NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The Hampton Roads area continues to see high numbers of child abuse deaths.
The Eastern Region Child Fatality Review Team released the latest numbers Wednesday morning.
In the last year, they looked into 42 child deaths in Virginia’s Eastern Region.
Of those deaths, 16 were found to be from child abuse or neglect and most of the children, 94%, were under the age of three. Seven of the 16 had prior contact with social services.
10 On Your Side asked Gail Davidson, who oversees CPS for the region, how this could happen?
She said that’s what they ask themselves. “And we go ‘what happened? what did we miss?’ and that’s part of the reason to have the fatality review team is to, after the fact, look at things to say ‘what could we have done differently?'”
Part of the problem may be staffing.
Davidson admits Virginia Beach is only at half staff right now.
She says the high-stress job leads to quick turnover everywhere. “Each agency has a vacancy. I don’t think there’s any of my agencies that are fully staffed at this point.”
So what’s the solution?
Davidson suggests higher pay, better support for supervisors and more training. “We’re putting some steps in place of getting people in the mode of doing much more training before you hit the pavement.”
A police academy style training, as she calls it, is about two years away.
But CPS alone won’t solve the problem.
Dr. Michelle Clayton, medical director for Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters child abuse program, suggests universal drug screenings
for new moms.
“Say, when people come in to the hospital to deliver their babies or as needed during the pregnancy that could be something which would enable parents to be routed to treatment programs as needed.”
Dr. Clayton is sure the opioid epidemic is playing a role, not only in abuse and neglect deaths but also sleeping related deaths.
“When someone is taking opioids it makes them sleep more heavily and they may be more likely to roll over onto their baby and accidentally suffocate them.”
18 of the child deaths in Hampton Roads last year were associated with unsafe sleeping environments.
That is a marked improvement over the year before, but experts say more education is needed to save more lives.