Falling infant and child mortality rates not equal across NSW

23 Aug 2021

Infacts and children from disadvantaged families are over-represented in deaths from almost all causes.

Overall, infant and child mortality rates in NSW have fallen since 2005, a new report shows. However, death rates continue to be higher for infants and children from disadvantaged areas, those from remote/regional areas, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.

The Biennial report of the deaths of children in New South Wales: 2018 and 2019, incorporating reviewable deaths of children, tabled in Parliament by NSW Ombudsman Paul Miller, details how, over the 15-year period from 2005 to 2019, for infants aged less than 1, mortality rate declined by 30%. For children aged 1 to 17 years, the rate declined by 26%.

‘It is pleasing to be able to report that infant and child mortality rates in NSW are, overall, continuing to decline in NSW,’ said Mr Miller. ‘However, there remains much more to be done to prevent the deaths of children in NSW.’

‘The declines in mortality are not uniform. There are clear variations in the risk of a child dying in NSW by region and across different socioeconomic groups. Consistent with our previous reports, infants and children from disadvantaged families are over-represented in deaths from almost all causes, and the mortality rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infants and children remains significantly higher than for non-Indigenous children.’

In contrast to the overall decline, the report also finds that the rate of suicide among children and young people aged 10 to 17 has increased by 47% over the past 15 years. In 2018 and 2019 suicide was the leading cause of death for young people aged 15 to 17 years.  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children have a much higher rate of suicide than non-Indigenous children.  More males than females die by suicide, and this gender gap has increased in the last 5 years.

Recommendations in the report pertain to Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy, drowning, transport fatalities, suicide, and abuse and neglect. They call on the Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ), NSW Health, Transport for NSW, and Department of Customer Service to implement specific actions in these areas.

‘On behalf of the NSW Child Death Review Team and staff, I wish to convey my sincere condolences to the families and friends of the infants, children and young people who have died, and whose deaths are considered in this report,’ said Mr Miller. ‘It is our foremost responsibility that, in reviewing these deaths, we learn from them and use that knowledge to make a difference.‘

This report concerns the 989 children who died in New South Wales in calendar years 2018 and 2019. The report also includes information about longer term trends in child mortality in this state. Thirty eight of the 989 deaths covered by this report were reviewable by the Ombudsman because the child died while in care (19) or in circumstances of (or suspicious of) abuse or neglect (19).

The report examines the underlying risk factors that may have contributed to preventable deaths, and seeks to identify actions that can and should be done to prevent or reduce the deaths of children in NSW in the future.

It brings together the observations, findings, and recommendations arising from the NSW Ombudsman’s statutory child death review responsibilities under the Community Services (Complaints, Reviews and Monitoring) Act 1993. These include both:

  • The work of the NSW Child Death Review Team
  • Reviews by the NSW Ombudsman’s office of the deaths of children in care or detention, and children who died as a result of (or suspicious of) abuse or neglect.

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