Sacramento panel tackles alarming death rate for African American children

Published: Tuesday, Apr. 2, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Apr. 2, 2013 - 7:46 am

A blue-ribbon panel addressing the outsized death rate for African American children in Sacramento County is recommending more education, outreach and community involvement to strengthen kids' odds of growing up.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Disproportionate African American Child Deaths spent 18 months examining the problems exposed by a seminal 20-year report on kids who died in Sacramento County.

The report found that, from 1999 to 2009, African American children under 18 died at a rate two times higher on average than did white kids in the county.

County officials and the public were alarmed at the stark findings, which mirror trends nationwide.

Supervisor Phil Serna, who appointed the commission, said Monday that the panel undertook "a careful, deliberate effort based on lots of research data and discussion."

Commissioners came up with specific targets for improving outcomes in four areas of deaths: homicide at the hands of someone other than a caregiver; child abuse and neglect deaths; infant sleep- related deaths; and perinatal deaths of infants up to 4 weeks old.

In almost every category, recommendations included improved training services, public education, more informed policies and culturally competent prevention campaigns.

In addition, commissioners deemed it important to recruit community members to play the role of "cultural brokers," the recommendations said.

The disproportionate deaths unveiled by the 2009 report are disturbing and pretty much reflect today's statistics, officials said:

• Though African American infants comprise 11 percent of the county's infant population, they make up 25 percent of the county's perinatal infant deaths. And, they make up 31 percent of infant sleep-related deaths.

• African American children under 18 comprise 12 percent of the population, but 32 percent of homicide deaths at the hands of someone other than a caregiver.

• African American kids make up 12 percent of the child population and 25 percent of child abuse and neglect homicide deaths.

Serna cautioned that the county's budget is tight, so he does not at first expect much public money to flow toward reversing the tragic trends.

However, private nonprofit entities may be able to help pay for community programs aimed at improving children's chances at growing up in healthy environments.

Toni Moore, the executive director of the First 5 Sacramento Commission, noted the organization has pledged $5 million – or about $2 million a year – to the follow-up effort.

That will likely include establishment of a steering committee and specific targets for improvements in the child death statistics.

"We are trying to be realistic," said Moore. "This is a problem across the country. If we can make some incremental and steady gains, we'll be pleased."

The draft recommendations will be presented to the Board of Supervisors on May 7.

In the meantime, county officials are hoping the community will step up to comment and respond to the goals.

Today and Thursday, the commission will hold special public meetings for community input.

Today's meeting will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Paratransit Inc. facilities at 2501 Florin Road.

On Thursday, the community meeting will be held at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church Family Life Center, 3996 14th Ave.

Call The Bee's Cynthia H. Craft, (916) 321-1270. Follow her on Twitter @cynthiahcraft.

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