Head Of State's Child Fatality Review Team Resigns

Laskey: State Does Not Follow Best Practices

The head of the Indiana Child Fatality Review Team has stepped down amid concerns over how the Department of Child Services handles abuse and neglect cases.

After eight years of volunteering for the position, Dr. Antoinette Laskey, a pediatrician at the Indiana University School of Medicine, submitted her resignation to Gov. Mitch Daniels in a letter dated March 13.

Laskey said the state is “ineffective” and is “not following best practices” when it comes to abused and neglected children, RTV6's Kara Kenney reported.

She took particular exception to a DCS child fatality report, which touted a record low of 25 deaths from abuse and neglect during fiscal year 2010.

“The recent publicity of ‘record low deaths’ counted as child abuse or neglect fails to recognize the fact that hundreds of children died preventable deaths in our state,” Laskey’s letter stated. “There is no success story in being able to re-categorize them as not the responsibility of the Department of Child Services.”

Laskey also raised concerns about legislation that will create 18 regional child fatality review teams, and said she discussed her concerns with DCS Director James Payne.

“I discussed my concerns with Director Payne, specifically that regional teams have not been shown to be effective nationally, even in counties that have very few child deaths,” Laskey said in her resignation letter. “I can no longer participate in a process that is unable to work effectively in this state.”

As the Call 6 Investigators uncovered last month, DCS documents showed only Marion and Lake counties currently have an official child fatality review team set up, despite a 2004 law aimed at creating a team in each county.

However, the teams aren’t required to submit any type of report, and the state does not provide any funding for them.

“To protect our kids with volunteers makes no sense," said Rep. Bill Crawford, R-Indianapolis, who authored an amendment to provide funding for the child fatality review teams, but it failed to pass.

On Monday, Rep. Peggy Welch, D-Bloomington, expressed concern about Laskey’s resignation.

"It's just one more indication we've got to make some changes in the policies and procedures for the Department of Child Services," Welch said. “How many deaths are being counted that maybe should be counted?”

Welch said after reading Laskey’s letter, she is worried legislation just signed by Daniels could potentially harm children.

“I take responsibility as a legislator especially as someone who serves on Ways and Means (Committee) and the State Budget Committee,” Welch said. “I didn’t realize we weren’t funding the child fatality review teams.”

Child advocates and fellow team members are calling Laskey’s resignation a huge loss.

“Her leadership, enthusiasm and tireless commitment to bettering the lives of children in the state of Indiana will be missed,” said Dr. Michael Gravett with Indiana University Health.

“She is going to be sorely missed,” said Sandy Runkle of Prevent Child Abuse Indiana, who added Laskey’s letter contains several many points. “We need to do whatever it takes to prevent child deaths."

A summer study committee will look into DCS, and Welch told RTV6 that they hope to interview Laskey.

“We've got some pretty tough questions. Her resignation is just one more push we need to move now in what's happening with our kids and why they're dying,” Runkle said.

Daniels' office and DCS both declined to comment about Laskey’s resignation.

Laskey was out of town and unavailable for comment Monday.

The Indiana Fatality Review Team will likely name an interim chair at its next meeting.

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