Drop in child deaths in NSW - but aboriginal children still six times more likely to die

Recently released figures on child deaths in New South Wales have revealed that the number has dropped overall - down almost 40 per cent in the past decade - this equates to 8.6 lives per 100,000 children and young people saved, however this does not appear to apply to indigenous children.

A study by the NSW Child Death Commission which examined the 6,879 deaths of children aged 0-17 between 1996 and 2005, found that deaths of premature babies and infants from SIDS or congenital malformations had dropped substantially but Aboriginal babies are six times more likely to die unexpectedly in their infancy than non-Aboriginal children.

The review team also found that Indigenous children are also more likely to die from meningococcal infection and pneumonia, possibly due to the high rate of tobacco smoking in Aboriginal families and poor education in preventing the deaths.

For many of the causes of child deaths the review team consistently found that factors such as socio-economic circumstances, geographic location, and Aboriginality can affect the upward and downward trend.

The typical pattern was for mortality rates to decrease as relative socioeconomic advantage increased and deaths by suicide and deaths related to asthma, epilepsy, and cerebral palsy were the only exceptions.

Teenagers between the ages of 16 and 17 also still have the highest mortality rate, even though the number of teens dying from drugs or violent assaults has dropped significantly.

Gillian Calvert the NSW Commissioner for Children, says one striking feature of the study was that the number of children drowning in swimming pools, 73, has stayed about the same.

Calvert says these are very preventable deaths which were mainly due to a combination of poor parental supervision plus poorly maintained gates and fences.

The report has prompted calls for tougher fencing laws including regular inspections of backyard swimming pools to try to reduce the number of drownings.

Ms Calvert says that real progress has been made by parents, communities and service providers working together to reduce child deaths but the study clearly shows where more work needs to be done to reduce systemic disadvantage.

The Trends in Child Deaths in NSW 1996-2005 report has made nine recommendations focusing on the challenges of reducing child deaths in some sectors of the community, including:

  • Developing prevention strategies around meningococcal infection and pneumonia, especially in low socio-economic and regional areas and in Aboriginal communities.

  • Implementing strategies that raise awareness about the risks of recreational driving (such as motorbikes) by children under 16 years.

  • Requiring local authorities to monitor compliance with swimming pool legislation.

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