Statewide NewsTexas Saw Uptick in Youth Suicides, Child Neglect Deaths in Pandemic Years

Child deaths caused by physical abuse have decreased since 2019. In the same period, however, child suicides have increased.
March 15, 2022
New state data shows that child fatalities caused by abuse or neglect have decreased since 2019. In the same period, however, certain kinds of maltreatment deaths, namely child suicides, notably increased.

Each year, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) publishes data on all child fatalities investigated by the agency. DFPS released its report for the 2021 fiscal year at the beginning of March.

Since 2012, child maltreatment fatalities reached a peak in Fiscal Year 2019 with 253 deaths caused by abuse or neglect. Although the agency has ramped up investigations into child maltreatment since 2019, the number of Texas children who have died because of abuse or neglect since then has decreased.

However, the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years saw an unusually high number of youth suicides in Texas.

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In Fiscal Year 2021, the agency’s report on child maltreatment deaths included 13 suicides of Texas minors. In Fiscal Year 2020, there were 8. In each year from 2016 to 2019, there were fewer than six child suicides in the DFPS reports.

To protect the children’s privacy, DFPS does not chart suicides on their own in the maltreatment reports unless there are more than six in a given year. However, the category of deaths that includes suicides has visibly swelled over the course of the pandemic. The same category includes medical neglect, physical neglect, and abandonment.

In the same period, the number of child deaths by physical abuse dipped after a peak in 2018. However, deaths by physical abuse have still not decreased to the most recent trough in 2017.

Child deaths from neglect dramatically outpaced deaths by physical abuse in 2020. Suicides are included in the “Neglect” category.

Children aged 10-17 account for a greater share of deaths in Fiscal Year 2021 than in any year of the past decade. Children too young to attend school continue to account for the majority of child maltreatment deaths.

“Based on the confirmed child abuse and neglect-related fatalities over the past 10 fiscal years, children 3 years of age and younger were almost 80 percent of all confirmed child abuse and neglect fatalities,” the report reads.

“[H]owever, the past two years have had a marked increase in child fatalities involving older children.”

Although it only extends to 2020, federal data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agrees with the DFPS trends.

While the DFPS reports only count suicides that were reported for investigation, the CDC counts all child suicides. According to the federal numbers, Texas youth suicides hit a peak in 2020.

In four of the seven major Texas counties where federal data is available, youth suicides in 2020 rose from 2019. In three counties — Dallas, Tarrant, and Travis — youth suicides peaked in 2020.

Like DFPS, the CDC masks low suicide counts to protect children’s privacy. Because of data masking, data is only available for counties and years with more than 10 youth suicides.

According to the DFPS report, more than one of the 13 children who died by suicide in 2021 had a special medical need, including bipolar disorder, anxiety or depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

The DFPS report suggests that COVID-19 may have driven the unusual suicide trend.

“The impact of the past two years on youth is also emerging in the data,” the report reads.

“In FY2021, thirteen youth died by suicide, a devastating loss for families and their community.”


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Isaiah Mitchell

Isaiah Mitchell is a reporter for The Texan, a Texas native, and a huge Allman Brothers fan. He graduated cum laude from Trinity University in 2020 with a degree in English. Isaiah loves playing music and football with his family.

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