Chesterton Tribune

Lead Indiana child death investigator resigns; protests new policies

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The head of a state team investigating child deaths resigned this week because she said issues within the Department of Child Services made it impossible to do her job.

The Indianapolis Star reported Saturday that forensic pediatrician and IU School of Medicine professor Antoinette Laskey submitted a letter of resignation to Gov. Mitch Daniels, dated Tuesday. Laskey had been in the unpaid job since 2004.

In the letter, she was especially critical of the state’s new legislation to set up centralized locations for abuse investigations and a recent report that touted just 25 child deaths in Indiana in 2010.

“The recent publicity of ‘record low deaths’ counted as child abuse or neglect fails to recognize the fact that hundreds of children died preventable deaths in our state,” Laskey wrote in her letter to Daniels. “There is no success story in being able to re-categorize them as not the responsibility of the Department of Child Services.”

Daniels’ press secretary Jane Jankowski said she wasn’t aware if the governor had seen the letter as of Saturday and had no comment.

DCS Director James Payne said the letter’s tone surprised him.

“My only comment is perhaps it is a good time for her to leave,” he told the Star. “She has been in that position for a number of years, and maybe this is a good opportunity for a fresh look at things, particularly with the new child fatality legislation.”

Laskey said the new law is not in line with what experts nationwide are doing to investigate deaths. She also said that investigative teams in the new centers would not be independent enough to do their jobs properly.

“Indiana is not following best practice,” Laskey wrote, “and further, we are instituting failed practices that other states used years ago to no avail.”

Payne said the new system will bring order to what he believes is a disorganized, irregular process for investigations.

“She helped create the language (for the legislation) when we first proposed it last year,” Payne told the Associated Press. “I hadn’t heard anything more about it and I thought it was acceptable. This was the first I heard she didn’t like it. There was no communication.”

Laskey declined to comment further on her resignation.

While at the helm, she attempted to broaden the state’s child death review process, but found little support in the governor’s office or the Legislature. Her investigative team received no state funding.

Teri Covington, director of the National Center for the Review and Prevention of Child Deaths, said Laskey is considered a national expert. Covington added that Indiana is one of the few states that investigates only abuse and neglect rather than a full range of deaths, including preventable ones.

“That’s where Indiana really falls behind,” Covington said.

Dr. Roland M. Kohr, a forensic pathologist and Vigo County coroner, has served on the state team since 2004. He said he fears that the new, essentially DCS-controlled approach to fatality review could lead to misleading statistics.

“To say the latest statistics show a great improvement is not being honest,” Kohr said. “It may do some good politically, but it doesn’t do any service to the children of Indiana.”

 

 

 

Posted 3/19/2012