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Infant Deaths High in Antelope Valley

Times Staff Writer

The infant mortality rate in the Antelope Valley is twice that of the rest of Los Angeles County, mainly because of a lack of prenatal care and the limited transportation options, authorities said Wednesday.

The statistic was part of a report being released today by the county’s Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect, which provides an annual analysis of childhood deaths by accident, suicide, abuse and other causes.

The infant death rate was 10.6 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2002, compared with a countywide rate of 5.5 deaths of children under a year old. Fifty-three infants died in the Antelope Valley in 2002, the most recent year for which data are available; countywide, 826 infants died.

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There is only one high-risk maternity specialist in the Antelope Valley, and long distances from services and lack of transportation hamper women seeking medical care, said Cynthia Harding, director of Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health Programs for the county.

Health authorities a year ago launched a review of infant deaths in the Antelope Valley -- which encompasses Lancaster, Palmdale and surrounding communities -- and found that mortality rates outstripped those in the rest of the county by wide margins.

“There is a desperate lack of resources for families; they’re isolated, the nutrition level is bad and communication is bad,” said Deanne Tilton-Durfee, executive director of the interagency council.

“Even if they are employed, the parent that works outside of the Antelope Valley is exhausted by the time they get home. This is a basic message to the entire child-protection system that we need to ensure we have a better safety net, particularly for very young children in the Antelope Valley,” she said.

The Antelope Valley is one of the fastest-growing parts of Southern California and has been a magnet for young families because of relatively affordable housing. But many residents endure long commutes to jobs throughout the Southland, taking time away from their families.

North Los Angeles County, which includes the Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys, is expected to add 400,000 new residents over the next 20 years. With the population increase, officials hope to make improvements to congested roadways as well as services provided to the public.

According to the report, infant deaths in the Antelope Valley increased 112% from 1999 to 2002. The rate remained stable or decreased slightly in the rest of the county. Investigators found that death rates among African American infants in the Antelope Valley increased from 1.0 per 1,000 live births in 1999 to 32.7 in 2002, while rates among other races increased slightly.

In 2002, the countywide infant mortality rate among African Americans was 13.1, according to the report.

County health officials said they are unsure why the rate was so much higher among African Americans than other ethnic groups. Factors being explored include inadequate prenatal care, poor maternal nutrition and existing medical conditions, such as diabetes.

Countywide, the leading cause of death for infants younger than a year was prematurity and low-birth weight related to a lack of medical care.

After a series of community meetings, the county Board of Supervisors last July approved measures to address the problem.

Officials said there has been some progress.

A partnership of community and health advocates called the Antelope Valley Best Babies Collaborative was formed and will sponsor a community meeting Wednesday. County health officials will present the results of a survey on common risk factors as well as discuss potential new initiatives.

For example, interviews found that women whose infants had died tended to get prenatal care at a later stage than women elsewhere in the county and had higher smoking rates. Studies show smoking can adversely affect birth weight.

The collaborative is working with hospitals and other healthcare providers to increase services and support for families, especially African Americans who are at highest risk. It also is organizing education programs.

But hurdles remain.

A Department of Health Services investigation of the Antelope Valley infants who died in 2002 found that 36 died within their first month, 22 of them within one day of birth.

“The Antelope Valley in some ways is more like a rural area,” Harding said. “When we mapped out the area, the services tended to be in one area whereas the patients were all over the place.”

Other abuse and death figures from the interagency council include data compiled in 2003. Child homicides by caregivers decreased slightly from 37 in 2002 to 35 in 2003; suicides remained unchanged at 19; and accidental deaths of children 14 and under increased 16%, from 127 in 2002 to 147 in 2003.

The report goes to local and state government agencies, with recommendations. Among other findings:

* Of children killed by their parents, family members or caregivers 89% were younger than 5.

* Seven newborns were abandoned and found dead in 2003, and all of the cases were deemed homicides by the coroner. Eight newborns were anonymously handed over to authorities.

* After four years in which vehicles hitting children was the leading cause of accidental death for children 14 and younger, in 2003 the leading cause was auto accidents in which children were passengers. Forty-seven children died in such accidents; 25 died after being struck by vehicles.

* There were 162,361 cases of child abuse reported to the Department of Children and Family Services in 2003, compared with 161,638 such cases in 2002. General neglect continued to be the leading reason for referral.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Infant mortality

The Antelope Valley area recorded much higher rates of infant mortality in 2002 than other parts of Los Angeles County.

Infant deaths per 1,000 live births*

1. Antelope Valley: 10.6

2. San Fernando: 5

3. San Gabriel: 5.2

4. Metro: 5.4

5. West: 3.6

6. South: 6.2

7. East: 4.7

8. South Bay/Harbor: 5.4

* Infants dying at less than one year of age. Latest statistics available are for 2002.

Source: Los Angeles County Department of Health Services


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