amazing climb A remarkably good news trend involving young children in homicide rates in California and large cities across the country has been unclear in recent years: the number of child homicide victims in California has declined dramatically over the past decade, the latest death The certificate data shows, a pattern mirrored somewhat across the country.
In 1991, California coroners officially classified 133 deaths of children aged 9 and under as homicide. By 2011 this figure had fallen to 81.
In 2020, it was at 40.
Adjusted for population change, the state’s child homicide rate – the number of homicides per 100,000 children aged 0 to 9 – fell by almost 50% from 2011 to 2020 and is down about 70% from three decades ago, as did the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and California Department of Public Health.
Nationwide, the child homicide rate fell by 14% over the past decade and 28% from three decades ago.
Most child murders involve newborns, infants and young children. Dean Tilton DurphyExecutive Director of the Los Angeles County Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect. “Safe Surrender” Laws went online in California and several other states around 2001. Enacted in response to the abandonment of infants, these laws allow parents to confidentially surrender an infant who is 3 days old or younger without fear of prosecution.
According to the California Department of Social Services, more than 1,000 California infants have been safely surrendered since the law went into effect. The number of carelessly abandoned babies across the state fell from an average of 18 per year from 2001 to 2005 to an average of two a year from 2015 to 2019. And the number of children who died fell from 52 in 2001-05 to zero. 2015-19.
“Safe surrender clearly made a difference,” said Tilton Durphy. “We show an absolute correlation between the declining number of child killings and the increasing number of safe surrenders. I mean, it’s not equal, it’s not accurate, but obviously since we started, we’ve seen that the number of child homicides due to abandonment has come down.”
Better access to family planning services may also play a role in the decline in child homicides as people give birth to fewer unwanted children. Birth rates — births per 1,000 women — have declined in California and nationwide over the past three decades, and women, on average, are waiting until they are older and more mature to give birth. . Although fathers or lovers hit children more often than mothers, Tilton Durphy said data collected in Los Angeles County suggests there is a correlation between the age of the mother and child: older mothers tend to have children. kills less.
Some child welfare experts told studies that show The relationship between declining child homicide rates and increased access to abortion.
Although news coverage abounds with stories of child victims who fell through the cracks of overwhelmed social service agencies, experts interviewed by KHN said the social safety net in California is now stronger than it was in decades past. And with this early intervention-at-risk families have made a difference.
Various agencies — law enforcement, social services, hospitals, non-profit community groups — try to stop child homicides. Child safety advocates said that in recent years several California counties have worked to improve communication between groups so they know when a child may be at risk of homicide.
Dr. Michael Durphy, who helped start the nation’s first multi-agency “Child Mortality Review Team” in Los Angeles County in 1978, said, “They have something to do with what they know and involve each other.” They are more suitable for that.”
love the organization first 5 california And state agencies such as the Department of Social Services have also launched several home-visit programs for parents of newborns. Tilton Durphy said, “I think the meeting at home has made a big difference.” She said the programs provide “some eyes and ears and support indoors to see how safe a child is or to help a stressed parent.”
Other advocates credit advances in early diagnosis and support services for children with disabilities, which have historically been more likely Compared to other children who are victims.
“We’re screening, and so we’re starting to identify those things now and make changes soon,” said Sheila Boxley, president and CEO of the Statewide Child Exploitation Prevention Center.
The decline in California’s child homicide rate held true across race and ethnicity – but did not erase the disturbing disparities. The homicide rate of young black children from 2011 to 2020 was three times the rate of white and Hispanic children and nearly seven times the rate of Asian children.
Tilton Durphy blames long-standing systemic racism. He noted that families in which a young child dies, often factors such as unemployment, substance abuse, mental illness, domestic violence, are statistically more likely to occur in the African American community.
Determining when a child’s death is a homicide is often difficult. Many datasets try to capture the extent of the problem. The death certificate data used for this story is based on the coroners’ determination of cause of death.
Kimberly Jin, the Sacramento County coroner and president of the California State Coroners Association, said coroners have used the same standard for decades when determining whether a death was the result of homicide. According to the National Association of Medical Examiners, a homicide results in a “deliberate act done by another person to cause fear, harm, or death.”
“Some are simple: If a child is shot, it is a murder,” Jin said. “If the drug is overdose or if it looks like it may have been an accident – sometimes it’s not as obvious.”
A separate dataset Information is collected directly from law enforcement agencies about deaths designated as homicides by those agencies, including the ages of victims, from the California Department of Justice. For most age groups, the information reported by law enforcement investigators matches a coroner’s final cause-of-death determination. But when the victims are much younger, records show wide discrepancies between the initial assessment by law enforcement agencies and the coroner’s final determination.
The state DOJ dataset consistently shows more California homicides for children ages 0 to 9 than death certificate data does: 13 more homicides in 2020, for example. However, like the death certificate figures, it shows a significant drop in the child homicide rate: a 70% drop since 1991 and a 28% drop since 2011.
Child homicides continued to decline during the first year of the pandemic, even as homicides rose for many other age groups, according to both death certificates and state DOJ data. Preliminary figures show a further decline in 2021, but Sacramento County Coroner Jin called those numbers “iffy” as investigations into child deaths from last year could continue.
Tilton Durphy supports a number of measures that he says will reduce child homicide rates. He called for reforms in mental health care for parents of newborns. He said more programs are needed to prepare expectant parents for the challenges they face. He expressed support for pending legislation that would re-establish a State Child Mortality Review Council to identify trends and disparities in child deaths. And she said insurance companies and public agencies should begin covering the cost of home visits to support new parents.
“We’re very shy about the level of home visitation that can be a dent,” she said, “especially with these young children.”
Philip Reese is a data reporting specialist and assistant professor of journalism at California State University-Sacramento.