(UNDATED) - Federal statistics show that Indiana has one of the highest rates of child abuse and neglect in the nation, though Department of Child Services officials claim their statistics show progress.
Recent cases of child abuse deaths are indicative of how some Indiana children fall through the cracks. Federal reports don't back what DCS claims.
The cases of Devin Parsons and Christian Choate highlight what many consider to be the failings of DCS.
Greensburg police found Parsons, 12, fatally beaten in June. His mother, Tasha Parsons, and her boyfriend, Waldo Jones, were charged with murder. DCS employees visited the home days before the boy's death.
Christian Choate, 13, also had a long history with DCS before his death earlier this year. According to the agency's records, Christian lived in a cage and received regular beatings during the last months of his life.
In May, investigators pulled Christian's body from a shallow grave in Gary. His father, Riley Choate, and his stepmother, Kimberly were charged with murder.
Records show the families of both children had a long history with DCS.
DCS Director James Payne said he thinks his agency is better at protecting children than ever before, and he cautioned against using child fatalities as a measuring stick. Because federal and state reports cover different time periods, the numbers don't match, and that means the number of deaths can look like it's going up in one report and down in another.
For example, the most recent Child Maltreatment Report released by the Department of Health and Human Services showed an increase in the number of child deaths from 2008 to 2009. The federal government counted 34 deaths in 2008 and 50 deaths in 2009. The federal year runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30.
The state's most recent Child Abuse and Neglect Report of Child Fatalities showed a decrease in the number of child deaths from 2008 to 2009. The state government counted 46 deaths in 2008 and 38 deaths in 2009. The state year runs from July 1 through June 30.
Payne said a better way to evaluate the system is to look at statistics, such as fewer children being placed in residential treatment.
DCS is focused on helping children thrive and remain in homes, because removing them is traumatic for them, Payne says. But statistic show leaving some children in the homes ends in death.
Child advocates and service providers disagree with the DCS serves, but fear retaliation if they speak out. Fears that the state will look somewhere else for services, according to David Sklar, who leads the Children's Coalition of Indiana, an organization that works to support and lobby for children and families. They are also concerned the state is not spending enough on therapeutic services to address and prevent child abuse. The DCS gave back almost $104 million to the state, money that could have been used for children. Payne says the agency didn't need the money.
DCS case workers say the job is stressful and they fear making a mistake everyday. Turn over is high. Some state representatives criticized some of the decisions being made at the top of the DCS.
Child advocates say the unspent funds could be used for services such as counseling for young abuse victims, clothing and food for foster kids and toward other services for families. Those funds could have been spent to help children like Christian and Devin.
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