SOUTHERN INDIANA — The number of child deaths in Indiana has dropped for the first time since 2012, according to a report released from the Indiana Department of Child Services this week.
The 2016 Report of Child Abuse & Neglect Fatalities in Indiana shows that in State Fiscal Year 2016, which spans July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016, there were 59 unnatural deaths in the state attributed to abuse or neglect from caretakers. Thirty-five were caused by abuse and 29 by neglect. The numbers were reported in 34 counties in the state.
Clark County is on the list of counties, with one case of death due to neglect. It is one of 24 counties listed with just one case that year. Floyd County had none. Marion County had the most cases with 14.
Data in the report includes that from DCS records, death certificates, coroner's reports, autopsy and law enforcement records. DCS investigates and completes reports on all deaths of children under 1 that are sudden, or if there are reports of abuse or neglect, or deaths of children over 1 if the circumstances involve abuse or neglect.
It found that "young children are at the highest risk of abuse or neglect," according to the report.
Clark County numbers showed three deaths in 2015; one abuse, two neglect. There were two in the 2014 report and one each in 2013 and 2012. During the same time period, Floyd County had a total of five deaths, three in the 2014 report and two in the 2013 report, all attributed to neglect.
The lowest numbers statewide across the past 10 years were in 2010, with 25 such deaths statewide, and 34 in 2012. They then climbed to 77 in 2015 before the drop to 59 in 2016.
"There is no single factor to explain a drop in child fatalities," Noelle Russell, spokesperson for DCS said in an email. "As an agency, we plan to focus our attention on the 59 children who lost their lives."
The reports take into account such factors as cause of death, parental substance abuse, and whether they had previous history with DCS. Russell said the reports detail not only what happened to the child, but what the home environment was like.
"The child fatality review team studies a number of contributing stress factors, including a caregiver’s history of substance abuse, their own history of maltreatment, insufficient income and more," she said. "Analyzing these types of details helps DCS understand needs across Hoosier communities."
Head trauma was by far the most common cause of death, with 92 percent of the cases in the 2016 report listing it as one factor. Second is beating and/or kicking. So too are biological parents the most commonly charged in the fatalities — in 61 percent of the abuse cases and 70 percent of the neglect cases, parents were the perpetrators.
“The Indiana Department of Child Services mourns the loss of each of these children and hopes thorough study of the circumstances leading to these tragedies can aid in their prevention," according to the report. "Whether from maltreatment, poor judgment and/or lack of information and resources, many child deaths are preventable.”