RICCF Calls for Immediate Action


Tuesday, April 16, 2024
Contact: Ben Smith

Rhode Island Coalition for Children and Families Calls for Immediate Action in Response to Crisis of Child Fatalities and Near Fatalities

PROVIDENCE, RI – The Rhode Island Coalition for Children and Families (RICCF) is calling on Governor McKee and the General Assembly to take immediate action in response to the alarming rise in child fatalities and near fatalities in Rhode Island. RICCF urges state leaders to recognize the crisis, take action, and invest in the policies, programs, and services that increase the ability of children and families to access necessary social, mental health, and substance use support services.

“The safety and well-being of our children and youth are at grave risk, and the collective challenges they face demand immediate attention,” said Tanja Kubas-Meyer, Executive Director of RICCF. “The Rhode Island Coalition for Children and Families implores Governor McKee and the General Assembly to recognize the urgency of this situation by strengthening our state’s network of high-quality services and support systems for children and families. For children facing adverse circumstances such as poverty, exposure to violence, mental health, or substance use crises, having access to crisis response and ongoing supportive services can be the difference between life and death.”

RICCF calls on the Governor, agency directors, and state leaders to collaborate on an integrated and interdisciplinary action plan incorporating the input of policymakers, state agencies, academic and research institutions, medical professionals, experts, people with lived experiences, and community service providers to address this crisis. This action plan will serve as a comprehensive blueprint to rebuild and strengthen Rhode Island’s broken child safety net, aimed at addressing the root causes of these tragedies and ensuring the safety and well-being of Rhode Island’s children and youth.

“I have been a child advocate in Rhode Island for decades, and never before have I witnessed such a staggering number of tragedies without a clear plan of action to prevent further harm,” said Darlene Allen, CEO, and Executive Director of Adoption RI and Chairperson of the board of RICCF. “We cannot afford to stand idly by while our children suffer.”

According to information released by the Office of the Child Advocate in May 2023, there were 28 fatalities and 28 near fatalities of children and youth under the age of 21 between 2019 and 2023. Shockingly, between June 2023 and April 15, 2024, an additional 24 notices by the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) have been issued indicating 14 near fatalities and 10 child fatalities.

“I witness firsthand the despair and hopelessness that many of the youth we serve are grappling with,” said Lauri Smalls, Executive Director of Turning the Corner Residential Treatment Programs and Vice Chair of the board of RICCF. “The urgency for intervention and support cannot be overstated. We must act swiftly and decisively to provide these young individuals with the necessary resources and assistance to overcome their challenges and find hope for the future.”

The ages of the affected children range from infancy to adolescence, and the underlying causes are diverse. While the specifics of each case vary, contributing factors to these tragic incidents include substance abuse, mental health needs, interpersonal violence, housing instability, unsafe sleep practices, and the proliferation of firearms in our communities. Sadly, RICCF expects there to be many more cases of child fatalities and near fatalities that are not captured in the data currently available from the state.

“We’ve reached a critical juncture where the tragic deaths of children have become all too common, and it’s clear that we’ve grown numb to these heartbreaking losses,” said Margaret Holland McDuff, President and CEO of Family Service of Rhode Island and Government Relations Committee Chair of RICCF. “The fraying of our children’s well-being safety net has reached a point where children are falling through the cracks in the system, leading to disastrous outcomes. We must confront this reality head-on and take urgent action to rebuild and strengthen our systems of support for Rhode Island’s children and families.”

RICCF acknowledges that addressing the crisis in children’s and family behavioral health requires a collaborative effort involving a mobilization of interagency and cross-sector resources encompassing public health, child protection, behavioral health, education, and more. Addressing this issue demands a comprehensive, coordinated approach across all sectors to effectively support the needs of all Rhode Island’s children and families regardless of demographics, status, and background.

“There is a critical need for more holistic, community-based supports that address the underlying factors contributing to children’s health and safety,” said Beth Lemme Bixby, President and CEO of Tides Family Services and board member of RICCF. “Investing in crisis intervention and ongoing supports is not only a compassionate response to children in immediate need but also a cost-effective solution that benefits our communities as a whole.”

Notices of fatalities and near fatalities by the Department of Children, Youth, and Families since June 2023:


The Rhode Island Coalition for Children and Families comprises 43 community-based organizations, providing direct service or advocacy for children and families in need, children’s and families’ behavioral health, families experiencing homelessness, and youth in foster care. The coalition is dedicated to fostering equity and access to critical supports and services for every child and family across Rhode Island.
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