Charleston Co. Coroner’s Office looks to prevent child deaths with new grant

The Charleston County Coroner’s Office is hoping a new pilot grant they received will help them find out the consistent risk factors for children’s deaths.
Published: Mar. 29, 2023 at 3:47 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 29, 2023 at 9:58 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Charleston County Coroner’s Office is hoping a new pilot grant they received will help them find out the consistent risk factors for children’s deaths in Charleston County, and work on ways to prevent these deaths in real time.

In South Carolina, there’s a law where each coroner has to conduct a child fatality review after the death of any child 17 and younger to investigate why and how they died. The coroner conducts these child death reviews after each death that occurs in the county, and that information is inputted into a national database by the South Carolina Department of Social Services.

But Charleston County Coroner Bobbi Jo O’Neal says they’re behind by a couple of years.

The Charleston County Coroner’s Office applied for and received a grant for a 6-month pilot program from the Michigan Public Health Institute, which aims to address barriers as to why agencies were having a hard time putting information into that national database that helps them learn how and where kids are dying in order to put preventative initiatives in place.

“By looking at them collectively, we can see what the risk factors are within our community and then look at those risk factors and provide education and prevention programs to try to prevent future children’s deaths,” O’Neal said. “That’s the goal.”

Now, the coroner’s office has contracted with a death investigator who is entering all their cases from 2022 and 2023 into the national database so they can have real time data and run reports to find out the consistent risk factors for kids in Charleston County.

“We provide information about what we’re seeing that’s causing the death of our children and my hope is that individuals don’t meet the coroner’s office while we’re working.” O’Neal said. “That we can provide preventive information, so they don’t have to interact with the coroner’s office.”

This data is especially important for MUSC Injury Prevention Coordinator Mary Beth Vassy, who uses the data for injury prevention to know what’s really going on in our communities.

“We’re missing the current stuff that’s going on,” Vassy said. “We’re seeing things that have been years past and not what our community is currently facing so we’re not able to focus our efforts on what they are in need of right now.”

Amid reports of a dramatic rise in child mortality around the country, this initiative is especially timely.

“Child deaths and the child injuries it’s just gone up exponentially and we don’t have proper reporting on it we can’t intervene, and we can’t do those things to protect those kids,” Vassy said.

O’Neal says she hopes they make great progress so that they can apply for a five year grant the CDC is coming out with. She also says she eventually wants to help our neighbors in the Tri-County area enter their information into the national database so they can aim to prevent deaths in the entire region.