Wis. child maltreatment death count different than federal report

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(WSAW) -- State child welfare departments and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are reporting different numbers of child deaths caused by abuse or neglect. Wisconsin is among the states seeing discrepancies.

InvestigateTV discovered many states are under-reporting, causing inaccurate data. Accurate data can help child advocates and legislators to create preventative changes, like child car seat laws and indoor smoking bans keeping more children from losing their lives.

7 Investigates requested data from the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF) to compare the total deaths its reporting annually, to the numbers HHS is reporting.

Between 2008-2017, there's not one year the two departments report the same number of child death due to abuse or neglect.

Year DCF HHS
2008 27 30
2009 23 24
2010 19 21
2011 32 24
2012 24 31
2013 22 21
2014 14 18
2015 25 17
2016 22 25
2017 30 31

Some years have a difference of eight deaths between the two agencies, but according to DCF's administrator in HHS's Child Maltreatment report from 2017, "No agency other than Wisconsin Department of Children and Families is involved in compiling child maltreatment fatality information."

DCF's director of communications told 7 Investigates "the federal report uses the federal fiscal year (FFY) and the state report uses the calendar year," which starts October 1 and ends on September 30. He is still checking to determine if any other reasons for the differences exists.

According the federal report, DCF only counts child deaths that were substantiated, meaning more likely than not, the death was caused by abuse or neglect. Specifically, the law states that case workers need a "preponderance of evidence."

In DCF's annual reports, it states "the only child fatalities included are child deaths that were associated with a substantiated allegation of maltreatment."

Looking through federal data, InvestigateTV noted Wisconsin has not reported any medical neglect cases in the last five years. DCF's director of communications told 7 Investigates "All types of neglect are covered in the data reporting of neglect." So the department did not separate those cases out if there were any medical neglect cases.

Between 2013-2017, nine of the death happened in north central Wisconsin; one in Vilas County in 2015, one in Lincoln County in 2016, in 2017 Wood County reported three, and Oneida, Clark, Forest, and Taylor counties each reported one that year. Three of those nine deaths happened while child protective services was handling their case, all of which happened in 2017.