Report says 479 children harmed last year under state supervision
Most suffered some form of emotional injury; 58 deaths
The death of David Almond, a Fall River teenager with autism who died of abuse and neglect while under the supervision of the Department of Children and Families, has sparked the question: how many other children under state supervision have come to harm?
The answer, according to Child Advocate Maria Mossaides, was 479 children and young adults last year.
Mossaides on Tuesday presented an analysis of critical incident reports to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities, as part of her testimony at an oversight hearing looking into Almond’s death. Critical incident reports are filed with her office any time a child involved with DCF or another state agency suffers a fatality, near fatality, serious bodily injury, or emotional injury.
In fiscal 2020, her office received 328 reports involving 497 incidents and 479 children. The number is higher than in prior years, but only because the state amended its definition of when a report must be filed to include emotional injuries. An emotional injury occurs when a child witnesses a traumatic event, like a suicide, overdose, or violent act. The vast majority of the cases involve children under the supervision of the Department of Children and Families, with a small number coming from other agencies.
For example, the nine fatalities reported by the Department of Developmental Services all involved children with complex medical conditions. Five of the Department of Youth Services deaths involved gunshot wounds and another two were from stabbings.
At the Department of Children and Families, the 36 fatalities included two car accidents, two drownings, two falls, six medical conditions, two overdoses, two incidents of physical abuse, 16 sudden unexpected infant deaths, two suicides, and two unknown causes. The 13 near fatalities were the result of one car accident, three drownings, seven overdoses, one incident of physical abuse ,and one suicide attempt.But the report found that the Office of the Child Advocate did identify concerns involving case practice or system-wide problems in 44 percent of the cases. Of 295 critical incident reports submitted by DCF, the child advocate provided feedback indicating some concern in 139 cases. These included things like a child being left with a caregiver inappropriately, a lack of required monthly visits by DCF, and inadequate safety planning.
The report notes that the number of children involved in critical incident reports was a tiny fraction (0.006 percent) of all DCF cases. Of the incidents, 79 percent occurred in a child’s own home. Eighty– seven percent involved a child who was not physically in DCF’s custody.