Saturday, 18 December 2010

FILICIDE: Tennessee

-- Beth Warren: 529-2383
Infant deaths in Memphis and Tennessee due to abuse or neglect declined in 2009, a federal study indicates.
Police reports and the federal study released Thursday found that 14 children died from abuse or neglect in 2008 -- more than double the previous year. That number dipped to eight in 2009, said Memphis police Sgt. Karen Rudolph.
Nationally, the death toll rose slightly from 1,720 to 1,770, according to the federal report.
There isn't any research to explain spikes in child abuse and neglect deaths, said Jennifer Nichols, chief prosecutor of the Shelby County District Attorney's Office Special Victims Unit.
Locally and nationally, children in the most danger are those under age 4, an age group that accounts for 80 percent of last year's deaths, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration For Children and Families.
The most common perpetrator -- the mother.
Nationally, mothers were most likely to kill their children, twice as likely as fathers, according to the administration's findings.
Mothers, often the primary caregivers, can be stressed and sleep-deprived at a time when newborns tend to cry a lot.
And many families don't have a strong support system to allow them to take a break or catch up on sleep.
Frequent crying, difficulty with potty training and outbursts are common excuses given by parents and caregivers who kill their children, prosecutors said.
"Those are very common triggers for child mistreatment," said Dr. Helen Morrow, chief medical officer for the Shelby County Health Department.
Morrow, chairman of the Shelby County Child Fatality Review Team, said infants born prematurely and children with disabilities can be at a greater risk.
"They can be even more challenging to care for," and if abused, "they're a little less resilient," Morrow said.
The number of abuse and neglect deaths dropped in Tennessee from 55 in 2008 to 46 last year, the federal report shows. That's a 16 percent decline, but the state still ranks in the top 10 nationally, at No. 7.
Beryl Wight, a spokeswoman for the Memphis Child Advocacy Center, said she remembers a somber ceremony last year when three children died within a short period of time.
Two brothers, ages 2 and 3, died in an October 2009 fire. Memphis police said their mother left them home alone. A month later, a 16-month-old Germantown boy was beaten to death. The father was charged with second-degree murder.
The Child Advocacy Center flew three flags to remind the community of each victim.
Child advocates, prosecutors and social workers have united to protect children through the National Coalition to End Child Abuse Deaths. They believe the national death toll is closer to 2,500 annually.
Shelby County experts agree the number has to be higher than official figures because of unsolved cases.
"We have deaths that we strongly suspect are due to abuse or neglect, but we can't prove it," Morrow said of the deaths her team reviews.
"We're all left very frustrated."

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