Indiana child deaths surge in 1st year of abuse hotline

Many abused children younger than 1 year old

INDIANAPOLIS - The number of Indiana children who died from abuse or neglect surged during the first year of a statewide hotline to report such cases, and officials from the Department of Child Services say many of the deaths involved social issues that the department can't control.

An annual report shows there were 40 deaths from abuse or neglect from mid 2010 to mid 2011. That's up from 25 the previous year, an increase of 60 percent.

DCS had no involvement with the victims or their families in at least half of the cases.

The increase coincides with the first year of the DCS hotline, which centralized in Indianapolis in 2010. 

The hotline has faced scrutiny for high staff turnover and screening out many calls before they're investigated.

New DCS director Mary Beth Bonaventura told The Associated Press a number of the deaths involved issues like morality and addictive personalities that government can't control. She said DCS can't tackle the problem alone.

Bonaventura told RTV6 that DCS will be taking a "360 degree" look at the issue.

Child advocates who spoke with RTV6 said they're not sure why the numbers are up, but they are concerned about the trend.

"These reports are always shocking," said David Sklar, with Children's Coalition of Indiana. "We never want to see an increase in child fatalities. We always want to see these numbers move in the opposite direction, so it's troubling to see them jump."

Sandy Runkle, with Prevent Child Abuse Indiana , echoed that sentiment.

"We just want it to stop," she said. "We want to do what we can to prevent just one death from occurring."

Nearly half of the deaths from abuse involved children under a year old. Six of the children who died from abuse or neglect had a prior history with DCS.

The report details children dying in horrific ways, including a child who suffocated during an attempted exorcism.

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