Mesa County ranks high in child abuse deaths, low in premature births

Mesa County is one of 15 Colorado counties labeled as a “high risk” place for children to live, according to a new state report.

The state’s Early Childhood Leadership Commission released the Early Childhood Needs Assessment on Feb. 23. The report details how prevalent 13 “risk” factors for children are in the state’s 64 counties. Those factors include percentage of premature births and low-birth-weight infants, the percentage of children in poverty, the juvenile-crime arrest rate, and percentage of county residents living below the federal poverty level. Rates in each county are compared with similar-sized counties.

Mesa County is among 17 “urban” counties in the report. A “high-risk” urban county is classified in the report as any county with one of the top three rates among similar-sized counties on the negative side of the 13 risk factors in four or more categories. Mesa County, for example, has the state’s highest rate of child fatality due to abuse or neglect among urban counties, at 37.7 deaths per 100,000 children in 2004 through 2006. The county placed third among urban counties for deaths among children under the age of 15 and older than 12 months, with 23.6 deaths for every 100,000 children in 2004 through 2008.

Mesa County Commissioner Janet Rowland, a co-chair of the executive committee of local child-abuse-prevention group How Are the Children?, said Mesa County may be at the top because the data reflects a particularly sad period in Mesa County’s history with child abuse.

After six Mesa County children died from abuse or neglect between January 2006 and June 2007, a town hall meeting addressed the issue of child deaths caused by neglect or abuse. Rowland said more than 150 people attended the meeting in October 2007, and several initiatives have grown locally since then, including more training for mandated and nonmandated child-abuse reporters, the creation of a hotline for parents to call to ask questions or calm down when they may be at risk of abusing their children, and increased communication between schools, physicians and the people they can report abuse to.

“It was a tipping point,” Rowland said. “I’m certain if you’d look at those numbers now, we wouldn’t be near the top.”

Mesa County also placed second among urban counties for crime arrests among 10- to 17-year-olds in 2009 with 102.6 arrests per 1,000 children that age, and second for unemployment rate at 9.5 percent in July 2010.

Despite placing in the “high risk” category, Mesa County didn’t look all bad in the report, especially when it came to birth-related data. Mesa County had some of the lowest rates among urban counties for premature births (8.1 percent of all babies born between 2006 and 2008 in Mesa County were born premature), infant mortality (4.4 out of every 1,000 babies born between 2004 and 2008 in Mesa County died), and low-birth-weight babies (7.6 percent of all babies born between 2006 and 2008 in Mesa County weighed less than normal).

The county placed above the state average in four other categories: high school dropouts, overall maltreatment of children, crime in the county, and prevalence of unwed mothers under the age of 25 who have less than a high school education.

Mesa County had lower rates than the state average of individuals living below the federal poverty level and children living in poverty.

The goal of the report is to provide early childhood professionals and legislators with data that will help them better understand the risks faced by children in their communities. Early Childhood Leadership Commission co-Chair Pat Hamill said in a news release she hopes the report helps foster a Colorado with healthy, educated and well-cared-for children.

“We hope to bring together county and city officials, early childhood professionals, health care providers and community organizations to use this report to dramatically improve the lives of children across the state,” she said.


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