Since January 2013, the Florida Abuse Hotline has received 128 alleged reports of infants dying due to unsafe sleeping environments.
The Department of Children and Families’ Safe Sleep Campaign is looking to reduce that number by educating parents about how to safely put their children to sleep.
“These infants, they sleep best alone, on their backs and in cribs – the ABCs of safe sleep,” said DCF spokesman John Harrell.
Casey Family Programs, a nonprofit organization specializing in child welfare policy, conducted a review of child fatalities from abuse and neglect in Florida during 2013. In a sample of 40 cases, asphyxiation due to unsafe sleeping conditions was the most common cause of death, more so than drowning and physical abuse.
Harrell said that parents sleeping in an adult-sized bed with infants is a frequent cause of death in these cases.
“Fact of the matter is, they could roll over at night on top of their infants and suffocate them,” he said. “They can’t just assume that they’re going to be able to wake up.”
Suffocation by blankets, pillows, bumpers or toys placed in the crib with the infant is also common. Cribs should be clear of any objects that can trap the child if they shift at night. Babies should have their own cribs — other babies’ presence can increase the risk.
The Marion County Sheriff’s Office, along with other emergency and law enforcement stations across the state, has partnered with community organizations such as Healthy Start Coalitions for the campaign. The lobbies of four district offices have been opened to donations of new Pack ‘n Plays, or portable cribs, from the public.
“We’re hoping these new Pack ‘n Plays will be able to be distributed to families in need, and from that, folks will be able to put a kid in a safe sleeping environment,” Marion County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Judge Cochran.
Families in need of a crib should contact their local Healthy Start organization, which will distribute the cribs. Anyone looking to donate a new Pack ‘n Play can donate them in various locations throughout the state.
For Healthy Start, the participation of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office and other first responders in the Safe Sleep Campaign is a new outlet for their ongoing initiative to educate and provide resources for parents about safe sleep.
“We continue to step up our efforts to teach and provide avenues for parents to access the Pack ‘n Plays, so that affordability is never a factor in being able to provide the best environment,” said Lynne Hough, Healthy Start program manager at the Florida Department of Health in Marion County.
She stressed that although crib distribution helps eliminate poverty as a cause of unsafe sleeping conditions, preventable sleep accidents happen to families of every socioeconomic status.
“It’s one of those things that crosses all barriers, and education is definitely the key,” she said. “You could make a million dollars and still be first-time parents and not know a thing about what the best practice would be to help prevent injury to your child.”
Hough said there were five infant deaths in 2012 in Marion County related to unsafe sleeping environments. So far in 2013, there have been three.
She said the partnership of numerous organizations has made the information more accessible and understandable.
“We’ve all been coming at it in different directions,” Hough said. “We have a consistent message now.”
She encourages parents who are unsure if they qualify for assistance from Healthy Start to contact their local chapter, especially if they have questions about safe sleep or access to education and other resources.
The Safe Sleep Campaign focuses on public outreach and provides educational materials for Florida first responders to distribute.
Six years ago, her 6-week-old daughter suffocated while co-sleeping with Burch. By the time Burch woke up to check on her, it was already too late.
“My way of helping parents now – I try my best to help them become aware of unsafe sleeping,” she says in the video. “Anything can happen in a second, two minutes, an hour.”