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Dying Too Young: State Releases Child Fatality Report

 

By Joe Hart

TRENTON — A recently released report detailing the state’s review of child fatalities found two such deaths in Cape May County out of a total of 181 throughout New Jersey. One of the deaths in this county was described as a “sudden unexplained death” that occurred in Villas.
The Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Board Annual Report for 2008 discusses deaths of minors reviewed that year although most of the deaths occurred in 2007. The report was released on Aug. 24.
Although the local impact was not large in terms of numbers, “the death of a child is a tragic loss to families, friends and communities,” the report states. “Fatalities and near fatalities of children stir within us strong emotions and reactions as we struggle to understand the facts and information leading up to the event.”
The board is charged with reviewing child fatalities “for a determination as to why children die so that action and follow up recommendations can be implemented to prevent future deaths, develop needed service resources and improve the safety and well being of children overall,” according to the report.
The board only reviews certain child deaths including those in which the following factors were involved: undetermined cause of death, substance abuse factored, homicides and deaths with abuse or neglect, malnutrition, dehydration, medical neglect, sexual abuse, trauma without obvious reasons, suffocation or asphyxia, burns, suicide and deaths of children whose family was under the Department of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) supervision.
The tragic death this year in April of two-year-old Caden Rivera, of Woodbine, will likely be reviewed by the board next year and included in the 2011 annual report. Rivera was allegedly beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend Damon Garcia of Wildwood, while the family was under investigation by DYFS.
Some of the findings in the 36-page report included:
• 36 percent of the children reviewed died by natural manner, followed by accidents (24 percent), homicides (15 percent), undetermined (13 percent) and suicides (9 percent).
• In the category of accidental deaths, three 17-year-old males died in car accidents while intoxicated and 14 children died from accidental poisoning most of which from drugs or alcohol. The board found that 86 percent of accidental deaths were preventable, 8 percent were not preventable and 8 percent were undetermined.
• Twice as many male than female (123 male and 64 female) children died or nearly died.
• The birth-to-11-month age group had the largest percentage of deaths among children.
• African American infants accounted for 52 percent of Sudden Unexplained Infant Deaths (SUID). White infants accounted for 33% of SUID deaths.
• The most childhood deaths occurred in Essex County (38) followed by Monmouth (17),
Ocean (17) and Camden (14) Counties.
• The leading causes of death in children were Sudden Unexplained Infant Death and Asphyxia which represented 79 percent of natural deaths and 43 percent of accidental deaths, respectively.
• 68 percent of the 19 homicide victims reviewed in the report were male with the youngest of those being victims of child abuse and the older ones victims of street violence.
• Of the 16 child suicides reviewed, 15 were committed by children over 13 years old.
• Of the 181 deaths reviewed by the board, 124 families never had any DYFS intervention and 63 families had some involvement.
The information in this report not only contributes to the understanding of how and why children die but also helps identify factors to prevent future tragedies.
As a result of the findings in this report, the board recommended some policy changes regarding safe sleep environments for infants and children, DYFS reexamination of safety and risk assessment tools utilized in investigations, and standardization within mental and behavioral health consultants as well as in the State Medical Examiner system.
“The Board believes these areas to be immediately important to ensuring child safety and well being,” the report stated.
“We welcome the recommendations put forth by the Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Board, and will be exploring ways to use this multi-disciplinary team’s review to further support improvements to the state’s child welfare system,” Department of Children and Families (DCF )Commissioner Kimberly Ricketts said in a release.
“We also look forward to a more robust and collaborative approach to the Review Board’s annual reports. The new process, which will be reflected in the next annual report to be released in 2010, will strengthen the work of the Board, improve its operation, ensure an expeditious review of serious cases of abuse and neglect and marshal the significant expertise and resources of the Board,” Ricketts said.
Contact Hart at (609) 886-8600 Ext 35 or at: jhart@cmcherald.com
N.J. Child Fatality & Near Fatality Review Board 2008 Annual Report – For the full report. – Click Here

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