Health & Medicine

‘Saving the lives of generations’: Death rate for black children drops 45% in Sacramento County

‘Speak up and speak out’ to prevent deaths of African American youth

Black Child Legacy Campaign has a goal of reducing childhood death rates by up to 20 percent by 2020.
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Black Child Legacy Campaign has a goal of reducing childhood death rates by up to 20 percent by 2020.

From 2010 and 2015, black children died at a disproportionately high rate compared to other racial and ethnic group in Sacramento County. Five years after the county and community groups began a multimillion-dollar campaign to reduce that number, data released Monday show the county is trending toward closing that gap.

Sacramento County had a 45 percent drop in black infant deaths between 2013 and 2016, including an 18 percent decrease in black babies born preterm and a 54 percent decrease in black infants dying from sleep-related incidents, according to the most recent county data. Now, about seven black infants die out of every 1,000, compared to the overall rate for other ethnicities of about five out of 1,000.

“To see that data up there really tells the story of us really being committed to this work and educating our families,” said Jackie Rose of the Meadowview-based Rose Family Creative Empowerment Center. “They’re getting it, they’re really getting it.”

The data could get better in future samples, since the county began spending money to reduce black infant mortality in 2015, toward the end of the most recent period. Lynne Cannady, a consultant with the firm hired to evaluate the county data and ongoing efforts, noted that many of the causes of death decreased dramatically — particularly in 2016, after many county programs began in earnest.

“We wanted to jump through the ceiling when we saw this,” Cannady said.

The results mark an early proof of concept of work by county agencies and local groups, county Supervisor Phil Serna said. In 2011, Serna convened a blue-ribbon commission focused on disparities in deaths among black children.

That group later found that over a 20-year period that black children made up 25 percent of all perinatal deaths, 32 percent of all infant sleep-related deaths, 30 percent of child abuse and neglect homicides and 32 percent of all third-party homicides in Sacramento County — the four key causes of death county officials and experts believe are preventable.

“We’re finally seeing the results of really sound and careful investment,” Serna said. “I hope (we’ll) see a growing political will based on these results. I’d challenge anyone to tell me that especially with these results that we shouldn’t be prioritizing this in our budget.”

The numbers were announced during a First 5 Sacramento county commission meeting, which has invested nearly $14 million toward reducing black child deaths over the last five years, according to commission program planner Linda Fong-Somera. The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors has allocated $1.5 million annually from 2015 to 2020 to further support the effort, and Sacramento committed $750,000 in a one-time grant in 2016.

The meeting was well-attended by members of community organizations participating in the Black Child Legacy Campaign, overseen by the Steering Committee on the Reduction of African American Child Deaths, which was established in 2013 after the blue-ribbon commission report, to help localize and target social services and assistance.

Over the last few years, nonprofits, community centers and faith organizations, in collaboration with county programs and health centers, have provided home visitation, safe sleep training, parenting classes, youth mentorship and after-school programing in an effort to intervene early and often, said committee co-chair Natalie Woods Andrew.

“We’ve had an opportunity to truly activate the different communities to come together,” Woods Andrew said during the meeting. “The community incubator leads ... really have served as our infrastructure from which to build all of the work” of reducing early black childhood deaths.

The Roberts Family Development Center has served more than 60 families this year with general wrap-around social services. It has more than 70 black students in after-school programs and hosted more than 100 safe-sleep workshops this year, said site coordinator Ray Green.

“This is saving the lives of generations,” Green said.

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