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DFCS to report more about child deaths

ATLANTA -- The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services will begin publishing a quarterly child death report to spark more community conversation and action about the issue.

"This quarterly report is an attempt to look at the data in this area in a uniform manner, to be transparent and to seek to identify trends that will allow us to protect children as best we can," said DHS Commissioner Clyde L. Reese III in a press release. "The entire agency will continue to strive to operate in a manner that promotes coordination, cooperation and communication across all internal and external partners who care about the welfare of children and families."

From January through September, DFCS reviewed more than 150 child deaths that were reported to the department. Of those that DFCS reviewed, 120 had DFCS history prior to the child's death, according to its November report.

This includes the 7-year-old Newton County boy Ethan Israel Martinez, who died in September. Charged with his murder is his mother's boyfriend, 25-year-old David Joe Mann Jr., of 20 Paden St.

Martinez was a student at Livingston Elementary School; he was observed by DFCS in June 2008 in DeKalb County and September 2010 in Newton County after allegations of physical abuse, but the cases were closed after no abuse or neglect was found.

"Our intent is to learn from these tragic events so that no child shall die in vain," said Ron Scroggy, director of DFCS. "As such, we believe the next step toward creating safer communities for our children is to continue to educate the public about the harsh realities surrounding child fatalities. We hope that by making this data available communities will be compelled to work with us to keep kids safe."

The most frequent causes of death among children with previous DFCS history were natural and accidental. Many of the children were in an unsafe sleep environment at the time of their death, according to the recent report.

January had more deaths than any other month, with 17, followed by 16 deaths in February and May.

According to the report, 25 deaths were accidental, 15 were homicide, 41 were natural, four were suicide, 22 were undetermined and 13 are still pending.

An autopsy ruled that Martinez died from blunt force trauma to the head -- he had several bruises and a contusion on the right lung.

The November report for Georgia showed that six homicides were due to blunt force head trauma, four from a gunshot, two from a stabbing, one asphyxia, one traumatic brain injury and one motor vehicle/DUI.

Cases of suicide included a hanging, overdose and two gunshot victims.

DFCS has created a specialized team to analyze and evaluate all child deaths reported to the agency. In response to the team's work, DFCS has increased prevention awareness, identified trends in child fatalities, advanced practice and policy and further trained staff to respond thoroughly and appropriately to all reports of child maltreatment.

"We will continue to respond to the community as answers become available to us, and use the information we have to educate Georgians," Scroggy said.

More information and reports are available at http://dhs.georgia.gov.