USA: Report cites both gains and alarming incidents of child abuse

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Dionesio C. Grava
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 A multi-level, multidisciplinary and community network monitoring the well-being of children and families in the Los Angeles County issued a report indicating that there was an increase in youth suicides from 14 such deaths in 2009 to 17 in 2010.

Additionally, according to the Los Angeles County Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect (ICAN), 77 percent of children killed by a parent, relative or caregiver were under age five.

ICAN was established in 1977 by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to serve as the official County agent to coordinate development of services for the prevention, identification and treatment of child abuse and neglect.

The 26th edition of ICAN’s annual report, The State of Child Abuse in Los Angeles County (SOCA), was released during a press conference and panel discussion on Wednesday afternoon, April 18, held at the Sherman Block Sheriff’s Headquarters Building in Monterey Park. Sheriff Lee Baca, ICAN chairperson, was master of ceremonies.

The SOCA is one of three annual ICAN reports. The other two are Child Death Review Team Report and Safely Surrendered and Abandoned Infants in Los Angeles County Report. Deanne Tilton Durfee, ICAN executive director, discussed key findings in the SOCA report during the press conference.

A meeting of the members of the ICAN Policy Committee was scheduled after the press conference. Awards were to be presented to individuals who have made conspicuous contributions in combating child abuse in the county, it was said.

Sobering Report
The report also says that the three leading causes of death among children ages 13-19 and responsible for a large majority of deaths in that age group all relate to injury: homicide, accident, and suicide. Theoretically these are preventable deaths, it said.

The Los Angeles Police Dept. (LAPD) and the Sheriff’s Department (LASD) reported an increase in child abuse reports from 2009. LAPD had three times as many sexual abuse reports and the LASD twice as many. There was an increase in the number of reports entered into the Child Abuse Central Index of the Dept. of Justice (DOJ) from 21,592 in 2006 to 22,193 in 2010. The index recorded 9,579 child abuse reports from Los Angeles County in 2010 representing approximately 43 percent of the state’s total reports.

In the juvenile court system involving WIC 300 petitions 11,261 new children were filed in 2010 compared to 10,725 the year before. WIC 300 refers to a section in the Welfare and Institutions Code whereby a child may be removed from the care and custody of offending parents or legal guardians and declared a dependent of the court under Dept. of Children and Family Services (DCFS) supervision. An average of 67 percent of dispositional hearings in the Dependency Court end with the removal of children from their parents or guardian.

Persons seeking financial and medical aid increased in 2010. CalWORKs increased 7.6 percent and medical assistance rose from 1,655,341 in 2009 to 1,677,283 in 2010.

There was a 4.9 percent increase in the number of adolescent Cal-Learn clients in 2010 from 2009.

Referrals to the DCFS increased 7.9 percent from 2009 to 2010. Twenty-nine percent of such referrals involved General Neglect and was the leading reported allegation. It was said that the most vulnerable were children in the age group birth to two years and accounts for 19.2 percent of the total DCFS child caseload at the end of 2010. Children age 3-4 years increased 11.2 percent from 2009 to 2010.

Children age 13 years and under accounted for 73.3 percent of the total DCFS caseload. Of the total DCFS child caseload 31.3 percent were children under five years of age. Hispanic children continue to be the largest of all ethnic populations among DCFS involved children. African American children continue to be disproportionately represented and account for 28.8 percent of the children.

Children in Relative/Non-Relative Extended Family Member (Relative/NREFM) Home continue to represent the largest child population in the out-of-home placement caseload. These children account for 49 percent of the total children in out-of-home placements at the end of Calendar Year 2010.

Reported Decreases
On the other hand, the number of children killed by parents, relatives or caregivers was reduced by 10.8 percent based on the same ICON report. In 2010 there were 26 children victims compared with the 30 victims in the preceding year.

The report also indicated that in 2009 child death in the 1-17 years bracket was 16.1 per 100,000 children representing a downward trend for several years. Infant mortality per 1,000 live births had been 5.0 in 2008 and 2009.

A 1.1 percent decrease was also noted in the number of children in out-of-home care, from 15,816 in 2009 to 15,636 in 2010. The number of children exiting the dependency court system decreased from 11,846 in 2009 to 11,639 in 2010. Children with a new disposition of home of parent declined by 1 percent from 2009 to 2010.

LAPD reported that the number of dependent children handled by both the Juvenile Unit and Geographic Areas decreased (2.12 percent and 4 percent, respectively) from 2009 to 2010. Adult child abuse referrals were down from 685 in 2009 to 597 in 2010.

The City Attorney’s office received 1,746 child abuse investigations in 2010 which was a decrease from the 2,562 received in 2009. There were 172 cases that reached a disposition in which 159 resulted in guilty pleas or convictions.

Policy Committee
Thirty-two County, City, State and Federal agency heads are members of the ICAN Policy Committee, along with UCLA and private sector members appointed by the Board of Supervisors. The ICAN Operations Committee, which includes designated child abuse specialists from each member agency, carries out the activities of ICAN through its work as a committee and through various standing and ad hoc sub-committees. Twelve community based inter-disciplinary child abuse councils interface with ICAN and provide valuable information to ICAN regarding many child abuse related issues.

ICAN Associates is a private non-profit corporation of volunteer business and community members who raise funds and public awareness for programs and issues identified by ICAN. In 1996, ICAN was designated as the National Center on Child Fatality Review by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The 26th SOCA report was published by ICAN with the work of the Data Sharing Committee featuring data from ICAN agencies about activities for 2010 or 2009/2010 for some agencies. The report includes some information about programs, but is intended primarily to provide visibility to data about child abuse and neglect in Los Angeles County and information drawn from that data.

Recommendations included in the report:
1. Agencies contributing to the ICAN report should, to the extent possible, report data categories in a
consistent manner.
2. Agencies contributing data when possible should use Geographic InformationSystem (GIS) mapping techniques to report data.
3. Agencies contributing data will update their data by uploading it to a web site making it a more efficient process. Additionally, it will make it more accessible and user friendly to the public.

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