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Report Is a Deadly Tale of Childhood : * Health Agency Tells How Violence Takes Toll on Youth

A recent Orange County Health Care Agency report with the deceptively innocuous title “Childhood Injury in Orange County” paints a shocking portrait of violence done to the county’s children. Yet it also points out a way to solve some of the problems.

The 50-page report drew on numerous agencies and statistical surveys to compile its data. It set forth no recommendations of its own, but one of the authors said its purpose was to “help policy makers find solutions and ways to help.”

The Board of Supervisors and a host of organizations that deal with the age group studied--those under 20--should take the hint and make use of the report. It provides data needed to map strategies, and it implicitly demonstrates the need for educating parents and children about the dangers they face, and how to avoid them.

For though the report contains only charts, figures and dry prose, they represent the distillation of tales of heartache, of parents confronted by traumatized children or, in the worst cases, the darkest threat to a parent: the death of a child.

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The most appalling statistics come in a part of the study dealing with fatal injuries over a nine-year period. From the first year, 1982, through the last, 1990, the homicide rate for the under-20 group more than doubled. In yet another reminder of the threat to young lives posed by guns, the study found that nearly all the increase was due to death by firearms. The highest rate for homicide victims came among those aged 15 to 19. Police in the county said the probable cause of the homicide rate spiral was the increase in the number of gangs and guns.

The main cause of death for county youths under 20 remains motor vehicles, which are responsible for just over half the deaths. Yet there is a silver lining in those statistics. From 1989 through 1991 the rate of car accidents involving those under 19, in which someone died or was injured, declined. The drop in percentage of teen-age drivers who had been drinking and were in fatal accidents was especially sharp.

The report noted another major survey which found an overall decline in drinking and driving. The executive director of the county chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving correctly said that at least in this portion of the county report there was cause for celebration. He also said he looked forward to a day when his group could go out of business.

MADD has long campaigned against drinking and driving by everyone from teen-agers to senior citizens. The main offenders are those in their 20s, but the organization has wisely targeted those in school, especially high school students who have neither been drinking nor driving very long. Tens of thousands of Orange County students have attended its assemblies aimed at curbing drinking, especially on prom and graduation nights. The organization has much to offer other groups in terms of organization and motivation and it should be used as a resource.

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Educational programs can help reduce injuries, as evidenced by MADD and by periodic campaigns, especially in the summer, to remind parents of the hazards of back-yard swimming pools. Drowning remains the leading cause of fatal injuries to children aged 1 to 4, but public safety and health officials said they think awareness campaigns have helped to keep the toll lower than it would be otherwise.

The findings suggests the value of education in preventing injury or death to young people. Clearly, we need an all-out campaign against violence involving youth, especially against guns.


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