Connecticut DCF vows changes after child deaths

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - The Connecticut Department of Children and Families is promising improvements to help prevent fatalities after a series of child deaths involving families who had contact with the agency.

DCF is expanding its work with child abuse experts from Yale New Haven Hospital and Connecticut Children’s Medical Center to improve how investigators, hospitals and primary care providers recognize abuse when a child suffers an injury. The experts are providing education and training and will be more routinely available to the department’s care line, which receives reports of abuse and neglect, DCF announced this week.

“Every child death is a terrible tragedy that the family will never forget or overcome,” DCF Commissioner Joette Katz said. “But when a child dies in a family that the department was involved with, it causes a lot of soul searching and questions we ask ourselves about what we could have done differently and better. It’s my hope that the actions we are taking today will prevent future tragedies.”

DCF said there were six child deaths involving allegations of maltreatment during the first five months of this year in a family with prior or current involvement with the agency. There were 10 such cases last year, six in 2012, seven in 2011, three each in 2010 and 2009, and seven in 2008, DCF said.

The Office of the Child Advocate said it was notified of the deaths of 11 children from families involved with DCF during the same period. Those children, mostly infants and toddlers, died from a variety of causes - not just from maltreatment - including a car accident, asphyxiation and possible unsafe sleeping conditions, the advocate’s office said.

Of the 11 cases, the child advocate has identified nine for further review.

“The death of a child involved with DCF does not compel the conclusion that the death is the result of a systems failure or that more children should be removed from their homes when there are concerns of abuse or neglect,” the advocate wrote in a report this month.

Child fatalities in families with DCF involvement are routinely reviewed to identify lessons, including issues related to interactions with medical providers, schools, law enforcement and the courts, DCF said. The reviews have resulted in learning forums with about 400 DCF employees this year, the agency said.

DCF says it’s providing more training for its nurses to improve consultation with pediatricians regarding the identification of physical abuse when a child comes to their office with an injury. DCF is analyzing deaths of children 3 or younger to better understand the factors that correlate with these fatalities.

DCF is starting a public awareness campaign this year to prevent infant deaths by educating parents on how to better keep them safe. In February, DCF announced that a review of child deaths in recent years showed that many were accidental and involved infants and toddlers in unsafe sleeping environments.

Connecticut needs to strike the right balance between protecting children and ensuring that children are not unnecessarily taken from their families, Katz said. The department said it has 657 fewer children in care, a reduction of 13.7 percent, since January 2011.

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