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384 children died of unnatural causes in L.A. County in 2007, report shows

April 30, 2009|Garrett Therolf

More than 380 children in Los Angeles County died in 2007 as a result of drownings, gunshots and other unnatural causes, according to a report scheduled to be released today by county officials.

"In my opinion, all of these deaths were preventable," said Deanne Tilton Durfee, director of the Los Angeles County Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect, which produced the report.

For the second year, the agency focused particularly on the issue of "co-sleeping," the practice of sleeping in the same bed, couch or chair with an infant. It was blamed for 42 deaths in 2007.

"Some of these children suffocated when an adult mistakenly rolled over; others were in beds with a lot of bedding and toys. We are going to launch a campaign on this issue and keep talking about it," Tilton Durfee said. In some of the suffocation deaths, the adults responsible for unintentionally smothering a child were intoxicated at the time.

The report's 384 deaths include 12 children who died as a result of abuse or neglect despite the oversight of the county Department of Children and Family Services. The Times first reported those cases last week.

Ten of the unnatural deaths were ruled suicides, according to the report. "The suicide rate is the lowest in years and might be the lowest in the state," Tilton Durfee said.

At the same time, the cause of death was undetermined in 127 cases, more than double the figure for the previous year.

Homicides claimed 26 children, the lowest number in at least 14 years. There were 121 accidental deaths of children, including 58 involving automobiles.

For the first time, the report also included data from the district attorney's office showing the number of child abuse cases in 2007. A total of 4,872 cases were referred to the department for prosecution, and charges were filed in 2,292 of those cases. Prosecutors got convictions in 91% of the cases filed, the report states.

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garrett.therolf@latimes.com

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