Child homicides by caretakers have declined 73% over the past three decades in Los Angeles County, according to a report released Friday.
The 30-year retrospective by the Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect (ICAN) found that nearly 1,000 children in Los Angeles County have been killed by a parent, a parent’s adult partner, babysitter or other family member providing child care since 1989.
Child homicides in the county peaked in 1991 when 61 children were killed by caretakers, with a low of eight deaths in 2017, according to the report, which noted that preliminary data show 10 child homicides in the county last year.
“You know there is no greater tragedy than the death of a child, especially when that death comes at the hands of a caregiver,” District Attorney George Gascón said at an online news conference announcing the results of the report. “We’re here today — National Children’s Memorial Day — to remember the young lives that have been lost to violence.”
Deanne Tilton Durfee, ICAN’s executive director, noted that each of the numbers in the report “represents a child’s life lost.”
“This motivates us to continue the heartbreaking task of probing into the nature and extent of child abuse fatalities to save other children from such tragic outcomes,” she said.
More than half of the children — 524 — died from head trauma, multiple trauma and blows to the torso, Durfee said, noting that many of those fatalities resulted from “excessive discipline of very young children related to crying, toilet-training, bed-wetting, feeding and typical challenging childhood behavior.”
Tilton said the data reinforce the importance of recognizing the high risk to very young children.
More than half of the children killed since 1989 were under the age of 1 and two-thirds were under the age of 3, according to the report. The data also showed that male caretakers (from age 18 into their 40s) were the primary perpetrators in the majority of child abuse homicides and that they murdered young boys at a higher rate than girls.
The report also found that:
— Children were more likely to be killed by a parent than extended family or non-related caretaker, with 90% of them parental figures, according to Durfee;
— A history of child welfare, domestic violence and substance abuse were the “leading co-related factors,” followed by mental illness and a history of abuse to the parent/caretaker as a child;
— Children who died at the hands of a caretaker died most often of head trauma, multiple trauma and gunshot wounds, with those three causes comprising 57% of the deaths.
Researchers noted that factors that may have contributed to the decrease include a significant drop in the birth rate for the county, community awareness about child abuse deaths, home visitor programs, the “Safe Surrender” program that allows mothers to anonymously leave their babies at any fire station or hospital, and medical expertise in identifying, diagnosing and treating potential child abuse and neglect.
Meanwhile, out of 617 suicides over a three-decade period, 71% were males, according to the report. The highest number of suicides — 44 — were reported in 1993, with the lowest of 10 in 2007, researchers found.