South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com
Broward leads state in child-abuse deaths
By Josh Hafenbrack, Sun Sentinel
3:02 AM EST, January 7, 2010
Deaths resulting from child abuse spiked 23 percent in Florida, propelled in part by a bleak economy, a new state report says.
There were 201 deaths linked to child abuse in 2008 — compared to 163 in 2007, according to a report by the State Child Abuse Death Review Committee, which was submitted to Gov. Charlie Crist and legislative leaders last week.
Broward County led the state with 26 child-abuse deaths in 2008, eight of which came from drowning. Since 2004, Broward has had 74 deaths linked to child abuse, by far the most in the state.
In 2008, Palm Beach County had nine child-abuse deaths and Miami-Dade County had 11, the report said.
The primary causes: physical abuse, drowning and an "unsafe sleeping environment," usually in which a parent fell asleep, rolled over and suffocated their child.
"Those are all very preventable deaths," Department of Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon said in an interview. "Part of this is educating parents. I strongly believe a lot of these sleeping arrangement deaths, drowning deaths, will often have a substance abuse component. Dad comes home, has a few bottles of beers, falls asleep in a recliner with a child — devastating outcome."
The report said Florida has one of the highest child-death rates in the country, which it attributed to better reporting procedures and the poor economy. Research shows that the stress low-income families feel during a recession leads to a spike in child abuse, the report said.
The report urged the Legislature to expand oversight into child-abuse deaths and increase funding for Healthy Families Florida, a home visitation program that began in 1998 and is aimed at preventing child abuse and neglect. That could be tough, however, in a year when Florida legislators face a $2.6 billion deficit and the "toughest budget we've ever had," as Sheldon put it.
Still, he said, "I think we've got to have a much more aggressive educational effort. What's happening right now is probably the biggest economic crisis this country has ever faced. You have a 25-year-old who lost his job, can't pay the rent, a 6-month-old crying in the middle of the night and you have a recipe for disaster."
Staff Writer Josh Hafenbrack can be reached at jhafenbrack@SunSentinel.com or 850-224-6214.
Copyright © 2010, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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