Child suicides, accidental deaths rise

Accidental deaths and suicide claimed the lives of more Clark County children last year than in 2006, and young black males fell victim to fatal shootings at a disproportionate rate, according to a report released Tuesday.

A county research team compiled a child-fatality report for 2007 based on 155 cases, or about 57 percent of child deaths tallied that year.

This was the second year that researchers dug up detailed data on child fatalities after critics lambasted child welfare services for failing to investigate deaths that might have been caused by abuse or neglect.

The report was presented Tuesday to county commissioners, who found it instructive and bleak.

“Any child lost shouldn’t be happening,” Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said.

This year’s sampling of 155 cases was slightly higher than last year’s 148. Researchers didn’t review 215 cases because nearly all were natural deaths.

A pattern of high infant and toddler mortality was unchanged. Ninety-three of the children who died were younger than 5.

Sixty-six suffered accidental deaths, up from 53 in 2006.

Car crashes killed 26 children. One-third of those who died were between the ages of 15 and 17.

And while drug and alcohol use caused far fewer of the deadly wrecks — 3.8 percent versus 13 percent in 2006 — driving over the speed limit led to 29.3 percent of the lethal crashes, a dramatic increase from the 3.8 percent of the previous year, according to the report.

Eleven children drowned, up from nine drownings the previous year.

Lack of barricades around swimming pools and a lapse in supervision contributed to those deaths, just as in 2006, said Denise Tanata Ashby, executive director of the Nevada Institute for Children’s Research and Policy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

“We’re seeing a lot of the same things,” Ashby said.

Twelve youths committed suicide, compared with nine the previous year. The more startling trend is that children 14 and younger took their own lives last year, something that didn’t happen two years ago, Ashby said.

“The youngest was 11,” she said. “To see a child at the age of 11 killing themselves is really disturbing.”

Child homicides dropped to 15 from the 20 reported in 2006. But the seemingly positive trend was negated by a sobering statistic: Young black males made up 40 percent of the victims overall and 65 percent of those slain by gunfire.

Blacks make up about 9 percent of the county’s population.

Commissioner Lawrence Weekly said the numbers deeply trouble him as an elected leader, an African-American and a father raising a son.

“It just jerked at my emotions, because it’s really tough out there,” Weekly said. “Not only me but other African-American members in the community have got to step up.”

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, also remained high among blacks. SIDS is the unexplained death of a child younger than 1.

Last year, about 50 percent of children who died from SIDS were black, tapering from 57 percent the year before but still disproportionate to the population. The report also found 19 children died while involved in open child welfare investigations. Fifty-nine died when the family had some involvement with Clark County Family Services, compared with 34 in 2006.

About 69 percent of premature babies who died had parents with a history of involvement with child welfare, in line with 71 percent the year before.

Donna Coleman, a longtime child advocate, said the numbers reflect how the system is still broken.

Coleman said she supports a lawsuit now in federal court that contends state and county agencies are failing to meet the needs of foster children in their care.

She complained that the county still doesn’t accurately track children’s deaths and post them on a state Web site.

“We’re supposed to have transparency,” Coleman said.

But a county representative argued that the data is disseminated as quickly as possible.

The purpose of doing the yearly report is to pinpoint the reasons children die and find remedies, said Gina Olivares, principal analyst in the county manager’s office.

Education is key, she said. That might be teaching young mothers about prenatal care and tending to infants, or emphasizing the need to place barriers around pools and to strap a child into a car seat.

“I think there is going to be that opinion that change isn’t happening quick enough, but the fact of the matter is that change is happening,” Olivares said. “The report we got today is another step in that direction.”

Contact reporter Scott Wyland at swyland@reviewjournal.com or 702-455-4519.

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