OPINION -In 2009, the Sacramento County Child Death Review Team found that in Sacramento County African American children die at twice the rate of other children. Appropriately, this news was cause for considerable alarm. Perhaps even more disturbing was the recognition that a significant disparity in African American child death rates has persisted in Sacramento County for 20 consecutive years. The revelation of this long-term trend and the underwhelming response it previously generated should serve as a call to action for Sacramento County’s African American community, and for all Sacramentans who care about the health and well-being of all children.

The positive news is that we have support from county leaders, particularly the current chair of the County Board of Supervisors, Phil Serna.

After receiving the report, Supervisor Serna convened the Blue Ribbon Commission on Disproportionate African American Child Deaths. The Commission, which he chaired, was charged with taking a deeper look at the issue and offering recommendations for reducing the African American child death rate 10 percent to 20 percent by 2020.

The Commission released its final report in May of 2013. Subsequently, in the fall of 2013 the Board of Supervisors created the Steering Committee on the Reduction of African American Child Deaths to develop a plan for putting the Commission’s recommendations into action.

The volunteer Steering Committee is finalizing this plan and is scheduled to present it to the Board of Supervisors on April 7 at 9:30 a.m.

The plan is reflective of the Committee’s belief that all of our children matter and should be supported to grow up physically and emotionally healthy.

The Committee has worked hard to fashion a set of recommendations that are focused on reducing the African American child death rate through structural changes and program investments that also improve our ability to better serve all children.

Development of the strategic plan marks the culmination of a year of analysis, planning and invaluable input by Steering Committee members, who represent a diverse cross section of the community’s civic groups, faith-based organizations, parent groups, youth representatives, social justice advocates, health providers, county agencies, education and philanthropic organizations.

Now that we have a strategic plan, it is critical that we join together as a community to ensure that its implementation is not delayed.  We believe the plan calls for us to engage and empower residents who live in several high-need communities and who want to end the tragic and unnecessary loss of child lives. We also know that our ability to end 20 years of disproportionate African American child deaths will only be possible if public and nonprofit organizations, , who have been our partners in this endeavor, continue to support our efforts.

Success will also require ongoing political leadership, which has been key to our ability to get to this crossroad.

It is our hope that we take to heart the words of Nelson Mandela, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

We hope Sacramentans will bare their collective soul by making it known that we are committed to ensuring all of our children’s lives matter.
By Chet Hewitt and Wendy Petko

EDITOR’S NOTE: Chet Hewitt and Wendy Petko serve as co-chairs of the Steering Committee on Reduction of African American Child Deaths in Sacramento County.