Department of Justice Releases 2017 Child Fatality Review Report

HELENA – On Wednesday, the Montana Department of Justice released the 2017 Child Fatality Review Team Report, a review of deaths of children previously reported to the Child and Family Services Division (CFSD) of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS). It is the second report released by the Department of Justice’s Office of the Child and Family Ombudsman (OCFO) since mandated by the Montana Legislature in 2015.

State law requires DPHHS to notify the Montana Department of Justice the fatality of any child who had previously been reported to CFSD. DPHHS reported 14 deaths to the Office of the Child and Family Ombudsman between December 16, 2016 and December 15, 2017. (Last year’s report reviewed 14 deaths CFSD reported to the OCFO between July 1, 2015 and November 8, 2016.)

Speaking to the report, Attorney General Tim Fox said, “The review team’s findings are heartbreaking and simply unacceptable. I’m committed to working with Governor Bullock and DPHHS to give all Montanans the opportunity to live a healthy life. The state can and must do better.”

Of the 14 fatalities reviewed by the CFR Team:

  • Five deaths were deemed homicides.
  • Four deaths were ruled accidental.
  • Two deaths were due to medical complications for the child. Both included drug use by the mother, which may have contributed to the child’s health.
  • One death was confirmed as a suicide.
  • Two deaths were unknown for cause or the investigation is ongoing.

The review team also found:

  • Twelve of the fatalities involved prior reports to CFSD on the child/children in the home.
  • In nine of the cases, drugs or alcohol were identified as a possible factors.
  • Ten of the fatalities involved children one-year-old or younger.
  • Ten involved cases with surviving siblings, four involved cases in which a sibling or siblings were removed from the home following the fatality.
  • Six involved cases where the alleged perpetrator had a criminal history.
  • Six of the fatalities led to criminal charges being filed.

Through House Bill 303 (Kelker), the 2017 Legislature established the Child Abuse and Neglect Review Commission within DPHHS to address increasing child abuse and fatality cases in the state. State law requires DPHHS to “develop a strategic plan setting out measurable goals and strategies for reducing child abuse and neglect in Montana over a 5-year period.” State law requires the plan to be in place by August 15, 2018.

Click here to view the full report.