The Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) and the Office of Child Safety recently released its annual report on child fatalities for FY 2021. The report reviews the different causes of fatalities and identifies risk factors and commonalities across confirmed child abuse and neglect fatalities. The report also analyzes different points of DFPS involvement where a child fatality occurred and how frequently past involvement corresponded to a confirmed death caused by abuse or neglect.
The report reveals that in FY21:
- 964 child fatalities were reviewed, an increase of 138 from the previous year.
- DFPS confirmed 199 of these children died due to abuse or neglect, and approximately 90% of these cases did not have an open investigation at the time of the child’s death.
- Neglectful supervision was a factor in 64% of all confirmed child abuse and neglect fatalities.
- The most common causes of death involving neglect were drowning, unsafe sleep and vehicle-related fatalities.
Risk Factors in Abuse or Neglect Fatalities
The report identifies specific risk factors associated with child maltreatment and how often those risk factors appeared in confirmed child deaths. These risk factors include children who are 3 or under, families with a history of child maltreatment, substance abuse, parental mental health concerns and domestic violence in the home. Children with special needs or medical concerns also may be at heightened risk for abuse or neglect.
- 148 of the 199 child fatalities caused by abuse or neglect involved a parent or caregiver actively using a substance and/or under the influence of at least one substance that affected their ability to care for the child. While methamphetamine use was identified in 24 child fatalities, marijuana was the substance most identified as an active substance in child abuse and neglect-related fatalities and was identified as being used in 117 of the cases.
- 42% of child fatalities involved a parent/caregiver who reported active mental health concerns.
- Children 3 years of age and younger made up 64% of confirmed child abuse and neglect fatalities.
- 22% of child maltreatment fatalities involved a child with special medical needs or medical concerns.
- There was active domestic violence present in the home environment in 50 families who had a child fatality that was related to abuse/neglect.
Child Deaths by County
Urban counties continue to have higher number of child deaths.
- 37 of the 199 child abuse and neglect-related fatalities were in Harris County, the highest amount in the state.
- Dallas County had the second highest number with 18 deaths.
- Bexar County the third highest at 13.
- Travis County had the fewest child deaths of the urban counties, with three.
The report reveals record increases in deaths across all groups, further emphasizing the importance of investing in culturally responsive prevention programing that will help support the needs of all families.
The goal of this report is to help stakeholders better understand the root causes of child maltreatment. The report also provides information to develop targeted prevention programing for families across the state. It reveals that in all confirmed cases of abuse and neglect, parents continue to be the most common perpetrators.
Whether the maltreatment is intentional or not, the data helps us point to where parent resources could be missing and how we can improve child safety from a local public health approach. CASA programs can help by collaborating with DFPS and local nonprofits to raise awareness about the availability of Prevention and Early Intervention (PEI) programing for families and caregivers. You can view the full report here and learn more about PEI on the DFPS website.