From a statistical standpoint, 2008 was the year of child homicides in Kansas.
Of all kinds of child deaths — including natural causes, unintentional injuries and violence — the largest increase was in child homicides. The number rose 27 percent from 2007 — to 26 homicide deaths in 2008, says a report released Monday by Kansas Attorney General Steve Six and the State Child Death Review Board.
Nine of those child homicides occurred in Sedgwick County, —according to the death review board's 2010 annual report, based on data from 2008.
The 26 child homicides statewide was the highest since 1998, when 36 occurred. The number fell to a low of 12 in 2005 but has increased steadily since.
Sixteen of the 26 victims were children from younger than 4 years old. The other 10 victims were ages 15 to 17.
Half of the 26 homicides in 2008 were classified as child abuse.
Of the 13 children who died from abuse, the report said: Sixty-one percent were killed by someone other than the biological parent. Thirty-eight percent were left alone with and killed by a mother's boyfriend who was not the biological father.
The report, while not giving identifying details, gave this example:
"Angry over a variety of domestic-related issues, an adult male abusively killed a 3-year-old. The man was not the child's biological father, but was caring for her at the time of her death. Prior concerns of abuse had been noted by family members, but effective intervention was not provided."
Most of the abuse deaths involved "blunt force trauma," usually when a small child was shaken severely, causing the brain to shift violently back and forth.
"The blood vessels and brain tissue cannot tolerate the sheering force caused by the violent shaking," the report said. Blood vessels break, causing internal bleeding. The child may have trouble breathing.
A child might survive, but with injuries including blindness, developmental delay, seizures, paralysis and brain damage.
The review lists maternal and household risk factors associated with abuse. Maternal risk factors include "young age, less than 12 years of education, and unmarried parents." Household factors include "male not related to child in home, prior substantiation of child abuse and neglect, substance abuse, and low socioeconomic status."
"The most effective methods for preventing child abuse involve programs that enhance parenting skills for at-risk parents," the report said. Such programs can include nurses who visit homes and coach people on parenting skills and "quality childhood programs which include parent training," it said.
The report recommends that people use common sense to determine whether abuse has occurred. Although some bruises can come from normal activities, if there are "injuries on other parts of the body, such as the stomach, cheeks, ears, buttocks, mouth, or thighs consider the possibility that the child is being abused," the report said.
The report recommends that people who suspect child abuse call the Kansas Protection Report Center at 800-922-5330 (toll-free) or 785-296-2561 (Topeka.)
After a North Newton toddler, Vincent Hill, died earlier this year from injuries attributed to abuse even though a neighbor had called the report center, two Wichita grandmothers began a grass-roots effort — promoting signs urging people to call 911 if they suspect child abuse. That way, the women said, possible victims can get immediate help.
Among other findings in the Child Death Review Board report:
* Deaths attributed to unintentional injuries in motor vehicle crashes fell 18 percent in 2008 compared with 2007. The board said it "attributes a portion of this drop to the Kansas Legislature enacting the booster seat and primary seat belt law for all children under age 17."
* The total number of child deaths in Kansas in 2008 was 502, down from 514 in 2007.
* Natural causes continued to account for the highest number of deaths _ 316. Of those, 64 percent were infants less than 29 days old. Most natural deaths were due to "prematurity and congenital malformation."
* The number of suicides — nine — represented a significant decrease.
* There were 49 deaths from SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The report lists SIDS risk factors including: infants sleeping on their stomachs, an overheated sleep environment, a mother smoking during pregnancy, late prenatal care or no prenatal care, a young mother, "pre-term or low-birth weight" and a male baby. African American and American Indian/Alaska Native populations have a two to three times higher incidence of SIDS than the general population.
* There were 23 deaths classified as "undetermined" _ the highest in 15 years.
In some cases, "undetermined" means a cause could not be found despite investigation. But other cases "revealed incomplete investigations or law enforcement agencies not being informed of the death" or situations where autopsies weren't done or were incomplete or where toxicology reports weren't requested, the board said.