The tombstone page lists the deaths of children following their removal from the care of their parents by force of law. We do not report on true orphans or deaths that would have occurred without social services intervention, such as those caused by a parent during visitation or a relative having custody with consent of the parents. But deaths in custody of relatives are included when parental custody was revoked. Likewise, in boot camps and psychiatric hospitals, we include only those deaths of inmates not placed voluntarily by their parents. The list ends with children dying without a published name. Where a bureaucratic source is available the control number substitutes for the surname.

The tomb.htm file contains annotations giving the citation for each case. To see them display the html source, use this link if you came from an archived or framed copy. All deaths have been authenticated with a source at least as reliable as a daily newspaper. The modest standards of journalism are better than those of social services. Where an authoritative source verifies death in non-parental care, other details may come from less authoritative sources. For cause of death, shaken baby is often a false accusation, even against foster parents. Sometimes, we report the euphemisms used by the child protectors, such as "airway compromise" for suffocation. The age limit is 18 years. For pictures and biographies of many of the children, refer to Suncana Alvarado.

Our statistical estimates show that in the United States and Canada combined, there are over 1000 deaths per year in foster care. The list drawn mostly from news accounts on the web shows in recent years about 100 a year, so most deaths are kept out of the press.


Preparation of the list of deaths required examining thousands of articles from internet news archives. A pattern of response by the responsible agencies emerged that appears to come from a script:

  • We express our condolences to the natural parents.
  • We have removed all other children from the offending foster home.
  • Confidentiality rules prevent us from discussing details of this case.
  • We are investigating the case to determine what went wrong.
  • We are changing our procedures so that this will not happen again. The most common change is instituting more background checks. Others are improved training, adding social workers or a new computer system.
  • In some cases, we are prosecuting the offending foster parent.
  • When family intervention was indirect, such as use of threats without court action, child protectors deny any involvement with the family.
  • Complaints of abuse by foster parents get short shrift until a death, then child protectors search for a delinquent mandated reporter to prosecute.
  • Sometimes a program is launched against the specific cause of death: swimming pools, guns, dogs.
  • In unusual cases, the child protectors establish a fund for the benefit of one of the victims. The public is invited to help by making donations.
  • On anonymous internet forums, social work acolytes blame the parents for the abuse and neglect that got the child into foster care.
  • When investigations persist, CPS admits that failings occurred because procedures were not in place to deal with the problems that arose in the case.
  • In the most notorious cases, when press criticism becomes intense, a blue-ribbon commission of senior social service workers is convened. A year or two later it returns a report of over a hundred pages, concluding that problems could be overcome with more funding, more staff and more legal powers.

With thousands of improvements made to procedures, foster care should now be close to perfection. In reality, little seems to change over time.

Getting Away with Murder

The Washington Post requested information on a twelve-year-old boy who died unattended in a hallway while in custody of the Department of Human Services. On December 5, 1999 they reported getting just one document in response. This child is not on our list of deaths in custody. In other cases the paper reported that after questions were raised about deaths in custody the department destroyed documents.


A few parents are disturbed to see the names of their loved ones displayed in public. Shame for the events in the list should not attach to the families, but to the child protectors who inflict the damage. We hope the list will contribute to the only reform that can make child deaths less likely - leaving children with their parents.