HELENA – The Montana Department of Justice released its 2017 Child Fatality Review Wednesday, outlining findings from investigations of 14 previously reported deaths to the Department of Public Health and Human Services.

The Office of Child and Family Ombudsman (OCFO) produced the report looking at data from December 16, 2016 to December 15, 2017. Fourteen child deaths were included in this year’s report compared to 14 included in the 2016 report which was comprised of 16 months.

Montana law requires child fatalities to be reported to the OCFO which then prompts an investigation and review.

The Child Fatality Review Board found 10 of the 14 deaths involved children on year old or younger; two were children aged one to three and two were four to 17.

Story continues below

The report said, “Confirming cause of death remained difficult,” but did outline some information regarding causes of death. Four were ruled accidental, including three which involved co-sleeping and drug use by the mother. Five of the 14 deaths were deemed homicides; two were due to medical complications for the child and the report noted that those two included drug use by the mother, “which may have contributed to the child’s health.” One of the deaths was ruled a suicide and the two remaining fatalities were for unknown reasons or the investigation is ongoing.

An open report was already on file for 43 percent of these child fatality cases. The report states that the fatality occurred within 60 days of the last report for 43 percent of the cases but 21 percent of these assessments had missing parts or all of the required supervisory reviews.

Outlined in the report, 43 percent of these fatality cases there was a criminal history on an alleged perpetrator. Out of the 14 cases investigated, 29 percent resulted in the siblings involved getting removed following the death.

Drug and alcohol use were presented in 64 percent of these cases, and of the cases involving drugs, methamphetamine was present in 33 percent of the investigations. Many of these cases had many risk factors, and had some combinations of prior criminal history, alcohol or drug use, domestic violence, housing or financial instability or even prior history with Child and Family Services.

Ultimately, the Board recommends the Child Abuse and Neglect Commission develop a process that requires a review of all available resources and information related to child fatalities with suspended abuse and neglect factors.

The Board also wants to see DPHHS modernize the case management system, complete an internal review on critical incidents and review safety assessment protocols.

Montana’s Attorney General Tim Fox issued a statement along with the release of this report Wednesday and 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.”