Parenting is tough. Caring for a child is one of the most important jobs an adult can have, and this includes keeping children safe from harm. While parents and caregivers do their best for their child, it is important that our communities have systems in place to prevent maltreatment, help keep Kentucky children safe, and strengthen families.

Kentucky’s Child Fatality and Near Fatality External Review Panel released their 2019 Annual Report earlier this month, which consists of a comprehensive review of every child death and near death within the 2018 fiscal year suspected to be the result of child abuse or neglect. This panel, consisting of 20 professionals from a variety of disciplines, is required by state law to meet throughout the year to review each child’s case and make recommendations to prevent future incidences.

The report indicates a sad trend that exists in many such cases over the years: our youngest children (ages 4 and under) account for a large majority of deaths and near deaths due to child maltreatment – 75% of the cases reviewed in FY2018. Among the categories of deaths and near deaths, the top four were overdose/ingestion of drugs (accounting for 24% of cases reviewed), followed by physical abuse (18%), abusive head trauma (16%), and neglect (15%).

Based on their thorough review of the causes, circumstances, and family characteristics of these deaths and near deaths, and role and response of our state systems, the panel made 32 recommendations to keep Kentucky children healthy, safe, and protected. Here is a summary of just a handful of those recommendations:

  • Messaging regarding safe storage of medications

An overwhelming number of cases reviewed by the panel were a result of overdose/ingestion of a wide range of drugs. The panel recommended more evidence-informed messaging regarding the safe storage of medications as well as encouraging the Kentucky Board of Pharmacy to develop recommendations to enhance safety packaging for prescription drugs.

  • Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) workforce supports

The panel found that 78% of all cases reviewed for FY18 had a prior history of involvement with child protective services. The panel continued to express concern over the high turnover rates within DCBS. The report noted that addressing workforce supports is “important to every family touched by [DCBS] and deserved by the dedicated professionals who enter the field.” While the panel applauds recent effort made by the Department to address these concerns, they continue to recommend resolutions that address this issue, including ensuring that DCBS receives adequate funding to do so.

  • DCBS expansion of Family Preservation Programs

Several of DCBS’s programs are proving to be over 90% effective in keeping children safely in their homes, including the Family Preservation Program (FPP), Kentucky Strengthening and Empowering Parents (K-STEP) program, and the Sobriety Treatment and Recovery Team (START) program. The panel recommended that the Biennial Budget provide the necessary funding to continue and expand these highly successful programs.

  • DCBS funding for implementation of “Safety Model”

Another cause of concern is the number of child maltreatment cases that are reported to DCBS but are ultimately “screened-out” because they do not meet DCBS’s criteria for an investigation.  DCBS will be implementing a new “Safety Model” which will lead to more consistent application of screening criteria. The panel recommended that DCBS should ensure necessary funding for the full implementation of the “Safety Model” and that they share the results of the analysis that takes place during implementation.

  • Continued education and training of medical providers

The panel found that 23% of the cases reviewed for FY18 identified a missed opportunity for medical providers to report their concerns. The panel suggested that the Kentucky Hospital Association continue to promote local hospitals to utilize the two pediatric medical centers in the state, as well as continuing to educate medical professionals on the TEN-4 bruising rule to assist with thorough assessment.

The deaths and near deaths of children highlighted in this report are 100% preventable. We all have a role in preventing child maltreatment and the sometimes-fatal consequences of that.  Kentucky Youth Advocates is a proud partner of The Kosair Charities® Face It® Movement, a statewide campaign that builds awareness around child abuse and neglect prevention, promotes best practices to keep kids safe, and advocates for policies to prevent and end child maltreatment.

For more information about the Face It Movement and how you can become a face that will end child abuse, visit