Needless deaths – Wasted lives

Every eight days a child in the state of Virginia dies from injuries attributable to abuse and neglect. From July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2010, 44 precious children (in founded investigations) lost their lives needlessly. Two of these children were from our Central VA area; one lived in Bedford County, and one lived in Campbell County. These children will never experience the joys of laughing and playing with friends, graduating from high school, finding that special someone and marrying and having a family of their own. Their lives were cut short by the very people to whom they had been entrusted, people who were parents and caretakers and who did not provide the necessary care for them to live, let alone thrive.

The children who died ranged in age from birth to fifteen years old. The greatest number of these children – 26 (or 59.1%) – died from maltreatment and were less than one year old. This is consistent with national and state data that have found that young children are the most vulnerable. Thirty-one children died as victims of physical neglect, 23 died as victims of physical abuse, and nine children died due to medical neglect. Fourteen children died from lack of supervision; sixteen children died from shaking injuries; and seven drowned due to lack of supervision.

Who was responsible for these inexcusable deaths? Of the 63 caretakers in founded investigations, 35% were mothers, 27% were fathers, 2% were step-parents, 12.7% were child care providers and one was a foster parent. There is another factor that makes some of these deaths preventable. The families of fourteen of the children who died were known to the child welfare system in some capacity. Neither child in Central VA who died had been appointed a CASA volunteer.

Any death is one too many, but what is alarming about the number of deaths in FY 2010 is the increase from the previous year, and indeed throughout the decade. In FY 2009, 34 children died. If we go back to FY 2001, 20 children died. The death rate of children per 100,000 has more than doubled during the decade, increasing from 1.02 in FY 2001 to 2.38 in FY 2010. In addition to the increased number of deaths, the Department of Social Services is also reporting a 7.33% increase in the number of Child Protective Services (CPS) reports from FY 2009 to FY 2010. (All of these statistics cited are taken from The Report on Child Deaths During Fiscal Year 2010 prepared by the Child Protective Services Program of the Virginia Department of Social Services, which was released in January 2011.)

What can we do to reduce these needless deaths and protect our children from suffering abuse and neglect? We must increase awareness about the devastating problems of child abuse and neglect in our communities. We must let communities know that abuse and neglect is everyone’s problem and preventing abuse and neglect is everyone’s responsibility. Organizations and agencies which are committed to strengthening families and supporting and protecting children must collaborate and unite to educate families, and monitor and protect children.

On June 24-26, 2011 there was a fine example of community collaboration. The Exchange Club of Lynchburg sponsored a Child Abuse Awareness Field on the grounds of E.C. Glass High School. At a very prominent intersection in Lynchburg, the Exchange Club placed white “Prevent Child Abuse” flags in a ribbon pattern, one flag for each of the 44 children who died. Surrounding the white flags were 49 American flags, in recognition of the children who died throughout the nation last year. The coroplast CASA “Children” were also added to the display to reflect the affects of child abuse and neglect in our area.

Educational displays were set up throughout the weekend by community partners who supported the event. CASA of Central VA, Crisis Line of Central VA, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central VA, Presbyterian Homes and Family Services, Patrick Henry Boys and Girls Homes, and YWCA of Central VA were all represented. The Honorable Dale H. Harris addressed the problem of child abuse and neglect in her remarks at the Opening Ceremony.

With greater vigilance on part of everyone, let’s hope and pray that fewer children next year will lose their lives.

- From a release

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