.
To combat major factors that contribute to child abuse – such as low income or lack of a job – organizations like Stop Child Abuse Now have set up programs to get parents the help they need to care for their kids.
One program, funded by the Department of Child Services, allows parents to get help in their own homes.
We go into homes where a parent is struggling, has stressors such as loss of job, medically fragile babies, divorces, children who are pre-teens or who are acting out, financial issues etc. and provide services to these families to help decrease the stress and push them back off the edge of committing child abuse and neglect, Rachel Tobin-Smith, the executive director of SCAN, said in an email to The Journal Gazette.
Typically, SCAN officials will continue to help the family for up to 90 days and can help for an additional 30 days if needed, Tobin-Smith said in her email.
Her organization also offers Daybreak Crisis Homes, which is a place where parents who are under stress and at their limit because of crisis can place their children for up to seven days, Tobin-Smith said.
Of the 40 deaths statewide, 27 were from abuse and 13 were from neglect. Head trauma was the primary cause of death.
Six of the 40 children had prior contact with the DCS system. Ryan said those cases were reviewed and no mistakes or errors by the agency was found.
In all, the Department of Child Services investigated 292 deaths during the fiscal year 2011, which began July 1, 2010, and ran to June 30, 2011.
In 82 of those deaths, unsafe sleeping conditions were a factor, according to officials. Parents would fall asleep next to their kids, roll over and smother them, or crush them.
And thats a problem the state – and Allen County – is continuing to have, Richards said.
I do think its getting somewhat better, but we still havent fixed it, Richards said. Its just so hard to affect peoples choices of caregivers and the way people traditionally sleep with their children.
Child services does not count such deaths as abuse or neglect because neither is usually substantiated in most cases, department spokeswoman Stephanie McFarland said. Those cases are typically ruled accidents.