N.H. child deaths ‘hard to address’ without data

  • Jonathan Van Fleet—

Monitor staff
Published: 4/10/2017 12:13:36 AM

Wesley Botelho was 1 when he drowned in a bathtub while his mother used her computer outside their Manchester apartment. Three-year-old Jayleah Bureau died in Concord from massive internal bleeding, and police now allege her father dealt the deadly blows.

The two cases – though separated by six years – have something in common: neither shows up in the state’s child fatality records.

It’s impossible to know the total number of child deaths in New Hampshire related to abuse and neglect – or even the instances of child mistreatment – because no single entity in the state is tracking all the data, advocates say.

“There is no central place where that information is captured,” said Amanda Grady Sexton, a member of a committee at the State House looking into this issue. “It’s really hard to address the issue of child abuse and neglect ... if you don’t have a full picture of what the problem is.”

The Division for Children, Youth and Families gets reports of parents or guardians committing child abuse or neglect, but some calls go straight to local police departments, according to members of the Commission to Review Child Abuse Fatalities.

DCYF has 21 child deaths related to abuse or neglect on record since 2010. At least three child fatalities during that time frame don’t show up in agency documents – including that of Bureau and 11-month-old Shawn Sylvester, whose mother’s boyfriend is charged in his death.

DCYF records show no child deaths in 2010, even though that’s the year Wesley Botelho drowned. DCYF attorney Byry Kennedy said the agency doesn’t have the fatality on file because it came in through the attorney general’s office.

The Monitor obtained the child fatality records through a right-to-know request under the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act. The information provided by DCYF does not paint a complete picture of child deaths in the state related to abuse and neglect.

The agency declined to release the names and information for 12 of the 21 child fatalities it has on file because the cases remain under investigation or were ruled unfounded, according to Kennedy.

Without those records, it’s impossible to know whether more than eight children had been under DCYF watch prior to their deaths. The documents the agency did turn over range in detail – some are missing dates or key actions. The records generally give a child’s name and some information about DCYF involvement, without detailing any of the abuse or neglect allegations.

A subcommittee of the Commission to Review Child Abuse Fatalities is now considering ways to capture more information about child abuse and neglect in the state. The data is important, Grady Sexton said, so state officials can spot potential trends or locate areas that could benefit from prevention campaigns or additional resources.

“Without a full view of how prolific these crimes are, it’s really hard to know how to address them,” she said.

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)

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