Politics & Government

418 deaths of Kansas children in 2012, annual report says

More than 400 Kansas children died in 2012, the most recent report from the state’s child death review board shows.

The Kansas State Child Death Review Board’s annual report, released last week by Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office, shows 418 children died in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available. That’s one less than in 2011. The report covers deaths of children from birth to age 17.

Eighty-nine of the children were Sedgwick County residents.

Thirteen of the children who died statewide in 2012 were victims of homicide, including Jayla Haag, an 18-month-old from El Dorado who died, an affidavit says, after longtime abuse. Her mother, Alyssa Haag, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter/reckless in her daughter’s death and is in prison. Her mother’s boyfriend at the time faces a charge of first-degree murder in the girl’s death.

The number of homicides among children in 2012 was the lowest since 2005, the report says.

“Every death of a child is a tragedy,” said Theresa Freed, communications director for the Kansas Department for Children and Families. “Until there are no preventable child deaths, we as a community still have work to do.”

There were five homicides in Sedgwick County, the report says. Two occurred in Wyandotte County and one each in Chase, Ford, Gove, Saline and Shawnee counties. One occurred out of state.

It’s hard to say what’s responsible for the statewide decline in homicides, said Diana Schunn, executive director of the Child Advocacy Center of Sedgwick County.

But increased awareness after eight child homicides in Wichita in 2008 – including the formation of the Wichita Coalition for Child Abuse Prevention – and educational campaigns such as “The Period of Purple Crying,” might be making a difference, she said.

Schunn obviously would like to see no homicides.

“Any time there’s a child death related to any kind of trauma it’s too many,” she said. “It’s a good sign that the numbers went down in 2012.”

Of the 13 homicides, 46 percent of the victims were under age 4, and 42 percent were 15 to 17 years old. Child abuse was to blame for all of the deaths under age 4, with crying the suspected trigger in 40 percent of those cases, the report says.

Of the six children who died from child abuse, four were killed by the mother’s boyfriend who was left alone to care for the child, the report said.

Seventy-five percent of the perpetrators, the report says, had a prior criminal history, and drugs played a role in half of the cases. Children living in environments where drugs are present “are at increased risk of abuse, neglect or death,” the report says.

Methamphetamine played a big role in Jayla Haag’s life and death, investigators say.

Alyssa Haag told the investigator that her boyfriend and others smoked methamphetamine around her daughter. Jayla tested positive for the drug when she was born and when she died.

Her boyfriend, Justin Edwards, struck the girl and repeatedly choked her, Alyssa Haag told an investigator, according to an affidavit filed in Butler County District Court.

The majority of the 418 children who died in 2012 – 256 – died of natural causes such as prematurity, congenital conditions and disease.

Unintentional deaths caused by motor vehicle crashes, drowning or fire totaled 81. More than half – 48 – were motor vehicle fatalities, which marked a 45 percent increase from 2011.

SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, was responsible for 25 deaths. An unsafe sleeping environment was a factor in 98 percent of the cases, and 60 percent of the children were sleeping with adults and/or other children at the time of their deaths. The majority, 84 percent, were less than 4 months old.

There also were 19 suicides involving children. The vast majority of children who died from suicide – 84 percent – were male.

The manner of death for 24 child fatalities was undetermined.

The lowest number of child deaths since the board was created in 1992 occurred in 1995, when there were 404. Ten years ago, there were 498 child deaths, and there were 514 five years ago.

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SGCountyDeb.

By the numbers

There were 418 deaths of Kansas children in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, according to the recently released annual report of the Kansas State Child Death Review Board.

256: Number of deaths due to natural causes such as prematurity, congenital conditions and diseases

81: Number of deaths from unintentional injuries such as motor vehicle crashes, drowning or fire

25: Number of deaths due to SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

24: Number of deaths whose manner was undetermined

19: Number of deaths due to suicide

13: Number of deaths due to homicide

Source: Kansas State Child Death Review Board Annual Report

Deaths in Sedgwick County

There were 89 deaths of Sedgwick County children.

60: Number of deaths due to natural causes

Six: Number of deaths due to suicide

Six: Number of deaths due to SIDS

Five: Number of deaths due to homicide

Five: Number of deaths from motor vehicle crashes

Four: Number of deaths from unintentional injuries

Three: Number of deaths whose manner was undetermined

Source: Kansas State Child Death Review Board Annual Report

Ways to prevent SIDS

▪ Infants should be placed to sleep on their back. Side sleeping is not as safe.

▪ A firm sleep surface should be used. Pillows, quilts, comforters and other soft materials should not be placed with the baby.

▪ Use clothing, such as sleep sacks, to keep a baby warm instead of bedding that could overheat the baby or cover the baby’s head.

▪ Smoking during pregnancy is a risk factor.

▪ A separate but close place for sleeping is recommended. Don’t sleep with your baby or place your baby to sleep with another sibling.

Source: Kansas State Child Death Review Board Annual Report

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