A recently-released report from the Child Advocate Office determined that the majority of the 82 infant and toddler deaths that occurred in 2013 were largely preventable.
“Many of the children that are dying are dying of preventable deaths,” Associate Child Advocate Mickey Kramer said. “We really need a cohesive and collaborative approach to both identifying the risk and preventing these deaths.”
According to the report, a majority of last year’s infant and toddler fatalities occurred in families that had current or previous involvement with the Children and Families Department.
“Some of the cases described in the report raise questions and sometimes significant concerns regarding the efficacy of DCF practice with an individual family or the adequacy of its protocols for ensuring infant safety in high-risk homes,” Sarah Eagan, the state-appointed child advocate, said in a press release.
Some of the department’s shortcomings include assessment of risk, utilization of resources, communication with others that are working with the family, and accessing appropriate services, said Kramer.
The report also found that children with a history of DCF involvement were three times as likely to be murdered, twice as likely to die by accident, and half as likely to die of natural causes.
However, OCA said that it is important to understand that DCF is not solely to blame.
“It is vital to underscore that prevention of child maltreatment and child fatalities cannot rest solely with DCF. It will take a collective effort, meaningful and strategic investment in family strengthening and child survival,” Eagan said.
More than half of the 82 deaths reported to the child advocate from the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office were from natural causes, according to the report. Meanwhile, 12 were accidents and 10 were homicides — the highest number of homicides since the OCA and OCME began collecting data on child fatalities. The cause of 16 deaths could not be determined.
Of the above findings, five homicides and 10 undetermined deaths were attributable to children whose family was involved with the DCF.
Asked to comment, a spokesman for the Department of Children and Families referred to past press releases stating the department had “no reason to believe” its policies were endangering children.
“Even one child death is unacceptable and tragic, and we must take very seriously the responsibility to hold ourselves accountable,” DCF Gary Kleeblatt said in a statement early June.
The agency also said that they attempt to find the right balance between protecting children and unnecessarily removing them from their homes.
“At the same time as we are making strides in keeping children with their families, we also must keep children safe,” DCF Commissioner Joette Katz said in a June 18 statement. “That is what makes the jobs of our social workers so difficult and so important.”
The report, which was released Thursday, made some recommendations for preventing child fatalities. Several analyses suggested that both better record-keeping and a higher level of involvement from the state could have helped save the better part of 38 lives.
“Repeatedly, records did not seem to reflect cognizance of the level of risk for an infant in a home with a substance-abusing caregiver,” the report states.
Young, at-risk fathers and mother’s boyfriends were found guilty of 40 percent of the investigated fatalities, according to the report. The OCA recommended the department pursue more involved preventative measures in cases involving at-risk men.
“There should be engagement with young and at-risk fathers and male partners by local health care providers, hospitals, pediatrics, Ob-Gyn providers,and home visitors to identify support and other needs as well as strengths of the father/male partners,” the report states.
In detailing the ways that infant and toddler deaths might be avoided in the future, the report makes several other suggestions, such as increased access to prenatal and home visiting services and increased access to effective substance abuse and domestic violence services for families with very young children.