Black Mothers’ Mortality Rates Remain Among World’s Highest

Black Child Legacy Campaign workers speak July 25 at the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors meeting. Photograph courtesy of Robert J. Hansen/OBSERVER.

This post was originally published on Sacramento Observer

By Robert J. Hansen

American mothers, especially Black moms, are dying at one of the world’s highest rates, according to a detailed report released to the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors on July 25.

Sacramento County’s Department of Child, Family and Adult Services, the Department of Human Assistance, the First 5 Sacramento Commission, and Sacramento County Probation, in partnership with Sierra Health Foundation, presented its annual report on the Black Child Legacy Campaign. It documented numerous racial inequities.

A community incubator lead for the campaign said in the report that it goes beyond only supporting children.

“We serve adults and we reach into families with teenagers, providing them with safe options to navigate this world,” the incubator lead said. “We support the pregnant mom with high blood pressure who has a toddler and the first-time mother who does not know where to turn. We work with the whole family to provide a better future for our children.”

The 2021 Center for Disease Control Maternal Mortality report revealed that approximately 70 Black women in the U.S. died per 100,000 live births in 2021, which is 2.6 times the maternal mortality rate for white women.

The local report highlighted the campaign’s efforts over a five-year period to reduce deaths and improve safety and well-being for Black children and families in Sacramento County.

The top four causes of the disparity in preventable African American child deaths are: perinatal conditions, infant sleep-related deaths, child abuse and neglect homicides, and third-party homicide.

Michelle Callejas, director of Sacramento County’s Child, Family and Adult Services, said many of the campaign’s 2020 goals were met.

Callejas said between 2018 and 2020 there were 11 child deaths due to third-party homicide and that four involved African American children.

“So there’s slightly better news this year than last year’s report,” Callejas said. “Hopefully this will be trending in the right direction for the next few years.”

The Safe Sleep Baby program provided 358 cribs and training to 535 parents.

Through Black Mothers United, a culturally responsive one-on-one education, support and navigation program, 71 babies were born, with 90% at healthy weight and 86% born after full term.

There were zero stillbirths or infant deaths at exit for the third year in a row, according to Child, Family and Adult Services, and zero infant deaths one year after Black Mothers United supported 137 births in 2019.

In 2011, Supervisor Phil Serna convened the Blue Ribbon Commission on Disproportionate African American Child Deaths following the Child Death Review Team report that highlighted the disproportionate rates of African American child deaths compared to other children.

“I’m really proud of the work of the First 5 commissioners … now we’re very fortunate to hear the good news of certain milestones met,” Serna said. “But we would fail, quite frankly, if we left today … without acknowledging the fact that there is a lot of work left ahead.”

Serna said the cultural brokers stepped up in a way that he could not have imagined 11 years ago.

“This is about the community itself doing the work and being accountable but making sure that we continue to do all that is necessary to save our children,” Serna said. “At the end of the day, these are not just numbers, they are children.”

A mother, whose referral was closed, said her cultural broker’s role in closing her case was that she helped her to understand what the social worker was saying.

“I have worked with [cultural broker] Margo Santana. She came to a meeting with the family prepared with resources that even I didn’t know were available in the county. I was impressed with how prepared she was,” a social worker said.

Cultural brokers help bridge the communication gap between families, Child Protective Services social workers and the family court, according to Child, Family and Adult Services. “The cultural broker program linked me to a men’s group from Better Life Children’s Services that gives me someone to talk to about any issue and keep me balanced,” said a reunified father.

Cultural brokers are helpful to the families in making things easier and more understandable so that families are more comfortable, according to a Child, Family and Adult Services supervisor.

Margo Santana has been a cultural broker with Black Child Legacy Campaign for the county for five years and says she has worked with more than 250 families and close to 300 children.

“At first I was the only cultural broker in North Sacramento,” Santana said. “I had five ZIP codes I was navigating.”

She said money needs to be set aside to help families in times of tragedy.

“I’ve worked with families whose children have been murdered and you got to help them out and find a way to help them bury their babies,” Santana said. “Death doesn’t have a date.”

Santana said this year’s campaign should be a model for other California counties.

“We can have a Black family that goes to court that does not know the language and basically signs paperwork that gives their children up for adoption because they don’t understand,” Santana said. “I take time out with my clients to break it down in layman’s terms, to our street language, and help them keep their kids.”

The Black Child Legacy Campaign can be reached at 916-933–7701 and online at

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