Infant mortality rises in the District

The Annie E. Casey Foundation released its annual Kids Count report on indicators of childhood well being this week and the news is decidedly mixed for young children in the District.

On one hand, many indicators of childhood well being showed improvement since 2000, including the percentage of low-birth weight babies, mortality rates for children ages 1-14, and the percentage of children living in poverty (down 13%, but still frighteningly high at 26% of all children) or in single-parent households.  But during that time, infant mortality rates spiked by 9% to 13.1 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. 

Infant mortality was highest in Ward 8 at 20 deaths per 1,000 live births. In wealthy Ward 3, the rate was 4.3 per 1,000 births. Clearly, something is amiss. As a city, we are not doing enough to support expectant low-income mothers to ensure they have healthy pregnancies and successful births. 

Just last week I attended the meeting of the District's Home Visiting Council, made up of representatives of social service providers catering to new and expectant mothers and working to decrease teenage pregnancy rates. Just like other nonprofits supporting struggling families in the District, they are anxious about funding in this tight budget environment. This stark finding in a report card that otherwise shows remarkable progress is an unfortunate reminder of the life-and-death necessity of their services. 

Healthy child development begins in utero, and that means we must support expectant mothers through proven prenatal outreach, including home visitation programs. We must urge our future mayor and D.C. Council to make it a priority to turn around this ghastly trend. 

Click here to see D.C.'s annual Kids Count report card.