Here are some trends found in a review of child deaths in Oklahoma: * Poverty often plays a role. ”If they died from a car wreck ... a drowning, intentional abuse or sudden illness ... a commonality that you see more times than not is that this family is poor,” said Annette Wisk Jacobi, a state Health Department official who has served for years on the state Child Death Review Board. “A lot of the time we're looking at children left alone or left with a child not old enough to care for everyone else or ... left with somebody who is not a very good care provider. ... As the economy kind of goes south, we're going to see more of this.” In many child murder cases, the killer is unemployed or financially stressed from reasons such as divorce, court records show. One out-of-work defendant awaiting trial admitted to police he became frustrated caring for his two stepchildren and infant son in a motel room day after day while his wife worked. He said he slapped, threw, kicked and stomped his 2-year-old stepdaughter Liliana because she wouldn't eat her lunch. * The number of child deaths in Oklahoma each year dropped from more than 1,000 in the early 1980s to fewer than 800 in recent years. * Almost 100 children have been homicide victims since the start of 2006, according to the state medical examiner. But those statistics can be misleading. A drowning death caused by neglect was listed by the medical examiner as manner unknown. And a smoke inhalation death — where the batteries for the smoke alarms had been used for toys — was considered an accident. Many deaths are considered to be from natural causes. * Some deaths from possible abuse or neglect go unpunished. No arrests were made in 17 of 47 child homicides studied in 2007 by the Child Death Review Board, according to its latest report. Prosecutors have told the board they sometimes can't identify a perpetrator because too many people were around a child around the time of an injury. * Dozens of deaths could have been prevented, especially those caused by parents and infants sleeping together. In case after case, an autopsy found a baby died after a sleeping parent rolled over on him or her. Alcohol or drugs are sometimes involved. In one such death, a mother admitted drinking 20 beers in an evening before placing her 2-month-old girl Trinity on a pallet on the floor next to her at 2 to 3 in the morning. The mother is charged with second-degree manslaughter. * State officials lack funds to fully fight the problem. At the Health Department, about 150 fewer nurses are available to visit poor first-time mothers in their homes and teach them skills because of budget cuts. At its peak early this decade, more than 3,700 women signed up over a year for services from the Children First program. Last fiscal year, only about 2,500 new mothers enrolled in the program. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services volunteered last year to help pay for a public awareness campaign called Think Prevent Live but came up with funds to produce commercials on only three of five issues so far. It would take another $24,000 or so to complete the project. Oklahoma broadcasters air the commercials for free. * Traffic accidents kill a lot of children. Often the child is not strapped in the vehicle. In its latest annual report, the Oklahoma Child Death Review Board wrote, “From the board's inception, motor vehicle related fatalities have consistently been the leading cause of death” in cases it studied extensively. The board reported that in 2007 it reviewed the circumstances behind 68 deaths of children who were riding in a car, van, pickup or sport utility vehicle. The board found most — 41 — were unrestrained.
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