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Reporting change cited in child death increase
Drowning deaths are being included for the first time, state officials say in their report.
Published December 16, 2007
FORT MYERS - Officials are attributing an 80 percent increase in deaths from child abuse and neglect in Florida last year mainly to changes in reporting criteria including the addition of drowning victims.
That explanation is included in a preliminary annual report drafted by the Florida Child Death Review Committee. A final version is expected to be sent to Gov. Charlie Crist and the Legislature by the end of the month.
The draft indicates 170 children died last year from verified abuse and neglect, up from 95 in 2005. Most were under 4. Fifty-three of the 103 deaths that are classified as neglect, though, were due to drowning, which had not been included in past reports.
Homicides also increased by 13 for a total of 55 last year. Crying, potty training and feeding were the most common triggers for the fatal abuse, most often committed by the boyfriend or husband of the child's mother, according to the draft.
The committee found that 85 percent of the drowning victims were under 5 and in each case there had been inadequate supervision. Three-fourths of the victims downed in swimming pools.
"That's a real concern to us, because I think it's almost standard around here for people to have pools," said Cookie Coleman, circuit administrator for the Department of Children and Families in Fort Myers. "Plus we have canals and we're close to the water."
The highest death rates were in Duval, Broward, Polk, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, according to the report.
Nearly half of the neglect victims had prior cases with the department, according to the draft. Recommendations in the draft include incorporating a variety of different professionals in abuse prevention efforts.