09/16/09 — Childhood death rate drops in Wayne

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Childhood death rate drops in Wayne

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 16, 2009 1:46 PM

Over the last 15 years, Wayne County has seen a 16 percent decrease in childhood deaths.

Health Director James Roosen would like to see that trend continue.

If it does, it won't be because of luck or chance. Some of it, he said, can be attributed to legislative changes and efforts of groups like the Child Fatality Prevention Team, of which he is a member.

The team is a legislature-mandated activity in the state. It meets every two months, reviewing each case of a child's death under 18 years old.

"The whole idea is, we review these deaths and we make recommendations to the state on how to limit childhood deaths," he said. "We look at why are children dying to begin with, and how can you prevent these deaths?

"We review the records, get to know the circumstances behind the deaths, and then make recommendations to legislators."

Legislative changes have made a difference in many ways, Roosen said.

"Some of the reasons that we're seeing fewer deaths is because we have gotten better laws in place," he said. "Things have changed. We're protecting our kids a whole lot better."

Because of the child seat and booster seat requirements, for example, fewer deaths are attributed to motor vehicle accidents, he said.

"Doing these types of reviews every two months in all of our counties in North Carolina, we have seen with motor vehicles a 25 percent decrease in deaths," he said.

The graduated license program also contributed to the lower numbers, he said. Instead of "just putting a 16-year-old in a car with the same privileges as a 40-year-old" driver, the law stipulates younger drivers must have supervision and gradually move up to having the privilege of driving by themselves.

"One of the main reasons that was passed was because of child fatality reviews at the local level," he noted. "Slowly but surely we get laws changed and our communities become much safer."

Other areas have also been addressed by the team, Roosen said.

"Some of the things that we worked on here in the past, here in Wayne County, one big problem is we have a lot of premature births," he said. "The last time we looked at child deaths, the vast majority -- four out of six deaths were reviewed at our last meeting -- were due to premature death. ... Sixty-five percent of the kids that die in Wayne County are infants and that's pretty much true across the state. A lot of those are premature births."

There is a new treatment, progesterone therapy, or 17-P, found effective in preventing premature births, he said. It is being prescribed more for pregnant women who might be at risk.

Other successful legislation targeted at children include the Safe Surrender law -- allowing a mother who changes her mind about having a baby, to turn it over to another adult within the first seven days of delivery, preventing cases of abandonment or even death -- child passenger safety laws, smoke detectors required in rental properties and helmet laws for kids on bicycles.

Wayne County also launched an initiative, the Teddy Bear Coalition, to reduce abuse and neglect cases, Roosen said.

"When there's a suspicion, you get a multi-disciplinary team -- law enforcement, social services, pediatricians, take a look at this case as a group so that it's less likely that these types of cases go unnoticed," he said.

Similar representation makes up the child fatality prevention team, Roosen said, with a few additions -- public health, the court system, schools, mental health, Smart Start and child care centers.

But there is one component missing, he said, which he hopes to add.

"It would be extremely valuable to our child fatality prevention team to have a parent that was represented on the team who had lost a child," he said.

And while it is a sensitive issue, a parent's input might shed light on even more ways a community can lend support and efforts to preventive measures.

Interested residents are encouraged to e-mail an application, found on the Web site, waynegov.com and accessing the link for citizen participation boards and commissions.