Child death rates in North Carolina have been trending up in recent years and state and county officials are trying to use the latest data to turn that trend around.

The NC Child Fatality Task Force – which analyzes data on child deaths in the state and makes recommendations for changes in the law to minimize those deaths – has submitted its 2022 Annual Report to Gov. Roy Cooper and the NC General Assembly.

The Task Force looked at the most recent complete data set available – for the year 2020 – and compared it to previous years.

The information is of particular interest to Guilford County leaders since reducing infant mortality and other child deaths has been a major area of focus for the last several years. County officials have also been attempting to address the large gap in deaths when broken down by race.

The Task Force found that in 2020 in North Carolina, 1,279 children died – a death rate of 55.5 per 100,000 children (17 years of age and under).

That’s a slight increase when compared to 54.9 in 2019.

Progress has been made over time. That death rate is roughly half what it was in 1991 when the Task Force was formed.  However, unfortunately, the rate hasn’t changed much in the past decade.

According to the Task Force findings, nearly two-thirds of all child deaths in North Carolina are of infants under one year of age. In 2020, the infant mortality rate in the state was 6.9 per 1,000 births – the eighth highest rate in the country.

As is the case in Guilford County, statewide racial disparities are pronounced.  Also, the highest infant mortality rates are linked to poverty and the unemployment of the parents.

For 2022, the Task Force made nine legislative recommendations including reducing the access of guns to youngsters and funding programs that help parents create “safe sleep environments” for babies.

From 2011 through 2020, North Carolina lost 525 children through firearm incidents, including 105 children in 2020 alone when firearm death rates skyrocketed.

Guns are used in about half of all youth suicides in the state.

From 2015 to 2019, there were 664 infant deaths tied to unsafe sleep environments and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

The Task Force is recommending increased state funding, for a total of $250,000 a year, for parental education and programs meant to reduce this cause of death.

Other legislative recommendations for 2022 call for strategies directed toward “preventing impaired driving, preventing harm to youth and infants caused by tobacco and nicotine use, strengthening the state’s infant safe surrender law, eliminating a law that is a barrier to completing pedestrian safety projects, and funding to enable comprehensive toxicology testing in all child deaths under the jurisdiction of the NC Medical Examiner System.”

The Task Force emphasized the importance of the role schools play in addressing this issue as well as the need for more funding for childhood mental health programs.