Fatality Data the Herald left out

Deaths of Florida children “known to the system” went down 12 percent in 2009 AND PLUMMETED AGAIN IN 2010.  Deaths of children "known to the system" were reduced by almost half between 2008 and 2010.

Updated, May 27, 2012, November 12, 2015, and December 19, 2019

A NOTE ABOUT DATES: The annual reports from the Florida Child Abuse Death Review committee are published at the end of the year following the year studied by the committee.  As a result, the report on deaths in 2010 is dated December 2011, the report on deaths in 2009 is dated December 2010 and so on. 

Deaths of Florida children previously known to the Department of Children and Families declined by 12 percent in 2009 over the previous year, according to the  Annual Report of the Florida Child Abuse Death Review Committee for that year. Those deaths plummeted another 40 percent in 2010 (See the report on deaths in 2010 here- even though in 2009 and 2010 Florida took away the fewest children in more than a decade.  

According to the report on deahts in 2010, 41 of the children who suffered deaths due to abuse or neglect had been the subject of previous reports to DCF, (P. 14) down from 69 in 2009, (P. 28). That was down from 79 in 2008. (See report on deaths in 2008, also p. 28).  In fact, the 2010 figure is the lowest since 2003

Between 2008 and 2010, the number of children taken from their parents in Florida declined by nearly ten percent.  Entries into care are down more than 30 percent since 2003.

We are not claiming that the ongoing Florida reforms, including the reduction in entries into care, actually caused the reduction in deaths.  We note only that it is one more piece of evidence that the reforms have not compromised safety.

More significant evidence of this are the findings of the independent evaluations of Florida’s “child first” waiver from federal child welfare funding restrictions.  These evaluations, which use far more reliable measures than fatalities – which easily can fluctuate due to random chance – find  that child safety has improved.

Also, see the discussion of the limits on comparing fatalities from year to year or state to state on page one and page 24 of the Review Committee report on deaths in 2009.

In her February 27, 2011 story, Carol Marbin Miller arbitrarily tracks deaths of children “known to the system” in Florida only back to 1999.  In fact, data both for such deaths and entries into care are available back to 1995, and when all of the data are viewed, in context, they tell a story very different from the one Miller told on the front page of the Herald.  Yet Miller did the same in Innocents Lost.

The long-term trend, and key events in Florida child welfare, all the way back to 1995, are as follows:


Year    Children taken from their parents  Fatalities
1995                  5,059*                                   19
1996                10,816                                     21
1997                11,046                                     34
1998                13,980                                     26

*1995 figure does not include kinship care placements, so real figure probably is 40 to 50 percent higher.
Average 1995-1998: 25

November 1998: Kayla McKean dies,

January 1999: Kathleen Kearney is named to run DCF. Kearney demands a “take the child and run” approach and the number of children taken from their homes skyrockets.

1999                21,118                                     29
2000                18,765                                     30
2001                18,673                                     35
2002                20,800                                     29
2003                20,549                                     35
2004                19,932                                     48
2005                22,147                                     54

Average 1999-2005: 37.1

2006: Under pressure from Major Connie Shingledecker, who chairs the state Child Abuse Death Review Committee, local authorities become far more likely to label deaths from causes such as drowning as maltreatment [1] rather than accidents. (For details see this entry on the NCCPR Child Welfare Blog)

Or as the 2009 Death Review Committee report itself puts it:

“Definitions and procedures may change within a state over time, as well as statutory requirements for reporting, as they have in Florida, resulting in data that is difficult to compare across years or states.

“Florida has a very active interdisciplinary State Committee administered by the Florida Department of Health. Committee members proactively work within local communities to educate the public and law enforcement on the importance of reporting to the Florida Abuse Hotline child deaths that may not have previously been regarded as the result of maltreatment.” [2]

Entries into foster care also continue to increase in 2006.  But, for the reasons discussed above, figures from 2006 on are not directly comparable to previous years.

                        Entries                       Fatalities
2006                21,999                         76

2007: Florida begins to implement the Child First waiver; entries into foster care start to decline.

2007                19,358                         66
2008                15,838                         79
2009                14,313                         69
2010                14,356                         41

On May 26, 2012 an Associated Press story suggested the decline in 2010 might be due to an attempt to undo the damage Shingledecker did in 2006.  The story discusses a draft of a proposed common sense definition of when drowning and co-sleeping cases are due to neglect.  But this was a draft proposal, never formally implemented.  The AP story also neglected to mention that these definitions ever had been broadened in the first place.  Details are in our March 27 update, on our Updates page here.  Innocents Lost made similar mistakes.

As for what happened after 2010: It's very difficult to know. That's because Florida DCF has so vastly altered the way fatalities are measured and results are released that a comparison is almost impossible.

Florida now has come up with three different definitions of “known to the system” – and applied them to all child abuse deaths, including some categories that clearly are due to maltreatment, such as “inflicted trauma,” some that clearly are not, such as “natural causes” and some, notably drowning, that could be either.

But the available results are grim.  Total child fatalities went up.  Fatalities also increased in two of the three "known to the system" categories.  They stayed the same in the third. In the years that followed, the number fluctuated, going down one year and up the next.  In 2018 and 2019 there may be a decline in most categories. In those years, the foster-care panic eased and the number of children taken from their homes started to decline again.

1995-1998, Child Welfare League of America, National Data Analysis System.  This online database no longer exists, but I will provide a scanned printout on request to anyone providing their real name.

1999-2001: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, AFCARS database, http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/stats_research/afcars/statistics/entryexit2002.htm

2002-2010: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, AFCARS database http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/stats_research/afcars/statistics/entryexit2010.pdf
1995-1998: Florida Department of Children and Families, Child Abuse and Neglect Deaths: Calendar Year 1999 (released March 2001).

1999-2010: State Child Abuse Death Review Committee, Annual Reports, available online at http://www.flcadr.org/reports.html

2011-2018: Florida Department of Children and Families, Child Fatality Preventionhttp://www.dcf.state.fl.us/childfatality/

1. The pressure, described as “training” is outlined in the committee’s 2006 report on page 1, available here: http://www.flcadr.org/attach/2007CADRrpt.pdf
2.  See the committee’s 2009 report (released Dec. 2010) p.1, available here: http://www.flcadr.org/attach/2010CADRrpt.pdf