By Daniel Silliman
Recently released statistics show child fatalities in Georgia, and in Clayton County, have decreased slightly, continuing a five-year trend.
A report by the Georgia Child Fatality Review Panel shows, in 2005 -- the most recently compiled statistics -- 1,723 children, under the age of 16, died in the state. In 2004, there were 1,760 deaths. In 2003, 1,794. Between 1999 and 2004, an average of 2,124 children died in the state each year.
The number of deaths has decreased slightly every year, and that trend continued in 2005.
"Although 2005 saw a slight decline in such fatalities, it was a small consolation," Edward D. Lukemire, review board chairman, wrote in the introduction to the report. "We share your hope that in the coming years we will witness significant declines in deaths among our most innocent and helpless citizens."
Clayton County also has seen a steady, but slow decrease in child deaths, a decline which was continued in 2005. Between 1999 and 2004, 353 children died. More than 70 children died, on average, every year.
In 2005, there were 63 child fatalities, said Clayton County District Attorney Jewel Scott, who chairs the Clayton's Child Fatality Review Panel.
Of those 63 deaths in Clayton, 25 were deemed to be suspicious and were reviewed by the panel, Scott said. Suspicious deaths are those which were not caused by medical problems and were not attended by a physician. The panel -- made up of representatives from the community, including representatives from the District Attorney's Office, the Department of Family and Children's Services, Juvenile Court, law enforcement and public and mental health agencies -- reviews suspicious child deaths and examines the possibility of preventing them.
"We go through the scenario," Scott said, "'Was this a preventable death?' 'If an agency was involved, could [it] have prevented this, and how?'"
After medical-related deaths, the two primary causes of child fatalities, statewide, were motor vehicle accidents and sudden infant death syndrome. Between 1999 and 2004, 11 percent of all child deaths were caused by car crashes and about seven and a half percent were SIDS deaths, the sudden and unexpected deaths of apparently healthy infants, normally occurring during sleep.
In 2005, statewide, car accidents and SIDS continued to be the leading causes of death. Almost 9 percent of child fatalities were attributed to motor vehicle crashes and more than seven percent were attributed to SIDS.
In Clayton County, the leading two causes of possibly preventable child deaths were SIDS and violence, Scott said.
Numbers were not immediately available -- county statistics are expected to be available later this month -- but Scott said violent deaths, including child abuse cases and homicides, have stood out to the panel as a significant causes of the annual number of child deaths. In recent years, the county has seen a 4-year-old boy shot to death in a park, in the crossfire of a gang shoot-out, a number of teenagers killed during alleged drug deals, and two children beaten to death with a tire iron by their mother's ex-boyfriend.
In the last few years, the county's review panel has taken a proactive approach to child fatalities, pushing education as a primary means of prevention. The review panel passes out literature in an attempt to alert parents to possible dangers. Brochures warned parents and guardians about the dangers of speeding cars, seat belts and airbags, All Terrain Vehicles, unlocked guns, swimming pools, smoke alarms, family violence and baby's sleeping on their stomachs.
The panel passes out the literature and gives away about 20 cribs every year to low income families.
"We believe that it's something we must do," Scott said. "We certainly think that helps, to do the education. I think we're doing invaluable work."
Despite the decreasing number of child deaths, the topic still saddens Scott. Every death seems to revive the thought "we could have saved some of these lives," she said.
"I really hope that we get to the point where we're not having these cases [in the district attorney's office], not having to prosecute these cases. The baby cases are horrible. It's so horrible. Kids don't understand pain," Scott said.