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DCS report shows increase in deaths during first year of statewide hotline

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A new report shows an increase in child deaths from abuse or neglect in the first year of operation for a statewide hotline to report such cases.

The report from the Indiana Department of Child Services showed 40 children died from abuse or neglect in 2011, up from 25 during the previous year. In those cases, DCS had prior history with six of the children. The deaths occurred during the first year of a centralized hotline designed to  make abuse and neglect cases easier to report.

The report showed several factors contributed to abuse or neglect deaths, including unemployment, low income, substance abuse or domestic violence. In some cases, multiple stress factors were apparent in a single home.

DCS also found several cases in which a child was left in the care of a girlfriend or boyfriend instead of the child’s parent. The agency said that trend continued from year to year.

Of the children who died from abuse, nearly half were under the age of one. In the neglect cases, children under one accounted for 38 percent of the deaths.

New DCS Director Mary Beth Bonaventura said the agency needs to scrutinize the six cases in which the agency had prior involvement and reach out to community leaders and law enforcement to confront broader problems in the state.

“What we’re seeing is that the problems leading to this epidemic are bigger than DCS can tackle alone,” Bonaventura said. “We need the help of these bodies to get to the root of these problems in communities across Indiana, and to get agencies working together and investing together to combat many of these stress issues before they escalate into abuse or neglect—or worse.”

In late 2010, DCS set up a centralized, statewide hotline where people could report abuse or neglect. In the first year of that hotline, DCS took more than 150,000 reports. That grew to 170,000 reports last year. Some have decried the system as unresponsive and complained about wait times, prompting state lawmakers to take a closer look at the hotline.

The DCS hotline is (800) 800-5556.

You can read the agency’s report here.