Liberty County’s Childhood Fatality Review Board met Tuesday afternoon. It was the first official meeting the board has had in months, according to County Coroner Reggie Pierce.
“The last time we had a sit-down meeting was some time last year,” Pierce said. “We’ve had several round-the-table email discussions, though.”
Atlantic Judicial Circuit District Attorney Tom Durden acknowledged the review board falls within the purview of the district attorney or his designee. For many years, that designee was former Liberty County Health Department Administrator Deidre Howell, who had served as board chairperson. Durden said not only did Howell step down, but her state contact in Atlanta stepped down. He said the board now is “back on track.”
Pierce added that sometimes it is difficult to comply with the state requirement for the board to meet and review every child fatality within 30 days. He said quite often they don’t have the autopsy results or other critical information to have an informed discussion about the child’s death. Durden noted that most child fatalities are accidents or natural causes. He said he usually doesn’t find out about a fatality unless or until he hears from law enforcement or the coroner’s office.
In addition to having someone designated as his representative to meet the state requirement, Durden sends someone from the DA’s office. Samantha Ashdown, victim/witness advocate for Liberty County, said she serves as that representative. She said it made sense for her to serve on the Childhood Fatality Review Board because she works with victims’ families.
She said other agencies represented on the board include the Hinesville Police Department, Liberty County Sheriff’s Office, Division of Family and Children Services, Liberty Regional Medical Center, the coroner, Helen’s Haven and Family Connection. Most review board meetings have 10-12 agency representatives participating, Ashdown said.
David Floyd, coordinator for the Family Connection, is the new chairman of the review board. He said on Tuesday that the board reviewed eight child fatalities that occurred in 2012 and passed along its report to the state. He emphasized that the role of the review board is not to find blame or conduct an investigation.
“When we look at a fatality, it’s already happened,” Floyd said. “We’re looking for how it could have been prevented. We’re not doing a criminal investigation.”
Floyd, who said he’s been an active member of the review board for several years, said he started participating in the review board to help implement preventative measures that might save children’s lives. He said the board is not so much looking backward to the fatality as much as it is looking forward to ways to prevent the same thing from happening to another child, whether it was an accidental death or result of child abuse or child neglect.
“When we review a case, each agency that has anything to do with it is there for the meeting,” added Pierce, who noted that Fort Stewart representatives also participate, but if a child dies on the base, they will conduct their own review first. “We’re now scheduled to meet every quarter unless there have been no fatalities. In that case, we’ll talk to each other by email.”
According to www.childdeathreview.com, the Georgia General Assembly enacted legislation in 1990 that requires each county to create a Childhood Fatality Review Committee to work with the state-level committee to review the death of every child up to age 18, regardless of whether the death was of a suspicious nature. The review is supposed to be completed within 30 days of the child’s death.