Co-bedding Under the Influence: Killing Hamilton County’s Children

Here’s a subject I covered in this month’s issue of our community newsletter. If you are interested in receiving our newsletter, Update, you can sign up at www.hcjfs.org, under the Public tab….

Child abuse is a problem few people will tolerate. There are groups, campaigns, programs, media stories, books and more dedicated to the prevention of child abuse. Every child who dies from child abuse is front-page news.

But there’s a more frequent killer of our community’s children that draws very little attention. Most often the deaths are ruled accidents or undetermined, but the circumstances surrounding them are similar and, in my mind, attribute to the death of innocent children.

I am talking about co-bedding while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

So far this year, at least seven tiny children have died in co-bedding situations. In 2009, according the county’s Family and Children First Council’s Child Fatality Report, one child died of accidental death while co-bedding and four others died “undetermined” deaths in similar situations.

We dissect a lot of the county’s child deaths at our agency, particularly when the family was involved with our Children’s Services Division. I can tell you that a common factor in a lot of co-bedding deaths is that the parent was using alcohol or drugs in the 24 hours previous to the death.

When a parent is under the influence, they sleep more soundly than normal. There is a greater chance of rolling over on a sleeping baby. There is also a greater chance of a baby being placed or moved into a bad position. And, someone in an alcohol or drug-induced state is far less likely to wake up when a baby struggles or cries because they are in danger.

Greater Cincinnati hospitals do a tremendous job of disseminating information to new mothers about the dangers of co-bedding. Help Me Grow agencies visit with some new parents in their homes and discuss the proper way for their children to sleep. The Cincinnati Police Department has special trainings for police officers to recognize improper sleep arrangements and educate parents. Hamilton County Family and Children First Council will help if a family does not have a crib for the newborn.

But I too often find – when our agency is dissecting a tragic co-bedding fatality – that the parent knew the risks. They had received the proper information. They even have a crib in the house. They just did not make a proper choice because they were under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Their goal was to instinctively quiet a crying baby in their arms – but they passed out and, when they woke up, the baby was dead.

We, as a community, cannot tolerate this. Please work to make sure every baby has a chance in life. Encourage parents to make good decisions with clear heads. Too many babies are dying, and no one is noticing.

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