Team works to prevent child deaths

Twenty-three Catawba County children died in 2009-10. Although that's a relatively low number compared to years past, it's a number county leaders want to see continually decreasing.

Catawba County's Child Protection/Child Fatality Team compiles statistics and information about each child's death in Catawba County, whether it be from a long-term illness or a motor vehicle crash.

"We talk about what happened and what we can do better," said Jennifer McCracken, of the Child Fatality Team.

The Catawba County Child Protection Team was established in February 1992 from an executive order by Gov. James Martin. The state later mandated county governments have a Child Fatality Review Team, and Catawba County combined the two entities into one. The team meets quarterly and serves as a multi-agency, multi-disciplinary approach approach to study death cases in Catawba County's children, ages birth to 17.

Like the Child Fatality Team, the Child Protection Team reviews child deaths in the county. It is legally required to review child-fatality cases when the family is known to the Department of Social Services. The team also identifies areas of need in Child Protective Services
"Hopefully we prevent child deaths, but it's also to get pertinent information out to the county," McCracken said.

McCracken and Catawba County Department of Social Service director John Eller presented the team's annual report to the Catawba County Board of Commissioners at its meeting Tuesday. Commissioners approved the Child Protection Team report, and it will be submitted to the state for further research and review.

According to Eller and McCracken's presentation to commissioners, Catawba County received 2,570 reports claiming mistreatment in 2009-10.

Of those reports, about 1,600 reports met the state screening requirements.

Of Catawba County's 23 reported child fatalities, about 40 percent happened during the peri-natal period, which is the time immediately before and after a child's birth. About 22 percent of child deaths in Catawba County happened because of illness, and 17 percent of deaths were from motor-vehicle crashes.

Sixty-one percent of Catawba County children who died in 2009-10 were younger than age 1, and the remaining percentage of deaths occurred in children ages 1-17.

In addition, the county's child fatality and protection teams also look at ways to prevent child death from happening.

This includes educational resources and other preventative measure to teach parents, guardians and other caregivers about dangers for children.

Team members advocate for safe sleeping arrangements, which ensure children aren't suffocated or crushed when sleeping in the same bed as an adult.

Eller said the team will also look at launching distracted driving campaigns for young children to help them understand the dangers of texting, surfing the Internet or talking on the phone while driving.

These programs and education, however, aren't possible without the support of the community.

"We try to engage other people in the community who have a vested interest in that prevention," Eller said.

Commissioners commended Eller and McCracken for their continued work in preventing child deaths in Catawba County.

"This is certainly important work, and work that is ongoing," said Board of Commissioners chairwoman Kitty Barnes.