NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Rate of child abuse, neglect in Indiana unacceptable; fatalities rise

The Indiana Department of Child Services released a report last week that says deaths from child neglect and abuse increased during fiscal year 2017. That report details 65 deaths that resulted directly from abuse or neglect.

That’s tragic news and a disappointing turn following the statistics from the previous year.

Last year News-Sentinel.com lauded an IDCS report that showed fatalities from child neglect and abuse had fallen significantly during the 2016 fiscal year after a series of increases and a four-year, 63 percent spike in overall reports of abuse.

There were 77 child abuse fatalities during the 12 months ending on June 30, 2015, up from 66 the year before. But in the fiscal year 2016 the total fell to 59 — a reduction of nearly 25 percent.

Last week’s report found that 44 deaths in 2017 were due to neglect and 21 were caused by abuse. Forty-five of the 65 total fatalities involved children 3 years old or younger, matching the national trend that toddlers are at the highest risk. The complete report with detailed descriptions of the 2017 fatalities is linked to the July 26 news release on the Department of Child Services site at in.gov.

Of Indiana’s 92 counties, 36 reported one or more deaths related to abuse or neglect. Lake County had the most with nine deaths, while Marion County reported seven and Clark County four.

Allen County had three deaths, all due to neglect. Kosciusko was the only other county in Northeast Indiana with any deaths, one due to abuse.

The report found that the leading cause of death in the child abuse cases was head trauma (10 fatalities). The most common child deaths due to neglect were related to children being left unattended near water or a caregiver’s failure to provide safe sleeping arrangements.

DCS warns that children should not sleep in the same bed as their parents. What’s more parents should be urgently vigilant of their children around water as the American Academy of Pediatrics says a child can drown in as little as one inch of water.

Nearly half of the deaths in the report are classified as homicides, while about two of every five were accidental. DCS says it was involved in the lives of one out of every five children in the report, compared to one of every 20 two years ago.

The increase in fatalities in Indiana shown in the 2017 report is of the utmost concern, but the fatalities do not show the extent of the problem of abuse and neglect of our children in Indiana. Or nationwide.

The most recent Centers for Disease Control statistics show an estimated 1 in 4 children in America experience maltreatment at some point in their lives.

An Indianapolis Star story in April examined a new report from the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that says child abuse rates in Indiana more than double the national average.

The agency’s latest Child Maltreatment report, which also covers incidents in 2017, shows that there were 29,189 victims of child abuse in Indiana — a rate of 18.6 victims per 1,000 children. The national average is 9.1 victims per 1,000 children.

The Star reported that Indiana’s child abuse rate grew steadily from 13.7 victims per 1,000 children in 2013 to 18.6 in 2017. Indiana was third in the nation in 2017 for child fatality rates with 4.96 deaths per 100,000 children, compared to the national average of 2.32 deaths per 100,000.

News-Sentinel.com stated in an April editorial our support for DCS reform in Indiana to help in the fight to protect our children. And reform has been helping. But the fact is, it’s up to all of us to be alert to signs of child abuse, such as physical injuries, lack of needed medical attention, children expecting bad things to happen, lack of parental supervision and frequent absences from school. To report abuse or neglect, call the Child Protective Services hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-800-5556.

Indiana’s record of child abuse and neglect is alarming and unacceptable, and we all need to be concerned.