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As a Hartford mother faces arraignment in her toddler’s death, report examines systemic issues

Sarah Eagan, the state’s child advocate, wants lawmakers to create an oversight structure for the children’s mental health system in Connecticut.
JACQUELINE RABE THOMAS
/
CTMIRROR.ORG
Sarah Eagan, the state’s child advocate, wants lawmakers to create an oversight structure for the children’s mental health system in Connecticut.

The state’s child welfare watchdog says more home visits by the Connecticut Department of Children and Families could help reduce toddler and infant deaths.

Her comments come as the mother of a two-year-old boy, who died after falling out a window of an apartment in Hartford, is scheduled to be arraigned on Thursday. Tabitha Frank faces 11 charges, including manslaughter. She had left her son home with his young siblings.

The state’s child welfare agency, DCF, had reportedly visited Frank’s home a month before the boy died.

State Child Advocate Sarah Eagan, who monitors the public and private agencies that protect children, recently released a report on the causes of toddler deaths and policy solutions.

It studied 100 recent cases of unnatural deaths of children under the age of three between the years 2019 and 2022. The report found that more than half of those deaths were related to unsafe sleep practices, and almost 10% of cases involved fentanyl. Many of the cases involved families who were involved in state programs, including: Medicaid, the court system, the Office of Early Childhood, Mental Health and Addiction Services or The Department of Children and Families.

Eagan told Connecticut Public that those public programs often need to go further.

“To prevent child fatalities, we need to shore up support and give you health care supports, nutrition supports, housing supports, home visiting support. So we are giving, via our public policy, every infant the best start that they need and deserve in life,” Egan said. “I think the state is doing a lot of really good things and trying to expand home visiting and other supports. So, for infants and their caregivers, we have to double down on that.”

The report also found children who died were disproportionately male and more than half were Black, Hispanic or biracial.

“Like we see in the national data, lower income children and children of color disproportionately have poor health outcomes and die for preventable reasons,” Eagan said. “And we see that in Connecticut.”

The two-year-old, who was Black, was reportedly seen landing head first on the concrete after he fell out the window of his mother’s subsidized third floor apartment.

Meanwhile, child welfare officials say they’re reviewing their interactions with the Frank family. The other siblings are now in state custody.

Connecticut Public's Cassandra Basler and John Henry Smith contributed to this report.

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