Trauma Leading Cause of Wrongful Death in Children
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Trauma Leading Cause of Wrongful Death in Children

Sunday, August 03, 2008By Richard Alexander

When 15 year old Elizabeth Smart was abducted in 2002, her case became a national story that occupied the headlines for months.To help find abducted children, the United States government has created Amber Alert, and in 2006, 261 Amber Alerts for missing children were issued.

Today when a predator uses the internet to arrange a sexual encounter with a 13 year old girl, he may find a camera crew from NBC waiting when he arrives.

In Pennsylvania, a program called Operation Safe Surf fills the television with Public Service Announcements that urge parents not to let their children meet up with strangers whom they meet on the Internet.

Preventing kidnappings and abductions receives tremendous attention and funding, but the more than 5,000 children under the age of 14 who die every year from traumatic injuries are largely ignored.

Five thousands childhood wrongful deaths are 5000 too many, but that number actually represents a major improvement. In 1987, unintentional injuries claimed the lives of 7,986 children age 14 and younger. By 2004, that number was down to 5359, but that still is 15 funerals a day.

The reduction in the wrongful death of children is clear evidence that we can make a difference, and it makes me wonder how many more young lives we could protect if devoted as many resources to child safety as we do to the disappearance of children.

Children need safety careful supervision. Children are not little adults.

The judgment of children and their trust that adults will protect them makes it difficult for them to recognize the dangers around them, whether they're crossing a street, riding a bike, or jumping into a swimming pool. Children are easily distracted when not supervised and the ability to control impulses is not reasonably developed until age 16.

The research of 9-13 olds by Ronald Dahl, M.D., University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Professor David Schwebel at the University of Alabama, Birmingham have proven that absent direct supervision children can make the correct decisions most of the time, but not dependably.  It is simply a matter of brain development and judgment that doesn't take place until age 16 and is not finished until the early 20s.

Because children have difficulty recognizing dangers, adults are responsible for their safety.

Adults universally contribute to deaths and injuries by failing to supervise children, by failing to teach them the danger in activities, and by prohibiting inherently dangerous activities such as riding an ATV or a motorcycle.

When Wyatt Barto died in February of 2008, his death brought no national outcry toward the sport that put him in an early grave. Wyatt was a seasoned professional motocross racer, and death is an occupational hazard for motocrossers, even if they are only 10 years old. Wyatt Barto died on an off-road motorcycle 6 years before he could even get a driver's license.

Every year, more than 800 children drown, usually in home pools when the unsupervised child falls, unnoticed, into the water. It's unbelievable that a child in a public water park can die the same way, but it happened recently. This death figures to bring a lawsuit, but a lawsuit can't bring back a child who never should have died.

And for every child who dies, thousands more suffer preventable injuries, including permanent traumatic brain injuries.

Bicycles cause more childhood injuries than any consumer product except the automobile, and helmets can protect the heads of riders of all ages. Bicycle helmets are inexpensive and they do prevent brain injuries, but national estimates are that helmet use among children is no more than 15 to 25 percent.

Bike helmets should be mandatory everywhere in the U.S, not in just 21 states. That's an easy law to pass. Seat belt and child restraint laws have saved many children from injuries and death, and comprehensive bicycle helmet laws would save many more.

Childhood is a dangerous time. Trauma is the leading cause of death in children under 14. The rare kidnapping takes much less of a toll than the injuries and deaths that happen every day. It's time to put more resources on preventing deaths and injuries. Two hundred and sixty-one Amber Alerts is a tragedy. Five thousand preventable child deaths a year is outrageous.

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