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Child abuse deaths online

DHS starts posting, thanks to new law

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The webpage of the state Department of Human Services has a grim new feature: A link to fatalities and near fatalities reported to the Child Abuse Hotline.

Since July 30, DHS has posted — as required by legislation passed by the legislature earlier this year —details on five deaths and one near-death.

The children range in age from 2 months to 4 years. Two died and one nearly died of drug ingestion due to due to suspected neglect or inadequate supervision. A third died from trauma due to suspected physical abuse. A fifth case was about a death that occurred in 2003 but was just reported to the hotline. None of the five had had contact with DHS.

Acts 674 and 675 of 2009 require the Department of Human Services to provide bare bones information about hot line reports, the amount of detail depending on whether an investigation is pending, found to be true or reported but not substantiated.

The act was passed after it became known that four children died in foster care last year. DHS said at the time it could not provide any details about the cases, citing its interpretation of a state statute to forbid the release of any information on pending child abuse investigations.

On Friday, DHS released a report that said 29 children who had been involved with the agency since May 2008 had died; seven of them were from suspected abuse.

The Times has filed an FOI with the agency for information on the seven.

Social workers, day care center workers, shelter employees, foster parents, clinicians and other professionals are mandated to report suspected abuse or neglect to the hotline, maintained by the State Police. DHS has 72 hours to publish on its website hotline information on deaths and near-deaths it receives from the State Police. DHS spokesman Julie Munsell follows up on the notices with local authorities; she said she's had to educate police agencies around the state about the new law. The police can prohibit the release of information if they provide DHS written justification for that decision.

Fatalities and non-fatalities posted on the DHS website (www.state.ar.us/dhs) so far:

Silford Travon Jordan, 4 months, died July 30 from drug ingestion as a result of suspected neglect. The Little Rock Police Department and the Crimes Against Children Division of the State Police are investigating.

Aaron Bradley Emmons, 4, died May 11 of a drug overdose as result of suspected neglect/inadequate supervision. The death was not reported to the hot line until Aug. 5. The Conway Police Department and the CACD are investigating. DHS has assessed the need for protection for the child's sibling.

Louis Wines, 18 months, died July 7 of trauma from suspected physical abuse. The CACD and the Magnolia Police Department are investigating.

Zachary R. Adkins, 2 months, of Ashley County died of suspected neglect July 18, 2003. His death was reported as suspicious until Aug. 7. The CACD is investigating.

An unidentified 2-year-old nearly died of drug ingestion July 6. DHS' Division of Child and Family Services is investigating.

Ten of the 29 cases reported in DHS' Child Fatality Review for 2009 were unrelated to abuse. The causes of death in the remaining 12 cases is unknown, but at least half were suspected instances of sudden infant death syndrome, DHS Deputy Director Janie Huddleston said. ?Gov. Mike Beebe ordered an overhaul in the agency last year, and DCFS has worked to restructure the way it works with children in the state's care or reported to the state. Cecile Blucker, DCFS director, also released the results of a outside contractor's review of DCFS cases that pointed out the agency's shortcomings, some of them due to lack of money.

The bottom line: Poor casework has resulted in the removal of children from homes in cases in which work with the family to keep the child at home would have been a better decision.?It made these points: DCFS' casework practices aren't consistent, case supervision is weak, families aren't sufficiently involved, documentation is poor and workloads are excessive. The state is making $9.3 million in one-time funding available to DCFS to accelerate its work to revamp its system of care, which means the agency will be able to add 113 people to the staff for casework, social services and clerical help and increase funding for “intensive family services.” The money derives from savings from lowered federal matching requirements and federal incentive rewards for increased adoption rates.

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