Detroit Police Chief James Craig faces the toughest challenge of his career — securing the futures of Detroit's children. (Steve Perez / The Detroit News)
Dramatic statistics reveal Detroit’s heartbreaking failure to protect its children. Our city has the worst ranking in America for seeing its children survive to age 18. Changing that reality demands a 100 percent commitment at every level. Public health and safety resources must be concentrated on protecting children — the core responsibility of any society.
Detroit, and by extension our region and state, is not meeting that fundamental obligation. Children in the city die too often due to infant mortality and violence. That’s the stark conclusion of an exhaustive study by Detroit News reporter Karen Bouffard, and it’s unacceptable.
Of course, we’ve used that word before in describing conditions in Detroit. Poor student performance is unacceptable. Blight is unacceptable. Rampant crime is unacceptable. Financial collapse is unacceptable. And yet too often we continue to accept the unacceptable without rallying to action.
Here’s the hard truth: Children from birth through age 18 died at a rate of 120 per 100,000 in 2010. The next highest rate was in Philadelphia, at around 96 deaths per 100,000.
When children are dying at such an alarming pace, urgent action is all that’s acceptable. That means deploying every possible weapon to keep children safe and alive.
Gov. Rick Snyder must make this a priority of state departments that deal with health and welfare; Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano must deploy the county health department, and new Mayor Mike Duggan must place this at the top of his to-do list.
The response starts with attacking teen pregnancy and infant mortality.
Detroit’s rate of infant mortality—13.5 deaths for every 1,000 live births—ranks it highest among U.S. cities and even higher than some third-world countries.
Premature births are one of the leading causes of infant death and development problems.
And teen pregnancy and single parenthood are among the leading causes of prematurity. Some 80 percent of Detroit mothers are unmarried, compared with 32 percent of white Michigan mothers.
Detroit also leads the country with the number of teen births. Those mothers need special attention. They need more access to quality health care. And they need better education in how to care for their babies — both before and after they’re born.
Detroit has called on the state and federal governments and charitable foundations to fund a variety of recovery efforts, from blight removal to turning on street lights. It must make an even greater plea for resources to help Detroit’s mothers and their babies.
The federal government is well aware of the infant mortality epidemic in Detroit. That’s why the National Institutes of Health 10 years ago chose Wayne State University’s medical school as the location for its Perinatology Research Branch. Doctors and researchers are working hard to study what’s going on in fetuses’ brains. They are hopeful this will help them understand what leads to premature births and complications afterward.
Research is essential to discover the roots of the problem in hopes of preventing it. But we also need action to help today’s victims.
Churches, schools and community groups must take teen pregnancy far more seriously. Preventing teen pregnancy is key to bringing down infant mortality rates. Teens must be educated in how to avoid becoming pregnant. They also must be taught to take more personal responsibility for their actions and to make smarter life choices.
In fact, education is the single best tool to fight this epidemic.
Too many Detroit young people aren’t graduating from high school, which leads to poverty, crime, and teen and single mothers. And then the cycle starts all over.
The importance of bringing more quality schools to Detroit, and making sure students stay in them, is highlighted by The News’ report.
In addition to the health risk, children also face a real threat from gun violence.
In 2010, 32 children died from violence in Detroit. Reports of another innocent child becoming the victim of a shooting have become all too common.
Efforts to make routes to school safer for Detroit children are helpful, and the Police Department and Detroit Public School officials are stepping up efforts to address blighted houses and other dangers near schools. Restarting the police gang squad should help.
All of these efforts must be coordinated under the broad umbrella of keeping Detroit’s children alive and safe.
When the mission is framed in that way, it is impossible — and unacceptable — not to act.