Child advocates hope 2018 fatality report will spur more people to report suspected abuse, volunteer

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — A report released by Indiana’s Department of Child Services found that a quarter of the deaths of children in 2018 were directly caused by abuse or neglect.

DCS officials released the report on New Year’s Eve. Each year, the department compiles a report of child fatalities due to abuse or neglect and releases it publicly. The 2018 report was due six months earlier than usual because a new state law changed reporting requirements to calendar year, rather than fiscal year. The report also includes information about the latter half of 2017.

The report says that out of 242 child fatalities investigated by DCS in 2018, 65 were deemed to be the direct result of abuse or neglect. Of those, 80% were children three years or younger. The data shows that nearly half of deaths were ruled homicide and 68% happened in a child’s home. Out of the 65 children, 10 had a prior substantiated history with DCS.

At Susie’s Place in Avon, Executive Director Emily Perry and her team see the effects of child abuse and neglect up close.

“I think (people) would be surprised just how close this issue will hit home,” Perry said.

Indiana law requires every adult to report suspected child abuse or neglect. You can do that by calling 1-800-800-5556 and you can report anonymously.

“So many people are afraid to pick up the phone and make a report when they are concerned about a child, but it is our moral and our ethical obligation to protect children,” Perry said.

Child Advocates Director Cindy Booth agreed, saying that she and other advocates use the state’s reports to determine where and how to prevent abuse.

“I think you’ll find different components of the child welfare system examining these reports and looking (at) what can we do better? Which children were involved, had prior contact with DCS? All those are very important questions that we as a community should be looking at. Not only the child welfare community but all of us should be looking at that,” Booth said.

Booth runs Marion County’s CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocate, program. She said that volunteers are always needed and her goal is to double the current number of active volunteers. When a volunteer can’t be used, Booth sends her staff members to meet with children and their families.

“Our goal is to have a thousand volunteers and wouldn’t that be great if every child would have a volunteer?” Booth said.

Booth and Perry both said they hope that people will pay attention to the report, even though it includes difficult subject matter. They stressed that even if you don’t think child abuse touches you, it’s probably closer than you think.

“Not everybody is going to need to read an entire report about child fatalities but the takeaway from that is fatalities are happening every single year, all across the state of Indiana and by and large they’re preventable, and so we as adults need to step up and help prevent these tragedies from occurring,” Perry said.

If you want to learn more about what it means to be a CASA in Marion County, Child Advocates holds informational sessions at its offices at 8200 Haverstick Road. There are three sessions in January:

  • January 9 at 11:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.
  • January 11 at 9:00 a.m.
  • January 23 at 6:00 p.m.

To read the state’s full 2018 child fatality report go to the link here.

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