ATLANTA — Child deaths in the Georgia foster-care system increased by 20 percent in the first three months of this year compared to the same period in the previous year, according to a Division of Family and Children Services report released Monday.
The statewide death toll increased to 55 during January, February and March, up from 46 in the same months of 2012. Most died from accidents or natural causes.
The deaths included one in the Augusta area, which had nine in all of 2012; three in the Athens area, which had six in 2012; and five in the Savannah and Brunswick area, which had seven in 2012.
The number of deaths had been decreasing each quarter in 2012. In the last quarter, which was from October through November, there were only 32.
“The overall increase is largely due to pre-existing health conditions and house fires, which claimed the lives of seven children this year,” Susan Boatwright, the agency’s communications director.
According to Boatwright, the reports are based on children who were under direct agency supervision or had been the subject of a public complaint of neglect or abuse in the previous five years.
“A lot of our foster-care parents care for fragile children. Because of the child’s health, we don’t expect the child to live, but it’s still reflected as a death in data,” said Carolyn Fjeran, the deputy director at Georgia Association of Homes & Services for Children.
The quarterly report shows the majority of the children who died from accidental causes were younger than 4. According to DFCS 2012 calendar year report, approximately 13 children died every month.
The report proves the need for greater resources for younger children, according to Pat Willis, the executive director of Voices for Georgia’s Children.
“In some ways that age is not a big surprise because kids at that age tend to be too young to speak up,” she said. “We need to give more attention to families who have a hard time taking care of young children because of income and substance abuse. Especially the families that have had contact with children services. That gives us more opportunity to protect them.”
The agency is trying to address the issue, Boatwright said. It is focused on decreasing natural and accidental deaths with their car seat safety, water safety and safe sleeping campaign for infants, who can be smothered by blankets and sleeping in the same bed with their parents. They are also increasing their interaction with medical experts through the Internet with web cams.