Deaths from child abuse and neglect deserve more light and attention

At 4:30 p.m. on Friday, December 30 — days after the Christmas holiday and days before the New Year — the Indiana Department of Child Services released its annual report on deaths from child abuse and neglect.

60 Hoosier children died in 2021 at the hands of their mother, father, spouse or parent’s significant other. That was a 20% increase from 50 deaths in 2020 when the pandemic swept Indiana.

There have been some media headlines using skeleton holiday sticks. But definitely not the dialogue and anger the report was meant to evoke.

The report is not easy to read, nor am I saying that the department’s work is easy. How do you stop people from making the worst mistake or decision of their life?

Thirteen of the children were previous victims of reasonable abuse.

One of these was an 8-year-old boy with four well-founded prejudices. His father had two reasonable findings of abuse or neglect. The boy lived with his paternal grandmother, who adopted him.

But the boy was visiting his father, whose house was littered with illegal drugs and tin foil. The father admitted to using and selling fentanyl and heroin and using Benadryl to cut the drugs for sale. He said fentanyl was likely on the aluminum foil the child put in his mouth in a TikTok video.

If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, call the Indiana Department of Child Services Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline today. It is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week including weekends and holidays.

You can report abuse and neglect anonymously at 1-800-800-5556

Other cases of neglect include co-sleeping, drowning, and car accidents, but abuse deaths are read even worse, usually involving blunt force trauma from anger or frustration.

A three-year-old boy had an open Department of Child Services abuse case and seven prior unsubstantiated findings. The boy was found dead with multiple bruises and other injuries. The mother admitted to a witness that her boyfriend had hit her son, resulting in the child’s death, and she helped cover it up. The friend admitted to a witness that he believed he caused the child’s death.

The agency notes increasing support for programs to prevent such horrific cases — home visiting programs, parenting education and home care management.

A new program has increased family referrals to the Indiana Preservation Services program, which supports efforts to preserve families after a case of abuse or neglect.

Another program focuses on solving systemic challenges rather than blaming individuals. For example, consider educational level, employment status, and history of substance abuse.

I know the instinct is to hide and relegate this awful data. But I think a greater focus on it would bring appropriate attention to an ongoing problem.

Be uncomfortable, but don’t be blind.