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Allen County Child-Abuse Deaths 2011
Three children died from physical child abuse in Allen County during the fiscal year 2011. There had been none in 2010.
Kweli Dupri Thomas. An 11-month-old boy died at the hands of his mother’s boyfriend, who was sentenced to 40 years in prison for the death. Blunt-force trauma to his head killed Kweli, but the boy also suffered trauma to his chest and abdomen. One month prior to his death, the boy was treated for an elbow fracture that occurred while being taken care of by his mother’s boyfriend. No report was made to DCS at that time.
Jezaih King. This 3-year-old died from suffocation because of neck compression during an attempted exorcism performed by his mother and one of her friends. Fearing demons had inhabited her children, Jezaih’s mother held him and his 10-year-old sister down while pouring vinegar and oil into their mouths. Jezaih’s sister lived, but after he died, his body was hidden in a storage bin where it stayed for over a year until the death was reported to police. Jezaih’s mother was sentenced to 62 years in prison. Her friend who helped in the exorcism received a 30-year sentence.
Alyssa Johnson. In her 29 days of life, Alyssa suffered broken ribs, blistered burns on her chest and chin, scars on her face, dehydration and, ultimately, fatal head trauma. Her mother was accused – and then convicted – in the beating death of Alyssa. After the girl’s death, her mother dressed the child’s lifeless body and packed her in a car seat. She then drove the body – with her other children in the car – to a friend’s home. That friend called police. Alyssa’s mother was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Sources: Journal Gazette archives and Indiana Department of Child Services.
Need Help?
•You can report child abuse to the Indiana Department of Child Services hotline at 1-800-800-5556.
•To contact Stop Child Abuse Now, call 421-5000.

Child-abuse deaths up statewide

2011’s toll of 40 marks 60% rise over 2010

– 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.

That’s 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. It’s not exactly clear why the county – and the state – had an increase in such deaths.

“In a lot of physical abuse cases, it’s the mother’s 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 they’re 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 that’s a problem the state – and Allen County – is continuing to have, Richards said.

“I do think it’s getting somewhat better, but we still haven’t fixed it,” Richards said. “It’s just so hard to affect people’s 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.