LA County

Child Abuse Deaths Underreported, New Reports Say

The number of child abuse deaths in Los Angeles County are underreported.

That's part of the finding in new reports out Friday from the Inter Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect or ICAN.

For decades, this group has brought together local, and state leaders and community organizations to coordinate services with the goal of preventing child abuse and neglect.

The reports looked at cases in LA County from 2017 and found a decrease in overall child deaths from the year before, a total of 187 child deaths which include fetal deaths.

Forty-four children died with an associated bed sharing or unsafe sleeping environment. Eight children were victims of child abuse homicide at the hands of a parent, caregiver or family member.

In 2016, there were 14 child abuse homicides.

"As we can provide more prevention, we can keep making that number go down even further," said Diane Iglesias, a senior deputy director from the county's Department of Children and Family Services.

The report also shows DCFS or a similar agency had prior contact with 87% of the families in which there was child abuse and the child died in the county.

"Us, as a department, are putting a lot of our resources into assessing skills, better assessment skills for workers," Iglesias said.

How social workers handle cases was front and center in a state audit of DCFS that found the agency has left children in "unsafe and abusive situations for months longer than necessary."

Auditors explain some social workers failed to complete safety and risk assessments. Tools that are used to decide if a child, for example, should be taken out of an unsafe environment.

"The number of children who died from child abuse or neglect is profoundly underreported in the child abuse central index," said Deanne Tilton Durfee, the executive director of ICA when describing their recent reports.

She said that index is received by the Department of Justice. The findings show among the reason for the underreporting is a high number of referrals are deemed unfounded or inconclusive or families are referred to community services that would not be reported to that important index.

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