Commission on Child Deaths Goes to Florida

The Commission To Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities conducted a second field hearing last Thursday, July 10 when they went to Tampa Florida. The Commission heard from both Florida officials as well as national experts. Panelists included Interim Secretary Mike Carroll, Florida Department of Children and Families, Dr. Celeste Philip, Florida Department of Health, Richard Barth, University of Maryland, and Howard Davidson, of the American Bar Association among several others. The topics included child protective services involvement with child deaths, using child welfare administrative data to protect vulnerable children, the use of predictive analytics and the issue of confidentiality.

Much of the discussion focused on what data and research tells us about the most likely cases of child fatalities and strategies that might be built into prevention efforts based on that information. The afternoon focused on some of the challenges the state of Florida has experienced with rising numbers of child deaths and how different Florida communities are implementing different practices resulting in more effective results. Emily Putnam-Hornstein, PhD, Children’s Data Network, University of Southern California, provided an overview of child protection and child fatalities data. Her presentation indicated that annual estimates of children reported for abuse and neglect understate how many children are involved with child protection over time and that what we think of as a relatively rare event is much more common than has been indicated. Citing recent studies, she said that while one in 100 US children are substantiated annually as being victims of child abuse, one in eight children (12.5%) have been confirmed as a victim by age 18. The prevalence for black children is 20.9%. She also indicated that after adjusting for other risk factors at birth, a previous report to CPS (regardless of disposition) emerged as the strongest predictor of injury or death during a child’s first five years of life.

That and other similar comments set the stage for a series of witnesses who discussed data-driven strategies that could assist in pinpointing the greatest risks. Certain characteristics are more likely to be present in child fatalities, characteristics such as the presence of substance abuse, the presence of a “paramour” or an unrelated adult in the family and other common factors such as water-related and sleeping-related deaths are more likely to be found in these cases. The data discussions include ways to match child welfare related data such as NDACAN (National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect) and the foster care SACWIS (Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System) as well as health and birth related data. There was also a great deal of discussion regarding the use of predictive analytics—a methodology that is becoming a buzz word within the human services field—that attempts to use statistical data and mining of the information to determine the most effective policies and strategies.

A significant part of the Commission time was devoted to the state of Florida and the differences in child deaths between jurisdictions and what different practices within the state might be effecting why some areas are more successful than other areas in preventing child deaths. In March the, Miami Herald ran an extensive report: Innocents Lost which highlighted the increasing numbers of child deaths, particularly those children that had previously been know to the child protection and child welfare system.

Last month the Commission held a hearing in the state of Texas, the state with the highest number of child fatalities in each of the last five years according to NCANDS data. Florida has had the second highest number of child deaths for four of the past five years. The five states with the highest rates of child deaths per 100,000 children in 2012 were: New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, Louisiana, and Florida.

The next and third field hearing scheduled for the Commission is scheduled for August 28 in Detroit, MI.
To obtain more information about the Commission go to its website which has a link for submitting comments, the latest news reports on child deaths within states, event schedules and other information on the Commission and its actions.

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