09/04/06 — Parents can help reduce childhood fatalities

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Parents can help reduce childhood fatalities

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on September 4, 2006 1:50 PM

Parents who have lost a child are urged to join a Wayne County organization whose goal is to learn how to prevent childhood deaths.

The purpose of the Wayne County Community Child Fatality Prevention Team is to examine early childhood deaths and to advocate for legislative changes that will help reduce child fatalities and promote safety among children countywide, Wayne Health Department Director Jim Roosen said.

"The idea behind the team is to have people from different professions and different walks of life," Roosen said.

The team currently includes professionals involved with child care, health care, mental hospitals, local government and law enforcement agencies, but Roosen said the group is missing a key member -- a person who has personally dealt with the grief and trauma of losing a child.

"It's asking a lot, asking a parent that has lost a child to bring their experience to the table," Roosen said.

But it is that experience that can help the group determine ways to reduce childhood fatalities in the future, he added.

More than 135 infants, children and teenagers lost their lives from 2000 to 2004, according to the North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force, a legislative committee formed to study the problem.

Of those 135 children, almost 90 of them died before they had their first birthday. Another 30 succumbed to illness, and 13 lost their lives in motor vehicle accidents.

When the group meets, its members discuss the types of childhood fatalities that have occurred in Wayne County in recent years. Although the majority happen because of complications from premature birth, Roosen said there are other fatalities that the members discuss and try to find ways to prevent.

When enough data is collected, Roosen said members approach state legislators with policy changes aimed at protecting children.

Some legislative changes in the past year include limiting the number of passengers in a vehicle under 21 years of age to one passenger. A new all-terrain vehicle law doesn't permit children under the age of eight to operate an ATV. Also, drivers under the age of 18 are not allowed to use cell phones while they drive. Violators are charged $25 per infraction.

But child safety isn't limited to the road. Smoke detectors are now required in all rental properties, and bicycle helmets are required for all children under the age of 16.

Recently, Roosen said the childhood fatality team met with state Sen. John Kerr and recommended legislative changes to give stricter sentences to criminals who assault children. Four children died from bodily injuries or homicide from 2000 to 2004, according to N.C. Division of Public Health statistics.

Residents interested in serving with the Wayne County Community Child Fatality Prevention Team are encouraged to call the county manager's office at 731-1435 or visit www.waynecounty.gov to receive and submit an application.

Applications are reviewed by the county's Board of Commissioners and the appointments committee makes a final recommendation to the board.