Parent education can save children's lives, CAPA says in wake of county deaths

A Beaufort child abuse prevention group hopes better parenting education can help lower an alarming statistic: Five children have died of unnatural causes this year in Beaufort County.

The Child Abuse Prevention Association last week issued a news release calling for more education for parents following the arrest of 25-year-old Naticia Laurent on homicide-by-child-abuse charges. Police say she fatally injured her 4-year-old stepdaughter Giselle while trying to discipline the child.

This year, two other fatalities were ruled accidental. One infant died after becoming trapped between a mattress and crib, and another was smothered while sleeping in a bed with an adult.

Meanwhile, the deaths of a 5-month-old girl May 10 and a 2-year-old boy Sept. 19 are being investigated by the Beaufort Police Department, said Beaufort County Coroner Ed Allen.

Katie Grindle, director of community relations for CAPA, said child fatalities like the ones in the county this year are preventable tragedies.

"It's all about education, education, education," Grindle said. "You've got to break the cycle of child abuse and domestic violence. We offer parenting classes a couple nights a week, and we also offer support groups where parents can just get together and talk to one another. These deaths just break our heart."

Laurent's arrest last week is the only criminal case so far to stem from this year's fatalities.

According to a study released Wednesday by the Every Child Matters Education Fund, a national children's advocacy group, 28 children died in South Carolina from 2001 to 2007 from child abuse or neglect. The study also reported South Carolina as spending the least amount in the nation -- $14.72 per capita -- on child welfare and protective programs. Rhode Island ranked highest, spending $181 per person.

Beaufort Police Chief Matt Clancy said area law enforcement rely on a watchful public to prevent cases of child abuse and neglect from becoming fatal.

"The child's safety is the most important thing," Clancy said. "If the parent is too stressed out and not taking care of their children or not handling their children well, we can head off a situation like that. We can help get the parents the help they need and get the child put into a safe environment. It's important that people tell us if they suspect something."