Lawmakers, DCS Call For Changes to Child Fatality Review Teams

Advocates Say Teams Aren't Working

The Call 6 Investigators have uncovered measures meant to review and prevent child deaths in Indiana aren't working as they should, leaving some lawmakers demanding more accountability.

A 2004 law passed by state lawmakers aimed to create Child Fatality Review Teams for both the state and all 92 counties.

But the Call 6 Investigators found only two out of the 92 counties currently have a team set up, Marion and Lake, and those teams are not required to produce any type of report.

"They are valuable in terms of preventing child deaths, and we know that for a fact," said Sandy Runkle of Prevent Child Abuse Indiana. "It's an extra set of eyes with expertise."

The teams are made up of volunteers such as medical professionals, attorneys and child advocates who review the circumstances surrounding a child's death.

"You might have a physician catch something a law enforcement officer wouldn't," Runkle said. "Not everything is as it seems, so you need to have checks and balances. It's very important to have that objective approach."

Despite being a tool to keep children from dying, lawmakers tell RTV6 the state has never provided funding for the child fatality review teams.

"To protect our kids with volunteers makes no sense," said Rep. Bill Crawford, R-Indianapolis. "I think funding is necessary because we can't always depend on volunteers."

Crawford has offered amendments to Senate Bill 286 that would allocate $1 million dollars for 92 state and local child fatality review teams.

The legislation would also require the teams publicly release a report on deaths and mandates the report be posted on the state's transparency website.

"Information is power, and to protect our kids, we need to centralize the data and information," Crawford said.

Crawford also criticized the lack of communication among the existing child fatality review teams.

"There is no coordination, no sharing of information between the state and county child fatality review teams," he said.

The chair of the state child fatality review team, Dr. Antoinette Laskey, was unavailable Tuesday to answer questions.

The director of the Indiana Department of Child Services told RTV6 on Tuesday that the current child fatality review system does not work. "We've found that to be a chaotic system and not very consistent," James Payne said. "Fifty counties have populations under 30,000, and they do not have regularly formed child fatality review teams."

A DCS analysis of Senate Bill 286 raised concerns about the lack of coordination and accountability for child fatality review teams.

"These teams are not required to produce any type of report, nor are they required to look at prevention or ways to get information out about prevention in their area," read the DCS bill summary.

Unlike Crawford's proposal for 92 county teams, Payne supports the creation of 18 regional child fatality review teams that would be required to submit information to DCS.

"We think it is time to more formally do our state fatality review process, rather than this system that's not professional and doesn't do what it should do," Payne said.

Under Senate Bill 286, which is supported by DCS, the teams would be required to share information with the community that could prevent child deaths.

But Payne told RTV6 he does not support Crawford's efforts to provide funding for these teams.

"I'm not sure funding needs to be available for that," Payne said. "These are generally men and women of a professional nature who accept their responsibility and take it very seriously."

On Tuesday night, House members voted 54-40 against Crawford’s amendment to provide funding for the child fatality review teams after one lawmaker said he didn’t feel it was necessary, especially for counties with small populations.

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