The North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force has released its 2024 Annual Report to NC Governor Roy Cooper and the NC General Assembly. The report contains data on child deaths, updates on the Task Force’s work, and recommendations for changes in law and state funding to prevent child deaths and promote child well-being in the future.

The central part of the report was bad news since the rate of fatality of those 17 years of age and lower went up.

In 2023, the state’s  General Assembly passed legislation that implemented a lot of recommendations from the Task Force, including laws and funding meant to strengthen the child fatality prevention system in North Carolina, laws to make the safe surrender of infants easier, and a law to implement a statewide firearm safety initiative.

The General Assembly also provided funding meant to prevent sleep-related infant deaths as well as money that would pay for toxicology testing for child deaths.

The state also allocated some Medicaid funding toward promoting healthy pregnancies and better birth outcomes.

In Guilford County, infant mortality has been a real focal point of local health officials and a number of programs have been put in place.  And it’s clear that the state is also taking the issue very seriously.

Since the most current audited data is almost two years old, it will take a while to assess the effectiveness of new initiatives in both Guilford County and the state.

Karen McLeod, the co-chair of the Task Force, said important progress is being made but there’s a long way to go.

“2023 was a banner year for the Task Force with so many of our recommendations becoming law,” she said. “However, it’s disheartening to see overall child death rates rise for the second year in a row, and we know we have a great deal of work ahead to help advance laws and strategies to save kids’ lives.”

The latest available child death data shows that, in 2022, 1,474 North Carolina children ages 17 or younger died. The rate of child deaths overall in 2022 was an 8 percent increase over the 2021 rate – and it was also the highest recorded rate in the state since 2009.

However, the 2022 infant mortality rate remained basically unchanged from the 2021 rate, which ranked North Carolina as the 10th highest in the nation. That’s a Top Ten list you don’t want your state to be on.

Some new recommendations from the Task Force include enhancing efforts on suicide prevention and the youth mental health crisis by “seeking sustained funding for more school nurses, social workers, counselors, and psychologists and through endorsing legislation that targets addictive social media algorithms that harm kids.”

Other recommendations seek to prevent infant deaths, improve birth outcomes, and close disparity gaps through Medicaid funding and legislation that will support the creation of Fetal and Infant Mortality Review teams.

On Monday, May 13 at 11 a.m., the Task Force is hosting a webinar that will address the recently released 2022 child death and infant mortality data.

Anyone with an interest in this subject can register to attend the webinar.