18 children died in PBC from abuse in 2007

PALM BEACH COUNTY, FL (Sun Sentinel) - Eighteen Palm Beach County children died of abuse or neglect in 2007, the highest number of any county in Florida and the most since the state began publishing its annual child death reports in 1998.

Three-year-old Jamiya DeLoach died in state custody when a caregiver left her with a 14-year-old baby sitter. Kelvin Jackson, also 3, was allegedly beaten to death by his father's fianc�e. Two local toddlers died of overdoses after eating a pill or drug, and four children drowned in incidents that state investigators said were preventable.

In 10 of the 18 deaths, the Department of Children and Families had received at least one report that the children might be at risk of harm.

Florida's Child Abuse Death Review Committee examines every child death for the previous year and makes recommendations aimed at preventing future deaths.

For the recently released report, which included deaths from calendar year 2007, the team reviewed the cases of 163 children statewide who died of abuse or neglect. Three children died in St. Lucie County, and Martin had none.

The unusually high number of deaths in Palm Beach County helped to drive a crisis that brought more children into foster care. Data has shown that child abuse investigators tend to remove more children from their birth parents after a death, likely because of fear that they will fail to protect another child.

In the first half of 2007, when deaths of children known to the state were being reported at a rate of one a month, the number of children removed from birth parents after abuse allegations doubled.

Many workers quit, and those who remained juggled workloads of up to 40 or 50 children at a time.

Both the head of the foster care agency and the head of the local office of the Department of Children and Families left their jobs in summer 2007 and were replaced by new leaders.

As in previous reports, the recently released review found that many of the accidental deaths were caused by parents who put infants to sleep in beds or couches, where they can suffocate.

Many deaths are caused by drug addicts who neglect their children, allowing them to wander into traffic, drown in the bathtub or eat a poisonous drug.

The most fatal beatings are committed by live-in boyfriends of young mothers, many of whom are left to take care of young children because they are unemployed.

They are the most dangerous caregivers because they often have no experience in soothing a crying baby and no biological attachment to the child, according to the report.

The child death review committee stressed that despite an unprecedented budget crisis, the state must not cut programs like Healthy Families, which teaches parenting skills to new mothers and fathers.

Perry Borman, who took over the local office of DCF in January 2008, said that the agency responded to the drowning deaths in 2007 with more efforts to educate parents about water safety.

The state also has a new system to confirm that parents who have promised to get drug treatment or to evict a boyfriend or girlfriend with a violent past follow through on that commitment.