KARA follows investigative reporting on child death and near death by caregivers while the children are known to CPS (Child Protective Services). Please send us links to the reports in your state and we will make them available to a larger audience.
Pennsylvania’s Triblive Investigative Report of 845 reports of child death and “near death” from 2018 -2022 revealed that at least 70 deaths /and 170 “near deaths” (240 children almost 30%) died or almost died as a result of a parents drug use.
Experts point out these numbers are low because of flaws in how and when statistics are recorded.
Also from the article:
Drug-related child death outnumbered gun violence child death by 2 to 1.
Child Welfare had been alerted in more than half of these cases
Drug overdoses kill an estimated 100,000 people a year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the youngest victims largely have been ignored, experts said.
Day in and day out, Dr. Rachel Berger, a research pediatrician and clinician at UPMC Children’s, sees an alarming increase in the number of children — some only days old — showing up in her emergency room with illegal drugs in their systems.
In the first 100 days of this year, the hospital treated 57 overdose victims under age 12, she said (KARA note – this is a single PA hospital) It has become so common that emergency room workers at Children’s and other local hospitals routinely give Narcan — a drug reversing the effects of opiates on the brain and restoring breathing — to any child who arrives in an altered state, Berger said.
“No one has documented in any real way that this is not just a toddler here or a toddler there. There is a dramatic impact that has been so far off the radar in this commonwealth,” said Cathleen Palm, founder of the Center for Children’s Justice, a nonprofit focused on children’s welfare in Pennsylvania.
When pressed for answers about TribLive’s findings, child welfare officials said chronic staffing shortages, a dramatic increase in drug abuse by parents and other caregivers, and fallout from mandatory reporting laws enacted after the Jerry Sandusky sexual assault scandal have made it difficult to keep up with complaints.
ALL ADULTS ARE THE PROTECTORS OF ALL CHILDREN
This is a crisis in Pennsylvania only because one media had the resources and inclination to report it. It’s a crisis in all states most likely and we will never know because of how poorly (by accident or design) CPS keeps records. There are almost no meaningful metrics or other information tracked or made available concerning the children they care for. Read the children’s stories below:
• A stamp bag of fentanyl was found in the throat of 7-month-old Zhuri Bogle, who was pronounced dead in her Penn Hills home in January.
Police charged the child’s grandmother and her boyfriend, who were babysitting on the night Zhuri died. They are awaiting trial.
• Two-year-old Robert Craft was found unresponsive by police in a Munhall apartment littered with thousands of bags of heroin along with needles and other drug paraphernalia, reports show. Robert died hours later at Children’s Hospital. Police said two other children in the home, ages 4 and 7, were tested. The 4-year-old, who police said became “lethargic and incoherent,” tested positive for fentanyl but survived. The parents were charged in the 2022 case and are awaiting trial.
• Earlier this year, 4-month-old Naoki Hines died after his mother found him unresponsive in their Carrick home. Fentanyl was found in his system, records indicate. Investigators said they found a stamp bag of fentanyl in the house. The mother, Katie Grimes, 33, has been charged in connection with the baby’s death and is scheduled to stand trial.
TribLive’s investigation found other children who didn’t die from ingesting drugs but perished because of their parents’ actions while under the influence of drugs.
On Oct. 4, a 32-year-old Lancaster County woman was found unconscious in her bedroom after injecting methamphetamine, leaving her 3-month-old daughter to die locked in a hot car outside her home. The woman, who previously lost custody of two older children, was charged with third-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and endangering the welfare of children.
In another case, a Franklin County woman was charged with involuntary manslaughter after police said she took drugs and then fell asleep on top of her 6-day-old son, suffocating him. The woman told police she took a drug called “scramble,” a mixture of heroin and fentanyl, before feeding the baby his bottle. She told police she sat cross-legged with the baby on her lap but eventually fell forward onto him while holding the bottle in his mouth.
Still other children have died in the midst of drug operations.
A 5-year-old girl died of fentanyl exposure in a Johnstown drug house in October 2022 and a Philadelphia toddler was shot and later died after his father used him as a human shield during a drug deal that went bad.
One of the biggest hurdles to dealing with the problem is a child welfare system that was created to deal with abuse but ill-equipped to deal with the epidemic of addiction, Palm said.
“Federal law and state law are very clear that a baby being born exposed to drugs is not child abuse,” Palm said. “The challenge we have as a society is not the concept of recognizing that families are under stress, particularly if you have an active substance abuse and infant in your home. That is a real stress. The problem is we as a society have created an infrastructure that is only to deal with child abuse.
Minnesota’s Child Deaths by parents while in Child Protective Services (200) INVESTIGATIVE REPORT