Why Black Children Are Dying at an Alarmingly High Rate in Sacramento County and What is Being Done About It
The premature deaths of children has been a persistent issue in Sacramento County’s most impoverished and isolated communities. But the tragic endemic seems to be hitting Black children much harder than any other racial or ethnic group in the California county.
According to the Sacramento Bee, African-American children died at a rate well above that of any other racial or ethnic group between 2010 and 2015; almost a quarter of the 873 children aged 18 and under who died in Sacramento County during that time were Black. Yet, Black children only made up 11 percent of the population represented in that age category.
An extensive review of state death certificates by the Sacramento Bee also found that the mortality rate among African-American children was over twice the rate of white children and nearly three times the rate of Asian and Latino children.
“I’ve yet to be presented with another challenge in front of us as a local government that deserves our attention more than this,” said Phil Serna, a Sacramento County supervisor. “When the thing you are measuring is whether or not a certain group of your constituents is less likely to see their 10th birthday than another group because of their ethnicity or their ZIP code, it’s so unacceptable, it feels silly to even have to say it.”
The incessant trend was highlighted in a 2012 report from the county’s Child Death Review Team, which found that the Black child mortality rate was consistently higher than that of other racial groups from 1990 until 2009, the Sacramento Bee reports. The analysis also cited four major causes for the startling trend: perinatal conditions like low birth weight and premature birth; sleep-related incidents such as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS); death from child abuse or neglect by primary caregivers; and acts of violence committed by non-primary care givers.
Of the 207 African-American children who died between 2010 and 2015, 38 percent of the deaths were due to perinatal conditions; 18 percent suffered fatal sleep-related incidents like SIDS; and homicides comprised 8 percent of children’s deaths, according to the Bee‘s death certificate review.
ZIP code was another major factor in Sacramento’s alarmingly high death rate among Black children. Per the publication, the highest mortality rate for African-American kids was centered in the 95841 ZIP code of the county, a neighborhood that runs alongside Interstate 80 and is wedged between the communities of Carmichael and Foothill Farms. Black kids in this neighborhood died at a rate six times higher than the countywide average for all children between 2010 and 2015, the Sacramento Bee reports.
Following an extensive analysis into the matter, county officials announced plans to launch a $26 million initiative aimed at reducing the mortality rate among Black children. Now known as the Steering Committee on Reduction of African American Child Deaths, Sacramento County’s new effort will expand existing programs and involve community leaders to link low-income residents to the resources they need. The money will also be used to increase the number of social workers, health care providers and law enforcement officials in the county.
According to the publication, the goal is to cut Black child mortality by 10 to 20 percent by 2020.
“It’s my duty to protect my babies,” said Debra Cummings, a mother from the Del Paso Heights neighborhood who has been vocal about expanding youth recreation in her community. “I will not sit here another day and comfort another husband or mother who has lost their child when there’s something I could have done.”