The snapshot offered by the annual child fatality report always is the most heartbreaking photo in Indiana’s family album. The latest is no exception: 34 infants and children died as the result of abuse or neglect from July of 2011 to the end of June 2012, the most recent figures available.
The preventable deaths reinforce the need to address the poverty, substance abuse and domestic abuse at their roots and to double down on stronger regulations for child care businesses.
Among the deaths:
An infant who died shortly after birth due to the mother’s drug use. The woman tested positive for several illegal drugs at the time of the birth and was caught attempting to smoke methamphetamine while in labor at the hospital.
A 10-year-old who died after he was physically assaulted by his father. The man was angry over the manner in which the child was cleaning the house. The boy had multiple blunt-force injuries to his arms, legs and torso in various stages of healing. His siblings reported the boy was restrained with duct tape while he was beaten for about three hours with a belt buckle, a pole and the father’s fists.
A 3-year-old child who was found unresponsive in the home of his babysitter with more than 10,000 milliliters of morphine in his system. A member of the household had a prescription for morphine, but no one was able to explain how the child ingested the drug. DCS substantiated death due to neglect against the babysitter.
Just two of the 34 deaths occurred in northeast Indiana. Nine-year-old Aliahna Lemmon died from multiple blunt-force trauma and suffocation in December 2011. Michael L. Plumadore, a family friend in whose care she had been left, admitted to striking her with a brick and placing her body in trash bags in the freezer of his mobile home off North Clinton Street. He later dismembered the body and placed it in a trash bin. Plumadore was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty.
In Auburn in March of 2012, one-month-old Lucas W. Taylor died from what appeared to be an abusive head injury. The infant’s father, Gabriel Wayne Taylor, was charged with Class A felony battery. That case is pending.
While biological parents were responsible in nearly two-thirds of the deaths, paid caregivers were responsible in others. One was the drowning death of a toddler in a baptismal font of an Indianapolis church. The state’s dismal record in regulating church-based child cares is to blame – a record that finally could improve with legislation pushed by Rep. Rebecca Kubacki, R-Syracuse. Her primary election loss to a tea party candidate opposed to tougher regulations should not be allowed to undo the state’s halting progress in protecting children.
The state is doing better. Lake County Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura became DCS director in early 2013. She replaced Jim Payne, whose work slashing spending and returning it to the state’s general fund inevitably endangered young lives.
Healthy Families, a program that targets at-risk families with newborns to children age 3, suffered greatly during Payne’s tenure. SCAN, the northeast Indiana agency charged with addressing abuse and neglect, saw its support for Healthy Families reduced by half.
Twenty of the deaths profiled in the new report were to children age 1 or younger – children whose parents might have benefited from the intervention of a Healthy Families caseworker.
Still, SCAN Director Rachel Tobin-Smith is optimistic for continued improvement.
There’s a more cooperative spirit between local (child protection) providers and Indianapolis, she said (The state) has continued to put emphasis on prevention. In November of 2012, new dollars flowed into prevention, which might help in next year’s statistics.
Until there are no deaths, the annual fatality report will continue to make for heartbreaking reading. Prevention of abuse and neglect, however, will also prevent the deaths that can follow when it goes unchecked.