On Friday, Nov. 1 the NC Child Fatality Task Force had some very positive news for state residents: The latest child death data shows an historically low rate.

Newly released child death data from the state for 2018 shows that the total fatality rate for youngsters in North Carolina is now at an historic low: The overall child death rate in 2018 was 54.5 per 100,000 children residing in the state. Those numbers, which cover resident children from the ages of 0 to 17, represents a 4.6 percent decrease from 2017 – and they also represent a 49 percent decrease since the creation of the task force in 1991.

In that same year, the state also created the NC Child Fatality Prevention System to address such issues.

State leaders were happy but cautious about the latest positive numbers.

“While we celebrate the lowest rate we’ve seen, we know it will take sustained efforts to ensure that this trend line continues to decrease,” said Karen McLeod, the chair of the task force. “We are also keenly aware that most deaths are preventable, and whether we are advancing a change in traffic laws, funding for programs to reach new moms, or a health equity initiative, we know prevention happens through a variety of strategies.”

All age groups saw declines in the child death rate between 2017 and 2018, and all but one group – age 10 to 14 – saw a decreased rate over the course of the last decade. A nearly 27 percent increase in the death rate for 10 to 14-year-olds over the past decade appears to be attributable mostly to the rise in rates for suicide, homicide and illness.

While rates for most leading causes of death have generally declined over the past decade, the youth suicide rate has gone up. The 2018 rate is the highest the task force has seen. Similarly, looking at deaths related to firearms –which includes suicides, homicides and accidental deaths – the 2018 rate is the highest seen in the past decade. These two increases overlap since almost half of youth suicides are firearm-related.

A Nov. 1 press release accompanying the new data stated: “The Task Force has emphasized the prevention of youth suicide and firearm-related deaths with a range of recommendations, some of which have succeeded while others remain stalled. For example, legislation requiring suicide prevention training in schools has been addressed in several bills which have not become law. A 2019 bill that would mandate and fund a statewide firearm safe storage initiative is included in the stalled state budget bill, and such an initiative was also addressed in a recent Executive Directive from Governor Cooper. State leaders have successfully advanced funding for more school professionals who can address student mental health, as well as funding for school safety grants including training that addresses youth access to lethal means.”

The results once again did nothing to assuage concerns about racial disparity found in the numbers. Although the 2018 African-American infant mortality rate was the lowest ever, that rate is more than twice that of white infants. Recent task force recommendations to address infant mortality include an initiative to ensure that high-risk moms and babies have access to the medical care they need, support for programs that prevent tobacco use during pregnancy, promotion of safe infant sleep and the addition of conditions to the state’s newborn screening panel.

Motor vehicle injuries remain the leading cause of unintentional deaths among children.