Ann Ross, a professor of anthropology at NCSU, has served as an advisor to medical examiners and says that children die from neglect and starvation more often than society might like to think or believe.
By compiling forensic information in one location, Ross and her team say they “hope that we can save the lives of some children and find justice for others.”
Proving that a child was starved to death is difficult because it’s essentially impossible to assess normal indicators of starvation once a body has decomposed, says Ross, but there are ways like comparing teeth to other bones to determine whether a child was severely malnourished. Also, stunted growth of a child’s tibia can be a strong indicator of starvation, for example, according to NCSU.
There are other ways of determining abuse. For example, rib fractures are very rare in accidental trauma, so the presence of rib fractures in children is highly suggestive of abuse, says Ross.
The NCSU team’s paper, “A brief history of fatal child maltreatment and neglect,” was published online Jan. 28 in the academic journal Forensic Science, Medicine, and Pathology.