Politics & Government

Child-protection panel wants to learn from death of Floyd County toddler

FRANKFORT — More could have been done to prevent the death of 2-year-old Watson Adkins, said members of a panel reviewing deaths from child abuse in Kentucky.

Watson, who was removed from his home and placed with a maternal aunt, was later found dead at his aunt and uncle's home in Floyd County in September 2011. Gladys and Jason Dickerson have been charged in his death and are scheduled for trial in August.

Dr. Melissa Currie said Monday that social workers took Watson to a pediatrician and asked for a full body scan because they suspected abuse. The pediatrician declined, said Currie, a member of the Child Fatality and Near Fatality External Review panel and a pediatrician at the University of Louisville.

Watson Adkins' mother — who had lost custody of her children — also took pictures of Watson and her other children to show that they were being abused by the aunt and uncle, according to the state's case file on Watson. But it's not clear who evaluated those photos.

"If photographs of this child had been taken earlier and evaluated by someone trained to look at them, this death may have been prevented, and I stress the word may because we don't know," said Currie, the only Kentucky pediatrician who specializes in child abuse.

Dr. Tracey Corey, the state's chief medical examiner and a panel member, said that's part of the problem — there are too few doctors trained to look at an injury and determine cause or blame.

There are more doctors trained to identify sexual abuse in Kentucky then physical abuse, Corey said.

"But physical abuse kills kids," Corey said.

Corey said the state's child-advocacy centers, which do forensic interviews of abused children, could learn how to better document and take photos of physical abuse.

The 17-member panel decided at its Monday meeting to draft recommendations for improving the state's child protection system by September. The group, created by Gov. Steve Beshear in July, must present its final report to lawmakers and the public in December.

The General Assembly approved legislation this year that slightly expands the panel's membership and grants it access to uncensored case files of state child-protection workers and other information it can't currently access. The new law takes effect in June.

Despite the changes, the panel decided Monday to continue work it began in November reviewing approximately 140 cases of children who died or nearly died from abuse or neglect.

The panel — which includes doctors, lawyers, prosecutors, police officers, domestic-violence advocates and others — has identified key problems within the child-protection system, including lack of communication between social workers and police during initial investigations, lack of pediatricians who specialize in identifying abuse, and inadequate mental health and addiction services.

In other cases, the group has noted that abused children are sometimes taken to a hospital in a nearby state. In several instances, it's unclear whether criminal charges were ever filed because of a lack of coordination across state lines between law enforcement and social services agencies, Corey said.

The panel will meet again in July. In the meantime, the group decided to seek grant money from charities and children's hospitals to fund a full-time staff person for the panel.

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