Drownings, child neglect and firearms contributed to an increase in child deaths in Arizona during 2021, marking the highest rate of child deaths in the last 10 years, according to an annual report issued by the state.
The review released earlier this month by the state Child Fatality Review Program said Arizona’s child mortality rate increased by 4.7% from 51 deaths per 100,000 children in 2020 to 53.4 deaths per 100,000 children in 2021, The Arizona Republic reported.
A total of 863 children died in Arizona last year, up from 838 the prior year.
Nearly half of last year’s deaths were preventable, according to authors of the report, who based their analysis on reviews of death certificates, autopsy reports, hospital records, law enforcement reports, and any other relevant documents that provide insight into the cause of a child’s death.
Arizona child death rates from drowning and abuse or neglect "increased drastically" from 2020, says the report. Child drownings doubled from 22 deaths in 2020 to 44 deaths in 2021, and drowning was the most common cause of death in children ages 1 through 4 years old, the report says.
"We were very surprised to see how many drownings we had. It’s been going down in that category for many years and now it went back up again. That was very concerning," said Dr. Mary Ellen Rimsza, a pediatrician who chairs the Arizona Child Fatality State Team. "It’s very tragic how it can happen so quickly in situations where people have a backyard pool."
There were 128 Arizona children who died from abuse or neglect in 2021, up from 95 such deaths in 2020.
"The majority of those are not abuse. They are neglect. And so I think we need to consider, what are the situations where neglect occurs," Rimsza said. "Some of it isn’t intentional neglect, it’s neglect through a lack of money for a place to live, for childcare, so they have unsafe childcare situations."
Rimsza noted that substance use played a role in more than half of the child deaths from abuse or neglect in 2021, a factor that in some cases may have been related to COVID-19. Numerous reports and studies have indicated that use of drugs and alcohol increased during the pandemic due to, among other things, stress and isolation.