NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia continues to see high numbers of child abuse deaths. The Eastern Region Child Fatality Review Team released the latest numbers Friday morning.
In 2018, there were a total of 14 child fatalities as a result of abuse or neglect in Virginia’s Eastern Region. In the state of Virginia, there were 40 child deaths, but 8 cases are pending and one case is under appeal.
10 On Your Side spoke with Gail Davidson, who oversees CPS for the region. She presented the findings of the Eastern Region Child Fatality Review Team.
“We look at what we can do to prevent in the future, what are the trends we’ve seen, what are the risk factors we’ve seen, and I think it’s huge that we’ve been able to stay in existence for 25 years.”
Davidson says risk factors include substance abuse among parents. Substance abuse can cause impaired supervision of children, Davidson says.
“They could have things in the home that are harmful to children, particularly if they are using methadone, how that is manufactured and kept, those substances are lethal to children.”
Additionally, Davidson touched on safe sleep conditions.
“[A safe sleeping position is] alone on their back in their crib, a lot of our deaths this year had sleep related issues,” Davidson said. “New parents are so tired that often times they can fall asleep with the child in their arms and that can cause suffocation … helping parents understand that babies need a safe sleep space that is alone, not with somebody, that can help prevent child deaths, particularly in infants.”
Davidson says another issue they face includes their own staffing.
“Caseloads are too high, there are vacancies across the region in CPS and foster care, so if we can increase that in child welfare, that would be helpful.”
While there are several areas that need improvement when it comes to child abuse deaths in Virginia and Hampton Roads, there is serious progress too.
Governor Ralph Northam signed legislation that changes how social workers investigate child abuse allegations. “Heavens Law” took effect July 1.
“Heavens Law'” is named after Heaven Watkins. Her mother, Latoya Smith, pleaded guilty to murder in the 11-year-old’s death in Norfolk’s Ocean View area.
Delegate Mike Mullin sponsored the bill. It requires caseworkers in an investigation look back at least five years to see if a child has been abused or neglected in another state.
“I’ve tried to devote my life and my career to make sure that this happens to as few families as possible,” Del. Mullin said.
“In the situation with Heaven, had the agency had that information, they would have made different decisions and she may have still been with us. We will just never know,” Davidson said.