NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The number of children who died as a result of abuse or neglect remained high in this region of the state last year, according to a newly released report.
The report from the Eastern Region Child Fatality Review Team shows 12 children died as a result of abuse or neglect in the 2016 fiscal year — July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016 — compared to 13 fatalities from the previous fiscal year.
Officials with the review team as well as the Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner addressed the report in a news conference Tuesday morning in Norfolk.
“The team found that caregivers would use an opiates, marijuana, alcohol — whatever it is they use — and then they put the baby to sleep,” Dr. Virginia Powell with the State Medical Examiner’s Office said when looking at the number of babies who died from neglect or unsafe sleep.
Dr. Powell contends the opioid epidemic in Virginia is reaching these vulnerable victims. She said that often new moms are sent home with pain medications they do not necessarily need.
“It’s hard enough to stay awake and take care of a baby if you haven’t taken a Percocet,” she added.
A total of 26 percent of child fatalities due to abuse or neglect took place in the Eastern Region — which includes Hampton Roads.
The number of abuse or neglect fatalities have been down from the 17 reported in fiscal year 2014, but officials noted in this year’s report that the numbers remained high for the region.
Seven of the 12 children who died were infants who had not reached the age of 1, the report shows. Two-thirds of the children were under the age of 3.
The report also shows 75 percent of the children who died were in the care of their biological (or step) mother, father or both. It also shows that of the 12, four had past contact with social services.
Gail Davidson, CPS Regional Consultant for the Eastern Region, told WAVY.com, “Somewhere along the line we missed something and I think some of that again goes back to training of our staff.”
Davidson also said that while there’s been a push to get services to families bu t not the forces they need to use – like the courts to ensure it happens. She added healthcare provides, social services and others must be able to open the lines of communication without fear of breaking confidentiality so they can get people the help they need.
More than 40 percent of 129 cases investigated statewide were in the Eastern Region — compared to 35 percent from the previous report. There are five regions total in Virginia.
Fifty-three total cases were investigated region-wide last year, with 41 having been ruled unfounded, according to the report. Four of the unfounded deaths were a result of drowning, while 29 were associated with unsafe sleeping environments.
Seventeen infants died in that time as a result of co-sleeping.
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