Sacramento County to spend $100,000 to reduce deaths of black children

Published: Wednesday, May. 8, 2013 - 7:40 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Wednesday, May. 8, 2013 - 7:52 pm

Sacramento County supervisors agreed Tuesday to provide $100,000 a year toward an effort that promises to reduce deaths among black children by between 10 percent and 20 percent within five years.

A blue-ribbon commission convened by Supervisor Phil Serna put together the plan, which calls for public education, direct services and policy changes.

Serna formed the commission after the county's Child Death Review Team examined 20 years of data from Sacramento County and found that black children were twice as likely to die as other children.

Sheila Boxley, who heads the nonprofit Child Abuse Prevention Center and sits on the commission, said the team has created a database unlike any in the country, providing in-depth details about every child who has died in the county in the last two decades.

The level of detail allowed the blue-ribbon commission to home in on the causes of death for black children, Boxley said. The commission found the top four causes are poor conditions of pregnant mothers, homicide, child abuse and neglect, and sleep-related problems for infants.

Supervisors said they were disturbed by the report's findings.

"Given the data, it would be unthinkable not to take action," said Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan. "This program gives us an opportunity to make a real difference."

About 60 people involved in the commission's report attended Tuesday. Many of them spoke in support of the plan, including officials from the District Attorney's Office, the Sheriff's Department and many community organizations.

Serna, who took office in late 2010, called the support "the most gratifying experience I have had as a supervisor." He said he considered the high fatality rate among black children the county's most pressing issue.

The commission hopes to have an annual budget of $300,000 by attracting matching funds from First 5 Sacramento, hospitals and philanthropic organizations.

The effort will target neighborhoods with high fatality rates among black children, including Valley Hi/Meadowview, North Sacramento/Del Paso Heights and Fruitridge/ Stockton.

The commission's plan will target the top causes of death.

For instance, black children are dying because they're not sleeping in infant beds and they're not sleeping alone, Boxley said. A campaign will emphasize the need for infants to have cribs and to sleep alone, on their backs, she said.

Other causes of death such as homicide and child abuse will require more complex intervention, she said.

Boxley encouraged supervisors to hold the commission accountable and examine how well it meets its goal of reducing deaths.

Call The Bee's Brad Branan, (916) 321-1065. Follow him on Twitter @bradb_at_sacbee.

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