Local News

Number of Child Deaths in North Carolina Down; Wake County Has Highest Number

Posted October 7, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— Last year more than 1600 children died in North Carolina. The state has worked for years to cut down the number of child deaths and progress is being made. Since 1988 the rate of child deaths has dropped 25 percent, but there is much to be done to stem the tragedy.

Losing 1600 children in a year is like wiping out a small town, all children. Most die of birth defects, birth-related conditions and illness.

"These 1600 children who died, that is the tip of the iceberg for children who live at risk for dying," said Ilene Nelson, Child Fatality Task Force.

Unintentional injuries accounted for 329 deaths, most were accidents that could possibly have been avoided. The biggest jump in that category was bicycle deaths which were up 95 percent over the average for 1992 through 1995. A push for mandatory use of helmets will be made in the Legislature and through education.

"Helmets are sports equipment and if you're going be engaging in that sport you wear the equipment that's appropriate to that," said Jonathan Sher, Child Advocacy Institute.

Fires continue to kill children, often because of a lack of smoke detectors.

"We want landlords to provide them," said Nelson. "We want tenants to make sure they don't take them apart."

Forty-five children died from child abuse and neglect. The state calls for more reporting by friends and neighbors.

"Because after the death many members of the community will say 'we aren't surprised, we know', but they didn't call," said Nelson.

Deaths from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome are down 16 percent over the four-year average. The Task Force attributes that to a campaign called "Back To Sleep" which taught care givers to let infants sleep on their backs.

North Carolina attacks the issue of child deaths at the local and state levels. The Child Fatality Task Force functions as a legislative study commission and offers a legislative agenda to prevent child deaths, but it appears there is a long way to go to protect children.

North Carolina uses a three-pronged attack to cut child death and injury. Local governments look into direct causes, a state review team looks at statewide data and the Child Fatality Task Force forges legislative initiatives to present to the General Assembly.

According to the study, Wake County has the highest number of child deaths in the state. In 1996, 100 children under the age of 18 died in Wake County. In Mecklenburg County, 99 children died, followed by Guilford County with 87 deaths.