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Report: Child deaths in care of DFCS double last year's tally

POSTED: August 11, 2014 1:32 a.m.

The Northeast Georgia region tallied twice the number of child deaths in 2013 as the year before for those in the custody of the Division of Family and Children Services, fitting into trends seen statewide.

With 16 deaths, the region comprising Hall County and 12 nearby counties doubled the eight deaths seen in calendar year 2012 in new data released by DFCS.

The agency held a panel discussion Friday in Atlanta to examine the statistics, with department heads from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Public Health and others attending.

“The No. 1 priority of the GBI is the investigation of crimes against children, and we do that work at two levels,” GBI Director Vernon Keenan said. “We do child fatality investigations through the investigative division, but we also have the medical examiner’s office, which handles the autopsies for 151 of the 159 counties.

Child deaths while in state care increased to 180 from 152 between 2012 and 2013, with almost half of the children being younger than a year old. Speakers on the panel sought to provide context about the increase and what practical actions could lower the numbers.

“In our quest for having that single number and knowing how that compares over time, we can’t overlook the fact that we actually have findings that we know are actionable,” said Melissa Carter, director of the Barton Child Law and Policy Center. “We know — regardless of information source or people involved — we know that children who are young are particularly vulnerable, particularly under the age of 2 and especially if they have special medical needs.”

The plurality of deaths came from natural causes, almost all of them categorized as a congenital medical condition or contracted illness. Providing information on the local level, Keenan said, is paramount to reform for all Georgia families.

“We must know the how and why of why children die so that we can draw the appropriate conclusions to influence legislation for state policy,” he said.

In Region 2, five of the 16 deaths were natural.

Interim Director Bobby Cagle of DFCS preached the complexities presented in the report, saying the agency’s involvement in a family’s life cannot prevent a child’s death in all cases.

“Unfortunately, we cannot be present at all times. Our role is really about the reduction of risk and providing interventions that can bring these numbers down in the end game,” Cagle said.



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