CNS–The number of youngsters in Los Angeles County killed by a family member increased slightly from 2004 to 2005, as did adolescent suicides and infant deaths, according to child-abuse recently released reports.
The Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect released three annual reports on child abuse, child fatalities and abandoned infants.
In 2005, 33 children were killed by a parent, family member or caregiver, up from 30 in 2004, according to ICAN's report.
The leading cause of those deaths was "multiple traumas," and 79 percent of those children were less than five years old when they died, according to the report.
Children's fathers or their mother's boyfriends were responsible for most of those crimes, according to officials.
In 2005, 15 youths–11 boys and four girls–took their own lives, up from 13 in 2004. They ranged in age from 12 to 17, and the most common method of suicide was hanging, followed by self-inflicted gunshot wounds.
Signs that a child may be contemplating suicide include depression, anxiety, isolation, a lack of interest in regular activities and a drop in grades, said Michael Pines with the Los Angeles County Office of Education.
"Children that are desperate, they need to be recognized, and we need to intervene early on," Pines said. "Schools and parents need to work together to intervene early so that kids get help."
The reports also showed that 140 children died from accidents–usually traffic collisions–in 2005.
Another 109 children died of "undetermined" causes, according to ICAN, up from 84 in 2004. Twenty-five of those children were infants who were "co- sleeping" with one or more adults at the time of their deaths.
The slight increase in those statistics is not cause for immediate concern, said Deanne Tilton Durfee, the council's executive director, who noted abuse-related homicides reached an all-time high of 61 in 1991.
"Every child's death is alarming, but the increases were very small compared to the overall decline, so right now we're not alarmed by that," Durfee said.
"We are not alarmed by the slight increase by a few cases, but we are alarmed by each case," she added. "We do review each case and we don't want people to feel this is no longer a problem and they shouldn't pay attention to the hazards."
Fifty-five newborns have been turned over to county authorities since 2002 under the Safe Surrender program, according to the agency's report.
That program allows a parent or someone designated by a parent to surrender a healthy baby within 72 hours of birth to any county hospital or fire station without facing repercussions.
Mothers who surrendered their babies have ranged in age from 17 to 42. The one common element in all 55 surrenders is that the mothers hid their pregnancies, Durfee said.
The Safe Surrender program, in addition to mandatory reporting laws, may be partially responsible for the decline in abuse-related homicides, Durfee said.
The Department of Children and Family Services, which is responsible for 22,000 children, received 162,711 reports of child abuse in 2005. Also that year, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department investigated 3,308 cases of child abuse, and the Los Angeles Police Department responded to 3,222 allegations of abuse.
"Children are helpless," said Sheriff Lee Baca, the council's chairman. "Children have a need to be guarded and protected by their parents first, and then society and the agencies will be there to help."
Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley said that in his experience, drugs, especially methamphetamine, are a "common element in some of the worst cases of abuse I've ever seen."
"I think it's time we acknowledge that drug abuse is not a victimless crime. Often times, there is a direct correlation to a crime against a child, and others," Cooley said.
For more information or to report child abuse, call (800) 540-4000. For issues involving suicide or depression, the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health hotline can be reached at (800) 854-7771. To reach the Safe Surrender program, call (877) BABY-SAFE.