One preventable child death is too many. Seven deaths in one year in one county -- all the result of child abuse or neglect -- is appalling.
Those seven children who died in Lake County between July 1, 2007, and June 30, 2008, were among 46 children statewide who died of similar causes, according to a report issued today by the Indiana Department of Child Services.
Why did this happen?
DCS Director James Payne said he has no idea what caused this spike in numbers, but he's very concerned about them.
"We always look at these," he said.
The agency reviews each death in which the agency had prior contact to determine what went wrong and what could be done better. In nearly one-third of these cases statewide, the DCS had prior contact with the family.
The department is setting up a series of child fatality review teams across the state to work like the ones in Lake and Marion counties to look for any trends that could help the department and others spot signs of trouble earlier. More people in the DCS need to be trained as death investigators in order to deal effectively with law enforcement, medical professionals, coroners and others conducting concurrent investigations.
The state review team needs to meet more often to examine these investigations, Payne said. It can be a difficult process.
"We've had these intense debates about what is neglect and what is just an accident," Payne said.
That's an important distinction not just for these fatality cases but also so the agency can educate the public, especially family members, on what to look for.
"Families need to be more engaged and involved," Payne said.
It is not easy to call the authorities to report suspected abuse or neglect because it means confessing to the authorities that a family member might be harming a child. But it's vital that family members protect children above all else.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, but that responsibility falls on each of us every day. The alternative is to allow children to suffer, perhaps to the point of death.
Next year, Payne intends to ask the General Assembly to provide a more systemic way of looking at every child death, not just the ones in which the agency had prior contact. That needs to happen.
Finding the answers in these case is literally a matter of life and death. Figure out what more can be done to save our children.
Your opinion, please
If you suspected a family member of abusing or neglecting a child, would you notify the authorities immediately?
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