North Carolina child safety advocates are worried about a recent increase in death among some tweens and middle-school children, particularly by suicide, homicide and poisoning.
The state's Child Fatality Task Force received reports Monday based on government statistics showing the 2012 rates of infant mortality and child deaths were slightly higher compared to last year. The increases weren't statistically significant - essentially flat compared to 2011 - and don't reverse marked declines in these rates since the late 1980s, according to presenters.
"We have seen dramatic improvements," said Kathleen Jones-Vessey with the State Center for Health Statistics.
Still, some figures within the rates bothered task force members. About one-third of the 1,339 deaths of those under age 18 in 2012 remain attributed to the death of black infants, who died at about 2½ times the rate of white infants, according to the State Center for Health Statistics.
And the number of deaths of 10- to 14-year-olds, which still comprise less than 10 percent of all child deaths, rose last year due to many causes, according to a report. The number of suicides in this age group rose from fewer than five in 2010 to 15 in 2012, contributing to a 52 percent increase in all youth suicides compared to 2011.
There were also more youth homicide victims among 10- to 14-year-olds. And poisonings in that age group - often unintentional drug overdoses - also rose though the numbers of deaths in each category were fewer than 10. Motor vehicle deaths also are higher.
"Every (major) cause of death for 10- to 14-year olds is up. That's concerning," said Elizabeth Hudgins, the task force executive director, adding that the uptick in suicides "is really a horrible indicator."
Task force members couldn't attribute the increase in suicides in the age group to any one reason or to a statistical anomaly, saying it's a complex issue.
A researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill told task force members recently that suicide among youth results from cumulative factors, include a history of traumatic events in one's life, substance abuse, economic hardships and isolation. Ninety-five percent of all suicides also are associated with an identifiable brain illness, said Jodi Flick with the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work.
Solutions include reducing barriers to mental health treatment, increasing education about safe gun storage and teaching coping skills among young people and adults who work with students, her presentation said.
"They are prevention practices that make a difference across population," said committee member Susan Robinson, who works at the state mental health programs office. "We do know what can work."
The overall child death rate increased from 57.4 deaths per 1,000 children in 2011 to 58.6 deaths in 2012, the task force said. The rate has still fallen more than 45 percent since the panel was created in 1991. The task force researches mortality trends and makes legislative recommendations to the General Assembly.
State health officials last month reported the infant mortality rate rose for the second straight year in 2012, with 7.4 babies out of every 1,000 live births dying before their first birthday, compared to 7.2 deaths in 2011. The state's rate is the 15th highest in the nation, Jones-Vessey said. The rate was 12.6 infant deaths per 1,000 just 25 years ago.