Thursday, April 13, 2000

Child deaths decline in county

Most died from causes deemed natural

BY Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The number of children who died in Hamilton County fell to 135 in 1999, down from 153 deaths in 1998.

        “We're optimistic because there are so many fewer deaths by accident,” said Patricia Eber, executive direc tor of the Hamilton County Family and Children First Council.

        The agency established the review team in 1995 to identify trends in child deaths and make recommendations to prevent them. The local team is in keeping with a 1990 goal of the U.S. surgeon general to have child fatality review teams in place in 45 states. There are teams in 46 states. (Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Missouri, Texas and Wyoming have statewide teams mandated by lawmakers.)

        The need for such analysis of child deaths arose when the surgeon general determined that 85 percent of child deaths had been misclassified. The goal of the teams is to bring together social service, medical and criminal justice experts to come up with improved methods to address child deaths.

        In Hamilton County — one of four Ohio counties with such teams — people caring for children appear to be following the team's common-sense recommendations, Ms. Eber said. Those suggestions include correctly using car seats and carefully monitoring with whom they leave children.

        Hamilton County's child death rate, Ms. Eber added, appears to be lower than many urban areas nationally.

        Eight in 10 children's fatalities — 112 — were from natural causes in Hamilton County in 1999, most of

        them related to birth problems, according to a report that will be released today by the Hamilton County Fatality Review Team.

        Other deaths are considered preventable.

        The fatality team fully reviewed 29 of them because the cause was either homicide, suicide, undetermined, unexpected, accident, occurred in a cluster, had previous Children's Services involvement or were investigated by law enforcement. Two cases are still pending trial and could not be fully reviewed.

        Twelve 1999 deaths were fully preventable, one in which “reasonable intervention probably would have prevented the death.” The deaths were linked to supervision problems, domestic violence, prenatal drug exposure and histories of parental drug and alcohol use and sexual and physical abuse.

        The team emphasizes the importance of:

        • Wearing seat belts.

        • Close supervision of toddlers and infants.

        • Monitoring who watches children.

        • Placing infants on the backs when they sleep to lower the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

        • Taking seriously threats of teen suicide or violence.

        • Recognizing signs of dehydra tion.

        The team, which consists of representatives from the Cincinnati Health Department, the county coroner's office, Cincinnati Fire Division, Children's Hospital Medical Center and other agencies, examines all deaths of Hamilton County residents age 17 and under.


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