As with any age, infants can die at any moment. Sometimes from natural causes, other times from accidents. But when a child dies as a result of serious physical injury, the public collectively becomes concerned.
“The type (of infant death) we have way too many of is abuse,” said Joyce Estes, executive director of the Northwest Missouri Children’s Advocacy Center. “We are higher than other areas of Missouri, definitely.”
According to the 2009 Missouri Kids Count study, Buchanan County had a higher rate per 100,000 child deaths (not necessarily criminal in nature), ages 1 to 14, than the rest of the state; the county also had a higher rate per 1,000 child abuse and neglect cases.
In 2010, three infants were victims of homicides that were criminal in nature, which included neglect and abuse. In January, an investigation into the death of an almost 2-year-old boy was launched by the St. Joseph Police Department. Charges have yet to be filed, but police believe his death was not from natural causes.
While there is no specific cause as to why infants are victims of child abuse, the trend seems to indicate the tragic deaths happen when a single mom is forced to trust her child with another caregiver, said Robin Hammond, executive director of the St. Joseph Youth Alliance. The national trend indicates that infant deaths as a result of trauma happen when a father is left alone with the child; in St. Joseph it’s typically the boyfriend of the child’s mother, Ms. Hammond said.
Ms. Estes said typically, infant deaths related to neglect will be the fault of the mother, while infant deaths related to abuse will be that of the father or male figure. Typically these deaths are also related to drug or alcohol abuse, which is also high in St. Joseph, Ms. Estes said.
Usually, the incidents that result in death are severe and garner media attention, said Joey Thompson, circuit manager for the Missouri Department of Social Services in Buchanan County. However, Ms. Thompson said most cases of infant deaths are the result of natural causes, such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. It is rare for infant deaths to be caused by serious physical abuse, she said.
Of the 2,000 calls of suspected child abuse that Andrew and Buchanan County receive per year, only one or two are investigated as a death that is criminal in nature, Ms. Thompson said.
“It’s all preventable, none of it’s necessary,” she said. “Our agency is very threatening because we make determinations on children’s safety, but most of the work we do is to prevent further abuse and reduce the risk of abuse.”
There is a need for resources for victims of child abuse under 6 years old, said Jennifer Soper, chairwoman of the Crisis Nursery Committee. She said the need grew a few years ago from a community response to “previous child abuse and unfortunate deaths.” She said currently there are gaps in services where infants and toddlers can stay if they are victims of abuse, which the Crisis Nursery hopes to address. The nursery will be housed at the Noyes Home for Children, which provides services for children ages 6 to 18. There is no timeline as to when the service will be completed.
Those who believe their child may be a victim of abuse can contact the Missouri Department of Social Services, St. Joseph Youth Alliance, Northwest Missouri Children’s Advocacy Center, Noyes Home for Children or their local law enforcement.
Kim Norvell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.