The Travis Co. Child Fatality Review Team's fifth annual report contained some sobering findings and unusually grim statistics.
In 2000, there were 122 child fatalities in Travis County, up 30% from 1999. While almost three-quarters of these deaths occurred from natural causes (many of them very early in life), accidental child deaths were also way up: from 17 in 1999 to 28 last year. In another change from previous years, in 2000 girls were at the same risk as boys of accidental death.
Once again, motor vehicle accidents caused the most accidental child fatalities -- 13 last year, as compared to nine in 1999. Not surprisingly, nine of those were teens. And as has been the case since 1998, more girls (eight) than boys (five) died last year in motor vehicle crashes.
One of the most disturbing statistics each year is the number of motor vehicle fatalities that occur in which the victim was not appropriately restrained in a seat belt or car seat. In 2000, 21 of the 28 child victims were either not wearing seat belts or were not otherwise properly restrained, and all five of the victims under 15 were improperly restrained.
Seven of last year's deaths resulted from asphyxia or suffocation -- a quarter of all accidental child fatalities -- compared to only one such incident in 1999. Such accidents often occur when sleeping adults roll over and suffocate a small child with whom they are sharing a bed or sofa.
There were four child drownings last year, the same as in 1999, and down from six in 1998. Three of the four drownings occurred at home.
Suicides continue to be a troubling reality in Travis County; the figures have risen steadily since 1996. If you count only children through the age of 17, there were four suicides in both 1999 and 2000. But there were seven 18- and 19-year-olds who committed suicide last year, compared to only two in 1999. All of the teen suicides last year were boys.
In perhaps the most heart-wrenching statistic, four of last year's child deaths were confirmed or suspected homicides, three of them committed by parental caregivers. (There were three child homicides in 1999 and eight in 1998.) For several years now, there have been no child homicides resulting from gang activities.
Reversing a downward trend since 1996, nine infant fatalities were attributed to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) last year, as opposed to only two in 1999. As in previous years, African-American and Hispanic children were at a statistically higher risk than Anglo children.
The Travis Co. Child Fatality Review Team is a multidisciplinary group of community professionals representing child protective services, medical and health services, and law enforcement. It is one of 37 teams operating throughout Texas whose purpose is to collect and analyze information about child deaths that can be used as the basis for government policy decisions and to educate the public about how to reduce the number of preventable child deaths.