CHICAGO (CBS) — Growing concern that the new year is seeing a stunning new spike in child deaths has child advocates in Cook County worried that month 10 of the pandemic is leaving some families frayed and careless.

Two things are concerning these child advocates. One is that parents and guardians are tired and worried and getting careless. The other is that COVID-19 is precluding the adequate monitoring of families with a prior history of problems.

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Fire investigators say a child playing with matches and no parents at home may have led to a fire and the death of 6-year-old Ron Johnson at Altgled Garden Apartments this month.

From Dec. 30 through Jan. 11, six children, including five infants, have died in Cook County.

“Families have been isolated and home alone due to COVID-19 coming up on nine months or so,” said Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert.

CBS 2 has learned that in two of the homes where children have recently died — including the Johnson family fire — the state Department of Children and Family Services had visited in recent years.

At the start of last year a hotline caller alleged inadequate supervision. The mother denied leaving the child at home with a 12-year-old son. The fire one year later — with no parent at home — remains an open criminal case.

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DCFS also had a history another home where on the second to last day of 2020 an ambulance took a 4-month-old who “was reported as co-sleeping with mother … allegations pending full investigation on the mother are death by neglect. “

Police say she won’t be charged, but two years earlier that mom lost custody of her children after an issue with a different child. “An [8-month-old] child victim’s toxicology came back positive for an illegal substance,” reports say.

That child survived.

These cases of potentially exhausted parents raise concerns of a dangerous new trend.

“Hopefully that’s not what this is, but there is certainly that concern,” said Golbert. “The families have been isolated at home alone under stressors that we know are correlated with incidents of abuse, such as being worried about money, being worried about their jobs, finances and being worried about their health.”

Golbert said in normal times kids see coaches or teachers or friends parents more often than they do now, so there are more people to catch more warning signs of trouble at home.

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