Child maltreatment deaths drop in 2015, state says

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The number of Massachusetts children whose deaths were linked to abuse and neglect dropped by more than half in 2015 from the year before, according to data released late Thursday by state officials.

Deaths dropped from 22 in 2014 to 10 in 2015, according to data provided by the state Department of Children and Families.  Seven of the children were in families who had been at some point under the watch of state social workers, records show.

State officials could not be reached Thursday for comment on the drop in numbers. However, it’s possible that more data comes in over time, officials said in a statement. Peter MacKinnon, a DCF social worker’s union president, said that the drop in deaths is good news. However, he was uncertain whether changes could be attributed to state reforms, many of which were implemented this year.

This is the second year in a row where child fatalities linked to maltreatment have fallen, according to state data. The drop comes follow intense scrutiny of the agency prompted by several high-profile deaths of children under state supervision, including a Fitchburg boy whose body was found beside a highway in early 2014. In response, the legislature boosted DCF’s budget and social workers started removing more children from homes considered unsafe.

The state also had placed fewer children in a “lower-risk” category of monitoring that some social workers have said failed to protect children.

Neglect, rather than abuse, was the major cause of 2015 child deaths. They include a two-year-old girl who apparently died of heat stroke in a foster care home and a six-day old child who was born with drugs in her system, according to the state

Richard Wexler, executive director of the Virginia-based National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, said it would be “foolish” to assume that the drop in deaths was linked to an increase in at-risk children being pulled from their homes. He said less children under state watch died in 2012 at time when fewer children were in foster care placements.