CPS funding cuts are affecting child death rate, panel says

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 2B
Last Modified: Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012 - 10:36 am

In a 20-year-period, fewer children were killed by abuse and neglect in Sacramento County when programs aimed at troubled families were funded, according to a report presented to the Board of Supervisors.

The report by the Child Death Review Team synthesized information from the 3,633 child deaths that occurred in the county from 1990 to 2009.

Supervisors said Tuesday that the report will help with funding decisions for Child Protective Services, which has lost more than a third of its staff to budget cuts in recent years.

The Child Death Review Team brings together officials from 16 agencies and institutions to examine the circumstances of every child death in the county.

The team focuses heavily on homicides caused by abuse and neglect because such deaths are preventable, and because abuse and neglect are the most common risk factors for other types of child death, team members said.

From 1999 to 2003, child homicides cases caused by abuse and neglect went down by 2.6 children a year, according to the report. During that time, state and county programs provided a wide range of services to neighborhoods in need, including a CPS prevention program, a home nursing service and other aid.

By contrast, from 2003 to 2009, such homicide cases went up by an average of a child a year. Key social service programs were cut in that time, including the CPS family maintenance service.

"This is a pretty clear call to action," Sheila Boxley of the Child Abuse Prevention Center, which coordinates the Death Review Team, told supervisors.

Ann Edwards, the county's health and human services director, agreed.

"As resources become available, we would like to see them put into prevention programs we know can work," she said.

However, she said she doesn't expect additional funding any time soon.

Supervisor Phil Serna said he would like to find money for CPS. He said the board needs more specific information about which programs have been successful at reducing child abuse.

Serna said officials have too narrowly defined public safety funding, and suggested that CPS should receive some of the money now reserved for traditional law-enforcement agencies.

He said he is particularly concerned about the disproportionate number of African American children who have died from child abuse. Serna and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson plan to make proposals to address the problem, Serna said. Serna put together a committee to address the issue.

African American children made up 30 percent of the homicide victims in the 20 years covered in the study, when they only make up 12 percent of the child population, according to the Child Death Review Team report.

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