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City of Sacramento joins efforts to prevent black children’s deaths

The Sacramento City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to invest $750,000 in a $26 million county-led program designed to bring down the region’s alarming number of African American child deaths, marking a commitment to improving outcomes in one of Sacramento’s most disadvantaged communities.

The city funding, approved as part of the midyear budget, will support the efforts of the Steering Committee on Reduction of African American Child Deaths. It’s funded by Sacramento County and the nonprofit group First 5 Sacramento, and managed by the Sierra Health Foundation’s Center for Health Program Management. The committee released an implementation plan last fall that lays out dozens of initiatives for improving black child health, including community grants and new county staff positions in probation, health and Child Protective Services.

The committee first assembled in 2012, shortly after the release of a county report showing that African American children died at twice the rate of their white peers over the past two decades. The committee’s 30-odd members hail from churches, hospitals, county departments and Neighborhood Watch groups from the six ZIP codes where 80 percent of black child deaths occur.

Mayor Pro Tem Larry Carr said the council did not play a major role in drafting the plan, but is happy to be collaborating with the county. He said the county initiative already has ample funding sources for the next five years, but the council could allocate more money from later budgets depending on project results.

“It’s our demonstration that we recognize that even though it’s not a city effort primarily, we need to be involved because it’s happening here,” Carr said. “Year after year, decade after decade, we’ve watched the same communities in Sacramento struggle. We’re either going to do something about that, or be satisfied to live in the status quo. We have a council now that’s serious about providing the resources necessary to help communities in need, and this is just part of it.”

Paris Dye, a Foothill Farms steering committee member who has worked for decades to stem violence and counsel families at Liberty Towers church, said her neighbors have been a “missing link” to social justice and equality in Sacramento.

“It proves that our kids really do matter,” she said of the council’s decision.

She and the rest of the committee first brought their plan to the council in October to ask for more funding for the program, as dozens of children and parents sat in the audience wearing Black Lives Matter shirts. At the podium, attendees spoke of friends who had been shot or babies who died. They also cited a lack of resources for what they said was a glaring and persistent problem.

“These organizations are finally realizing that they can’t do it without us,” Dye said. “We’ve always been on the outside, doing what we can with our own resources. Now we’re bridging and reaching out to people in the communities with boots on the ground, which is something that can work.”

Over the next several months, the steering committee will connect families with gang violence prevention, foster care assistance, health care and more. They’ll try to combat long-standing distrust of public officials in the six target neighborhoods, and channel funding to local groups too overwhelmed and underfunded to handle the problem, said Chet Hewitt, president and CEO of Sierra Health Foundation.

“These neighborhoods don’t have the infrastructure and capacity to take on this kind of work, and we’re trying to change that,” he said. “If we can strengthen their operations and build a little more by way of resources, our strategy then is to partner with the public sector to really make a difference in the lives of families and communities in which too many children have lost their lives in these causes that clearly are preventable.”

This story was completed with support from the Center for Health Journalism at the University of Southern California.

Sammy Caiola: 916-321-1636, @SammyCaiola

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