A new report showed an overall drop in child deaths in Kansas but with two major concerns: Child homicides were at a 23-year high, and drug-related deaths have increased significantly in recent years.
The State Child Death Review Board of Kansas analyzed the deaths of Kansas children that occurred in 2021, the most recent year data was available. It reported there were 349 child fatalities that year, which was a death rate of 49.6 per 100,000 population. That’s the lowest number and rate since the review board was created in 1994.
A big driver of this decline was death due to natural causes; 101 fewer children died from natural causes in 2021 than in 2018. The rate of death due to suicide also has shown a downward trend since 2018, when youth suicides peaked in both Kansas and the U.S.
But while total deaths dropped, child homicides were up sharply. There were 32 child homicides in Kansas in 2021, a 45% increase from 2020 and the highest total since 1998. Drug-related deaths also increased, fueled by the rise of fentanyl. There were 20 deaths from fentanyl in 2020-21, compared with none from 2017-19, according to the report.
Also of note, firearm deaths nearly doubled over the past five reporting years. In 2021, there were 44 firearm deaths, which means that more children died from firearms than from injuries sustained in motor vehicle crashes.
The report also found disparities between race/ethnic groups. Over 2017-21, Black/non-Hispanic children had a rate of death higher than the Kansas rate in all categories except for suicides.
“We know that behind each of these statistics are the stories of children who lost their lives too soon,” Sara Hortenstine, the board’s executive director, said in a news release. “We must learn from these difficult circumstances and take action to prevent future deaths of Kansas children.”