MIAMI -- In one year, the number of Florida child abuse deaths dropped 30 percent, from 197 to 136, according to a tally by the state.

The dip between 2009 and 2010 seems remarkable, but wasn't due to a massive campaign to prevent child abuse deaths. Rather, it's because the state changed the way it categorized such deaths. Only a fraction of Florida's 2,282 overall child deaths in 2010 were labeled as abuse by a network of investigators whose training and approach can vary. The state child abuse death review team - which compiles the tally - is only forwarded cases that the local investigators determine to be abuse.

But Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins said late Friday his agency would allow the independently run team to review all child deaths starting immediately.

States vary widely in how they review child deaths. Some only review deaths with a prior history with child welfare officials. A few states, including North Carolina, review all deaths. Child advocates generally agree reviewing all deaths is the best practice, but many agencies worry about the political repercussions because it may make their child death numbers appear higher than other states.

A report last year from the Government Accountability Office also warned America uses flawed methods to tally and analyze the deaths of children who have been maltreated, and the latest annual estimate of 1,770 such fatalities is likely too low.

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