Child deaths increased in 2012 in the state of Illinois, with suffocation as the leading cause, according to analysis by the Department of Children and Family Services.
Ninety children died in 2012 as a result of neglect or abuse, and more than 60 deaths are still under investigation. Sixty-nine percent of those victims never made it to their first birthday.
Suffocation as a result of neglect was responsible for 40 indicated deaths (44 percent), most of which were a result of unsafe sleeping conditions. Most occurred when parents slept with a newborn or infant in their bed and rolled over on the baby, smothering him or her. Other suffocation deaths were the result of caregivers allowing babies to sleep with a blanket, on an adult mattress or couch, or on their stomachs.
Even though the deaths may be accidental, parents and caretakers are held responsible by Illinois law for creating a substantial risk of injury or death to the child.
"The death of any child is heartbreaking, and even more so when that death may have been avoided if parents had just followed the warnings of their doctor," DCFS Spokesperson Dave Clarkin said. "We hope that other parents will learn from these losses and heed the warnings of experts."
The second leading cause of death for children in Illinois last year were homicides, or deaths caused by intentional abuse or injury. Twenty-two children were victims of homicide in 2012, and evidence in many of those cases showed people close to the family saw warning signs but never reported them to authorities.
Warning signs include previous physical abuse or neglect, patterns of domestic violence, and drug use or heavy drinking while caring for children. Family, friends, and neighbors should report any suspected abuse or neglect to DCFS' toll-free hotline, 1-800-25-ABUSE (1-800-252-2873).
"Two-thirds of the reports to our hotline come from mandated reporters like prosecutors, police, hospital staff, and teachers," Clarkin said. "To protect kids, DCFS needs to be contacted for help before there is a 911 call, a child is in the emergency room or the abuse or neglect has been going on for years."
The hotline is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
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