By RORYE O’CONNOR
MT. VERNON — —
Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series about child abuse. The second part in the series will run in Tuesday’s Register-News.
The Illinois Department of Child and Family Services reports skyrocketing child death rates in 2012 across Illinois.
Neglect or abuse was indicated in the deaths of 90 Illinois children in 2012, according to completed investigations by DCFS, with more than 60 recently reported deaths still under investigation.
Child deaths due to neglect or abuse occurred in equal numbers in Chicago, the suburbs and downstate Illinois, the report states.
Suffocation caused by unsafe sleep conditions led the numbers with 44 percent of child deaths, information states.
“Most deaths occurred when parents, ignoring the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics and safety experts, slept with a newborn or infant in their bed, rolling over on the child in the night and smothering her or him,” the report from DCFS states. “In other instances, parents ignored safety warnings and allowed a newborn or infant to sleep with a blanket, on an adult mattress or couch, or on their stomachs, suffocating the child. Although the deaths might have been accidental, Illinois law holds parents and other caretakers accountable for creating a substantial risk of injury to a child, and DCFS indicates perpetrators for neglect.”
DCFS Spokesman Dave Clarkin said parents should always follow their “ABCs” when it comes to newborn and infant safety while sleeping — the newborn or infant should be alone, on its back, and in a crib with no baby blankets, crib bumpers or other potential suffocation hazards.
“Nothing should be present in the crib with them,” Clarkin stressed. “We see cases occurring even in cribs where there’s a blanket present. There was one case where another child picked up a plastic bag and it ended up in the baby’s crib. It’s important to have a safe sleep environment, and these rules are backed by the American Academy of Pediatrics.”
He said one safe option to keep baby warm in the crib is wearable sleep sacks that zip up around the infant, but don’t cover their face.
Clarkin said two most dangerous activities parents take part in based on DCFS cases are heavy drinking and marijuana use that cause the parent to fall asleep unexpectedly with their baby, “and then tragedy.”
DCFS launched a public awareness campaign to educate parents of the risks of unsafe sleep in 2012 and hopes to expand its efforts this year, information states.
Health care providers are leading advocates for the Safe Sleep Campaign, Clarkin said, but he called on grandparents in particular to reinforce the messages of the campaign.
“Most new moms rely on their own moms for advice, and we need grandmothers to reinforce the message that it is never okay to gamble with a child’s life by sleeping with them in your bed, or falling asleep with them in a chair or couch,” Clarkin said in a press release. “As family and friends plan baby showers to welcome new ones into the family, a safe crib or bassinet with no blankets or other dangers needs to be at the top of the shopping list.”
Deaths resulting from intentional abuse and injury were the second leading cause of child death in Illinois in 2012 at 22, the report from DCFS states.
Clarkin said friends and family should look for warning signs of domestic violence or abuse and if they see any, call the DCFS hotline at 1-800-25-ABUSE to report their concerns.
“Even when the child is not the direct victim (of domestic violence) they may be at risk,” Clarkin said. “Another warning sign is any signs of bruises or other injuries particularly on a child under the age of six months.”
He added that children being dressed in long sleeves in warm weather or isolated children — if someone has a child and they are not seen outside the home — are also warning signs of abuse.
DCFS investigations uncovered evidence in many cases that those close to the family saw clear warning signs that were never reported to authorities, including previous physical abuse or neglect of the child, patterns of domestic violence and use of drugs or heavy drinking while children were in their care, information states.
Tomorrow’s story focuses on how DCFS reporting and investigating works, and how other local organizations get involved in the process.