Child Deaths in Tennessee: A Disturbing Rise in Suspected Abuse and Neglect

The safety and well-being of our children are paramount, yet recent data from the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) paints a grim picture. In 2023, the number of child deaths under investigation for suspected abuse or neglect surged by nearly 30%, marking the highest toll in nearly a decade. These tragic losses demand our attention and action.

Unsettling Cases

A Three-Year-Old’s Tragic End: A three-year-old boy accidentally shot himself in the head after accessing his father’s unsecured Ruger 9 mm semi-automatic handgun. The preventable tragedy highlights the importance of responsible firearm storage.

A 4-Year-Old’s Grim Discovery: The lifeless body of a 4-year-old girl was found stuffed in a trash can. The circumstances surrounding her death remain under investigation, but the loss is heartbreaking.

Child safety

Infant Abandoned in Unlicensed Day Care: On his very first day at an unlicensed day care facility, a 3-month-old infant was found blue, still, and alone. Six other infants had been abandoned by caretakers. Tragically, he did not survive.

DCS Involvement and Missed Opportunities

  • Over two-thirds of these children had come to the attention of DCS social workers within three years of their deaths.
  • Some died while DCS was actively investigating their families, while others passed away after DCS had closed their cases.

Child Fatality Prevention and Accountability

  • Eleven children were in DCS custody when they died, including a 16-year-old girl who overdosed on heroin after running away from a DCS facility.
  • The Task Force recommends strengthening the child fatality prevention system and using the National Fatality Review Case Reporting System to better understand child deaths.

Infant Mortality and Firearm Deaths

  • The infant mortality rate in 2021 was 6.8 per 1,000 live births, remaining among the highest in the country.
  • The Task Force advocates for Medicaid funding to support maternal healthcare strategies and efforts to prevent infant deaths related to unsafe sleep.
  • Youth suicide rates and firearm deaths for children ages 0-17 have increased dramatically.


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