1. There are two annual publications of note in Indiana that deal with child abuse and neglect fatalties.
2. One report, which has no title, is prepared by the multi-disciplinary State Child Fatality Review Team, chaired by Dr. Antoinette Laskey, a forensic pediatrician from Riley Hospital for Children & the IU School of Medicine.
3. One report, entitled, "Child Abuse & Neglect Annual Report of Child Fatalities," is prepared by the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS).
4. The reports review causes of "reported" child abuse and neglect deaths and provide recommendations to policymakers to lower the number.
5. Each report runs in state fiscal years. The "2007 report" covers from July 1, 2006, to June 30, 2007, which makes calling it the "2007 report" a misnomer. (This sounds like boring accounting goobledygunk, but it will be important later).
6. Among the "reported" fatalities, Indiana made a pretty drastic improvement for state fiscal year 2007. Going back the past five years, the annual reported abuse and neglect fatalities are as follows:
SFY 2003 - 51
SFY 2004 - 57
SFY 2005 - 57
SFY 2006 - 56
SFY 2007 - 36
7. The time it takes DCS to produce/release its report varies. It's quickest time to go public was 6 months in 2003. The longest time it has taken to produce a report is....this year. The clock is about to strike 2010, and DCS still has not produced its report for FY 2008, which ended 18 months ago.
8. In 2008, Governor Mitch Daniels ran for re-election.
9. DCS issued the SFY 2007 report in March of 2008, or only nine months after the close of the 2007 fiscal year. This was faster than 2005 (11 months) or 2006 (14 months).
10. Governor Mitch Daniels' campaign website issued a press release in April of 2008 touting the reduction in child abuse and neglect fatalties to 36. This release, in the same paragraph, celebrated the hiring of 800 new family case managers (a process which began in 2005).
11. The Governor's press release noted that that only 9 of the 36 kids who died had contact with DCS.
12. The general public has no precise idea how Indiana (and DCS) has done since July of 2007, as no report has been issued for the 2008 or 2009 SFYs. (Sure, we've seen child deaths in the paper, but that's hardly comprehensive).
13. If DCS completed its report in six months, as it did in 2003, we would know how we did for both SFY 2008 and 2009, specifically, whether there were more than 36 fatalities in either year, or whether more than 9 children were killed who had contact with DCS in either year.
14. What we learn in those reports might or might not serve as a compelling rationale for legislative funding. In the Governor's own press release, it states:
(Dr. Laskey) questioned whether the 36 child deaths reported Monday was truly an accurate number.
“I just don’t know what that number is,” said Laskey, a forensic pediatrician at Riley Hospital for Children and the IU School of Medicine. “I don’t know what that number means without looking at all the child deaths.”
The group issued a report last month that said the lack of financial support from the state and lack of a fatality network has severely curtailed the scope of child fatality review in Indiana.
Many states review every child death (including all natural deaths) each year,” the group’s report said. “Thorough reviews of all deaths have led to improved knowledge an prevention programs with measurable outcomes. Indiana needs to rise to this level.”
Child Services Director James Payne said some states try to review all child fatalities, not just those documented as abuse and neglect.
“We hope to be able to get to that,” he said. “There is an issue of commitment of persons not only by the department, but commitments of law enforcement and others. There is an issue of funding that has to go with that, but our goal ultimately is to look at all cases.”
15. James Payne runs the Department of Child Services. If there is an issue of "commitment" of persons in the department, he can remedy it or fire people.
16. James Payne has been an actively lobbyist for DCS at the Indiana General Assembly, and DCS has its own lobbyist. The Governor and Director Payne both have legislative liaisons.
17. Knowing the ways Indiana children have been dying over the past two fiscal years might serve as a clarion call for funding, legislative changes, or both at the current Indiana General Assembly session.
18. For example, if deaths from parents sleeping with their children have risen in either of those years, even by one, someone might rethink the decision to cut the public service announcement budget by 63% for ads warning against this practice.
19. The last report issued by Dr. Laskey's team in February of 2008 says the following:
"Many recommendations in this year’s report mirror those made for SFY2005."
20. The only way recommendations from a 2008 report would be made again is if nothing changed in 2007.
Are we really better at protecting children, or was SFY 2007 an anomoly? We still don't know. Let's hope we are as good as advertised and that an opportunity to make things better hasn't been squandered.