Ask GAL by Pam Hindman: Causes of child deaths for children who have been abused or neglected

November 14, 2012 

Q: Previously, there was a question about who reviews the child deaths in Florida. What were the causes of death for children who were abused or neglected?

A: The most recent numbers are from 2010 published in The December 2011 Death Report. Of the 2,282 children under the age of 18 who died in 2010 in Florida, 155 were verified to be the result of abuse or neglect. The Death Review Committee reviewed 136 of those cases and found that 37.5 percent (51) were from abuse and 62.5 percent (85) were from neglect. The good news is that in 2010 there was a 23 percent decrease in the number of child abuse and neglect deaths down from 200 in 2009. In 2009, seven of those deaths were in Manatee County, with two deaths in 2010.

Of the 136 cases reviewed in the 2011 Report, 79 were considered accidental, 49 homicides, four undetermined, three natural, and one a suicide. Eighty-eight percent (119) of the children were age 5 or younger.

Eighty-five of the death cases were considered to be the result of neglect. Fifty-one were the result of physical abuse.

Categories of neglect were 42 drownings, 21 the result of unsafe sleep, nine in a vehicle, six from drug toxicity, three a result of other causes, two medical neglect, one from a firearm, and one from fire. Unsafe sleeping and drowning continue to be the most prevalent causes of child neglect fatalities among Florida's children under the age of 5.

In 2010 the number of drowning deaths in children under 5 increased from 2009. There were 91 child drowning deaths reported to the Florida child abuse hotline in 2010 and 42 were verified for abuse/neglect. Inadequate supervision was found in all 42 of the cases.

There were 21 unsafe sleep-related child deaths of which 14 were a result of co-sleeping and seven were a result of unsafe sleeping environments. The children were all under the age of 9 months.

Vehicle crashes are

the most under-reported child neglect deaths as they are often viewed as a traffic fatality and not as a child neglect death, due to the lack of reporting when the driver is under the influence of alcohol. Four children in Florida died as a result of being left in a vehicle. Four children were run over by a vehicle, and one died in a crash. Eight of the children were under the age of 4 and one was 8 years old.

Three children died due to inadequate supervision. Two were mauled by a dog and one inhaled a balloon. All three children were under 3 years of age.

Two children died from medical neglect which is the refusal or failure of the responsible person to seek medical, dental, or mental health care, or for the caregiver to withhold care. One child died from a gunshot wound to the head.

There were 51 children who died as a result of physical abuse, defined as any willful act or threatened act that results in any physical, mental, or sexual injury or harm to the child. Three categories of physical abuse were reviewed, internal injury, murder/suicides, and out-of-hospital births. Of the 40 that had internal injury 20 had evidence of prior trauma. Nine died as a result of murder/suicide, six were killed by the stepfather or father. Two died as abandoned newborns. There were 42 (82 percent) under the age of 5.

The Child Abuse Death Review Committee's 2010 findings show that a significant portion of verified child abuse and neglect cases result from the children's interaction with other adults living in the home, most often a significant other of the participant that is not directly related to the child. They recognized that substance abuse is one of the leading risk factors present in both abuse and neglect deaths each year. Their findings show the presence of substance abuse in 64 percent of the 174 perpetrator/caretakers responsible (more than one perpetrator can be responsible for the child's death) in the cases reviewed. They also show that the presence of domestic violence is a contributing risk factor in 34 percent of 174 perpetrator/caretakers responsible for the child death cases reviewed.

The sad part is that of the 136 cases, many were children under the age of 5 and, particularly the neglect cases were preventable.

Pam Hindman, director of the Guardian ad Litem program for the 12th Judicial Circuit, writes this weekly column for the Bradenton Herald. Email her at askthegal@12gal.org, or write to the Guardian ad Litem Program, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Hensley Wing, Suite 330, Bradenton 34205.

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