A troubling new report on child mortality in Minnesota has found that male caregivers were responsible for two-thirds of child deaths and near-fatal injuries from 2005 to 2009.

While advocates suggested this might be an economic indicator -- that parents who can't afford child care are leaving kids with unfit caregivers -- a state human services official said the problem is not new.

"Even before the economy went in a downward spiral, we saw deaths of children at the hands of male caregivers who were not equipped to care for infants," said Erin Sullivan Sutton, an assistant commissioner with the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

Released last week, the report by the Minnesota Child Mortality Review Panel examined 202 deaths or near-deaths from 2005 through 2009. Incidents included drownings and other preventable accidents in the home, suicides, unexplained infant injuries and homicides.

Two-thirds of the 71 inflicted injuries or homicides involved male perpetrators, some with histories of drug abuse or violence.

Most of the cases involved children under age 3 who were shaken or who suffered blows to their heads.

"The strategies [for reducing these deaths] are making sure that moms have information about child-care options," Sullivan Sutton said, "and also thinking about what questions they should ask themselves before leaving their babies in the care of anybody.'' Caring for infants, she said, "is hard work.''

Still, the male-female disparity in child homicides and injuries is a "striking finding," said Marcie Jefferys of the Children's Defense Fund-Minnesota. Expanding child-care options and referrals is only part of the equation, she said.

"I had been noticing that in the paper for the last few years," Jefferys said. "There are so many babies being killed by boyfriends or husbands while the mother is off to work."

While abusive deaths and injuries were commonly committed by men, the review found more female caretakers at fault in cases of neglect.

Sullivan Sutton said both trends mirror data from the child welfare system on abuse and neglect complaints.

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744