Seven art pieces featuring the faces of young homicide victims lined the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors chambers’ back wall on Tuesday. They were carried in by leaders from the seven neighborhoods where African-American children die in the largest numbers — but those trends are changing.
New data from the Sacramento County Child Death Review Team indicates that the rate of African-American child deaths was roughly 55 per 100,000 in 2016 — down 32 percent from 2015.
Previous reports from the team showed African-American children died at more than twice the rate of other groups.
The report’s authors and several county representatives suggested the dramatic shift is the result of greater investment in underserved neighborhoods and ongoing work by community groups.
“This is a hopeful and very impressive finding, and it also shows us we still need to continue to do more,” said Sheila Boxley, president of the Child Abuse Prevention Center, which analyzes all child deaths in the county to look for trends.
She noted that 2015 was the first year that new education programs, such as expanded safe sleep classes and home visits, were fully launched.
It was also the year the county voted to commit $26 million, over a five-year period, to prevent black child deaths due to homicide, child abuse, unsafe sleep incidents and perinatal conditions. They gave grants to a coalition of community groups known as the Black Child Legacy Campaign, which is managed by a private philanthropy called the Sierra Health Foundation.
The campaign then rolled out after-school activities, parenting classes, peer support programs and more to help families at risk of losing a child.
Several young mothers stood up to recount how the campaign helped them connect with prenatal care, legal assistance and even basics such as cribs.
Kenya Fagbemi with Her Health First, a Sacramento nonprofit group that supports black mothers, said the campaign’s services have become even more crucial as the housing crisis pushes women into unfamiliar neighborhoods, where they are less likely to seek help.
“Our agency provides that transportation during those critical moments, making sure they don’t fall between the cracks,” she said. “It’s harder to navigate services if you’re not connected to someone.”
Violence prevention has also been a key strategy. Kenneth Duncan, who leads the Black Child Legacy Campaign for Oak Park, said getting teens involved in community activism gives them a greater sense of worth. Several of the youth he works with attended the supervisors’ meeting to ask for continued funding for mentorship programs and safe activities.
“We’re trying to give them full longevity of life,” Duncan said. “They’re totally bought in. We want to get them to college, to give them a normal successful life and not just see the negativity around them.”
African-American children made up a quarter of all child deaths between 2010 and 2015, despite representing just 10 to 12 percent of the county’s child population. In 2016, they made up 15 percent of all deaths. Nearly half of deaths from child abuse and neglect occurred among African-American children between 2010 and 2015. No black children died from these causes in 2016.
The county death rate for all racial groups increased slightly from 2015 to 2016, mainly do to an uptick in the natural death category. Overall child death has declined over the last decade.