By Anita Wadhwani
and Tony Gonzalez, The Tennessean
New details emerged Tuesday about the life-threatening injuries and
deaths of Tennessee children who were brought to the attention of the
Department of Children's Services between 2009 and June 2012.
one-third of the 151 children who died in those 3½ years were victims
of abuse or neglect, according to data provided by the agency on
Just over half of the children who suffered
"near-fatalities" -- life-threatening injuries such as bone fractures,
drug exposure, gunshot wounds, attempted suicides, near drownings --
were abused or neglected, according to DCS data.
In some cases, DCS was not alerted to the plight of children until they already had suffered life-threatening injuries.
all represent very sad, terrible tragedies," DCS Commissioner Kate
O'Day said. "We're dealing with very difficult, sensitive information,
and it's hard to look at. It's hard to read fatality reports. It's hard
to read a spreadsheet like this and see broken bones and suicides and
O'Day provided the data on child deaths and
near-deaths in response to a request from The Tennessean last month,
when the newspaper first reported 31 deaths in the first six months of
2012 among children who had interacted with the agency at some point
while they were alive.
The newspaper requested all available
records for each child who had died or experienced a near fatality from
2009 to be able to answer questions about their lives and their deaths
(or serious injuries), including how DCS and other officials responded
to the children and their families.
O'Day said the people in her agency had the same questions.
we look at it, it prompts the same questions for us as it does for you
and your readers, which is: What happened? Why? And what could be done?
So we are asking ourselves," she said.
The data released Tuesday
did not include the detailed records requested by The Tennessean. It did
not contain enough detailed information to provide those answers.
DCS officials responded to a request for child records with summary data.
data compiled by the agency did not reveal, for example, the cause of
each child's death or how often the child had been reported to DCS prior
to their deaths or injuries.
The data revealed the children who
died had been in DCS custody, been subject to an open investigation or
subject to a prior investigation that had been closed within three years
of their deaths.
Of those, the agency could substantiate abuse or neglect among 47 children.
And, 21 children who died during this time period were in DCS custody.
The list of children's deaths provided few other explanations.
1-year-old Shelby County boy who suffered "bodily fractures/injuries"
died last year on June 15. He was found to be a victim of abuse and/or
neglect. He had come to the attention of DCS seven months before his
death. But his case was closed when he died. It's not clear whether he
died from abuse, neglect or other causes. The data did not list cause of
A 10-month-old Knox County boy was found to be a victim of
abuse and/or neglect. He was reported to DCS on March 16 of this year.
At some point, his case was closed. He drowned on April 11.
16-year-old girl in Washington County committed suicide on April 4,
2009, while in DCS custody. The girl was brought to the attention of the
agency in 2006. Abuse and neglect was not proven in her case and it is
unclear whether she was living in foster care, a group home, detention
facility or some other situation.
In another case, a 4-year-old
Wilson County girl suffered "bodily fractures/injuries" that brought her
to the attention of DCS on July 1, 2010. She died the next day.
are children who die or nearly die,'' O'Day said. "Our department's
mission is to protect children, so when that happens, it is a very
distressing situation for all of us."