New data: child abuse deaths rise, notably in Texas, Indiana

New data: child abuse deaths rise, notably in Texas, Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Newly released federal figures show a sharp rise in child abuse fatalities in the U.S., with the bulk of the increase occurring in two states — Indiana and Texas — where child-welfare agencies have been in disarray.

According to a report released this week by the Department of Health and Human Services, there were 1,700 fatalities resulting from child maltreatment reported in fiscal year 2016, compared to 1,589 the previous year — a 7 percent increase. The figures encompass data from every state but Maine, as well as from the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Accounting for most of the increase were Texas, where fatalities jumped from 162 to 217, and Indiana, where the death toll more than doubled from 34 to 70.

“It breaks my heart for the kids in this state right now,” said Juvenile Judge Marilyn A. Moores, whose Indianapolis courtroom has seen a surge in child welfare cases due to the opioid epidemic.

“Traditional systems of early warning are overwhelmed. And parents, because of addiction, aren’t seeking intervention because their kids are going to be removed,” she added. “It allows kids to die. It’s a fact.”

Long festering problems in Indiana’s child welfare system exploded into public view in December, when the director of the Department of Child Services resigned with a scathing letter that accused Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb of making management changes and service cuts that “all but ensure children will die.”

“I choose to resign, rather than be complicit in decreasing the safety, permanency and well-being of children who have nowhere else to turn,” wrote Mary Beth Bonaventura, a former juvenile judge appointed to lead the agency by then-Gov. Mike Pence in 2013.

In recent years, the number of child welfare cases in Indiana has skyrocketed, rising from about 13,000 in 2012 to nearly 24,000 last year. Funding, meanwhile, has not kept pace, said Cathy Graham, executive director of the Indiana Association of Resources and Child Advocacy.

Advocates paint a picture of an agency in perpetual triage, with caseworkers spread so thin that they have little choice but to cut corners. The agency does not have enough caseworkers to meet a minimum requirement set in state law and turnover has been a major problem, according to the agency’s most recent annual report.

Holcomb launched a review in December. A preliminary report released Thursday found the state has an inadequate case management system.

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