Black children dying at higher rate in Sacramento County – and gap is growing

Black children continue to die at a far higher rate than other children in Sacramento County, highlighting the need for intervention programs, according to a recent report.

Although the death rate for all children has gone down, the difference between the rates for black children and other children actually increased, according to a report from the county’s Child Death Review Team, a group of professionals from law enforcement, social services and health fields that provides annual reports to the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors.

A report from the team a few years ago examined child deaths over 20 years and found black children were 1.9 times as likely to die as children overall. This year’s report, which looked at deaths from 2010 to 2012, found black children were 2.2 times as likely to die in Sacramento County.

“It has created a sense of hopelessness, a sense that nothing can be done to stop it,” said Wendy Petko, executive director of the Center for Community Health and Well Being, which serves families in the Sacramento region and was founded with the goal of reducing infant deaths.

The county report found that black children died at a rate of 83 per 100,000 children, compared to 38 per 100,000 for all children, during the three years in the study.

The problem is complex, but most of the reasons for the higher death rate are tied to poverty, she said. While most people in the black community are aware of children dying by homicide, many have been surprised to learn that black children die because of poor health practices tied to lower incomes and living in neighborhoods without grocery stores, she said.

The previous report prompted Supervisor Phil Serna to convene a commission to suggest ways to end the disparity. The county largely relied on First 5 Sacramento to fund programs that address three of the leading causes of black child deaths: the health of pregnant mothers, sleep-related problems and abuse and neglect.

This year’s Child Death Review Team report calls for the Board of Supervisors to fund programs that will address the leading cause of black youth deaths – so-called third-party homicide, as compared to homicide caused by familial abuse and neglect. The county would have to find money from a source other than First 5, which can’t fund such programs because most of the homicides in question involve children over 5.

“This has to be one of the most important things that the Board of Supervisors focuses on,” Serna said. “We’re talking about the deaths of children, which are dissimilar based on their ethnicity.”

Team members were scheduled to present their new report to county supervisors last week, but the presentation was rescheduled for Jan. 27. Serna said he hopes his colleagues will heed the recommendations come budget time.

A good option for addressing homicides among black youths would be to improve the county’s gang-intervention efforts, he said.

Serna’s commission set a goal of reducing the death rates for the leading causes of black youths’ deaths by 10 to 20 percent within five years, a goal the supervisor considers ambitious.

First 5 Sacramento has approved about $10 million over five years to address some of the leading causes of black youths’ deaths. The programs started in October 2013 and January 2014, First 5 Sacramento Executive Director Toni Moore said.

To address neglect and abuse-related homicides, First 5 Sacramento is expanding family resource center services in Arden Arcade and South Sacramento. The centers provide crisis intervention, parent education and other services. One is operated by the Center for Community Health and Well Being.

To address deaths stemming from poor pregnancy practices and sleeping issues, First 5 Sacramento has funded two public education efforts. The Child Abuse Prevention Center will emphasize the need for babies to sleep alone, on their backs and in cribs. The public-relations firm Runyon Saltzman Einhorn will run a campaign that teaches expectant mothers how to take care of their bodies and their developing children.

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