State revives program to review child deaths, inspire changes to reduce them


Twenty years ago, the state set up a system to review cases involving the deaths of children in Hawaii.

It’s a system that could also shed new light on the death of 3-year-old Fabian Garett-Garcia.

The Hawaii island toddler died while under foster care last month. His cause of death has not been determined.

We’ve learned that the state put together a Child Death Review panel in 1997 that was geared to help prevent similar tragedies.

We’re told that the review panel was instrumental in making dramatic changes statewide, but due to lack of funding, the program was put on hold.

The Hawaii Child Death Review System started at the time when “Peter Boy” Kema Jr. disappeared on Hawaii island. The state Legislature put the Department of Health in charge of experts to review all deaths of children.

Former lawmaker Suzanne Chun Oakland was the chairwoman of the Health and Human Services Committee and helped put the panel together.

“We could look at trends. We would be able to see if there are things that the state can do, our community can do, to prevent additional deaths,” she said.

Chun Oakland adds that the program was effective in helping the state Legislature put together a number of changes that helped reduce the number of preventable deaths in children.

“Fall prevention, drowning, child abuse that resulted in child deaths, those things we had information on and started to implement policies and educational programs that helped get our numbers down,” she said.

Chun Oakland adds that the state put more funding for community programs that helped prevent such tragedies.

But years later, the reports from the panel stopped. After we asked the Department of Health about the status of the review panel, we were told that it was put on hold in 2013 due to lack of funding.

But the Legislature reinstated it last year.

“It really should be that you get together, you discuss it, you research it, you have more interaction, and you come together with a joint report,” said former social worker Laurie Hirohata.

Hirohata was with the Department of Human Services when the review panel was still active, and hopes it provides answers to recent tragedies like the death of Garett-Garcia.

“My concern is that it should not be another one of those papers that we write for state government and it sits in the shelf collecting dust,” she said.

The health department says the panel is still reviewing the latest statistics, but recommendations will be made to the state Legislature.

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