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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

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11/15/2012 7:49:00 AM
Child Fatality Report spots 'co-sleeping' deaths

Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- The state's top health official said Wednesday there's a simple, cost-free way to prevent dozens of children from dying each year: Let them sleep alone.

Will Humble said some of the more than 830 child deaths in Arizona last year were probably not preventable.

He said some are difficult to spot ahead of time, like incidents of child abuse -- especially if there was not a prior report that there was trouble in the home. Other deaths are a matter of enforcing existing laws that require infants to be in special car seats and teens having to wear their seat belts.

But he said 64 of the deaths last year, due to what the state calls co-sleeping, were clearly unnecessary.

"I know how it happens,' the state health director said. "I had kids myself.'

The nature of infants, he said, is to "get fussy' in the middle of the night.

"The easiest thing to do is bring them into bed with you,' Humble said. "They quiet down and everyone gets a good night's sleep.'

Breast feeding also is easier.

"But if you look at the data in this report, it just shows you that it's not safe,' he said.

The comments come as the state released its 19th annual Child Fatality Review Program report detailing what killed those younger than 18 in Arizona last year.

On the bright side, the figures show that the number of children dying has been declining steadily for the last five years. But Humble said the data is far more telling.

"When I look at the report, I look at not just the numbers of deaths and not just what's preventable, but what are the strategies that we can use with the resources that we have to really make a difference here,' he said. Humble said of all the causes of death in the study, preventing co-sleeping deaths is "the low-hanging fruit.'

Preventing other deaths, he said, is far more complex.

The report says 39 children took their own lives last year. While most of these were teens, the list includes a 7-year-old.

Humble said the best intervention is for others to recognize the signs of depression early, "and do something about it.' That means reaching out to the local mental health system but also, for those who are not family members, telling the parents.

He conceded, though, it's not all that simple to determine whether a teen is clinically depressed or, quite frankly, just acting like "a crankly teenager.'

"It takes some kind of training,' Humble said.

He said his agency is urging hospitals to have at least one person in each emergency room to have someone available who has had some mental health training. Humble said that ensures there is a review when a teen shows up with an injury to determine whether it was simply an accident "or whether there is something else at play.'

The annual report also pointed up something else: Of 35 children last year who died due to abuse, there were no reports filed with Child Protective Services in 24 of these cases.

That is not an unusual situation. State officials say the first inkling they had of any problems of nine of the 16 fatalities this year to date was when the child died.

Stacy Reinstein, the deputy child welfare administrator for the Department of Economic Security, said that lack of prior knowledge is a problem.

"What we want the community to remember is the importance of reporting because Child Protective Services can't be involved in that family's life until we act,' she said.

She acknowledged that outside observers may be loath to report something to a government agency that they cannot determine is child abuse. But Reinstein said they should err on the side of caution and contact the child abuse hotline where an expert can determine if further action is needed.

"A lot of times the apartment manager or neighbor that calls, they have a lot more information than they think they might,' she said. That can include whether there is a pattern, based on things like the number of times they hear a parent yelling at a child.

Humble said there are situations where people don't report things that they should.

"Sometimes people are afraid to do it because they'll injure a relationship they might have,' he said. "Some people don't know what to do, where to call.'

Humble said there is one other big area of child deaths where he thinks prevention can make a big difference: premature births.

"The number one killer of kids in Arizona is being born too early,' he said, with prematurity linked to 199 of the deaths last year. Humble said that's why there's a focus on "preconception health.'

"That means young women in their reproductive years need to take care of themselves because you never know when you might get pregnant,' Humble continued. "The healthier you are when you get pregnant, the better off you'll be in terms of having a good outcome and making sure that your kid comes to term at 39 weeks and not earlier.'

He said that means avoiding substance abuse, maintaining a healthy weight and having good nutrition.

"Those kinds of things are really at the core of really making a dent,' Humble said.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Article comment by: Amy Unruh

There are approximately 100 crib deaths per year. So why is co-sleeping being decried as unsafe when cribs are less safe than co-sleeping? Especially when many of those co-sleeping deaths are usually found to be from unintentional co-sleeping?

Posted: Monday, November 19, 2012
Article comment by: YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING!

Part of this article is even talking about teen suicide death as part of the deaths,and child abuse! In the Dr. Spock era we saw the result of separating babies in an unnatural way from their mothers emotionally and physically and it really messed up a lot of people! I researched this 20 years ago when I started having babies, and the facts are clear! SIDS is the leading cause of infant death in America. Putting an infant in a room by themselves to sleep all night while the adults sleep in another room is not safe! Sudden Infant Death Syndrome known as SIDS is a leading cause of these deaths. Statistics on this:

SIDS is more common in babies from lower socio-economic classes.

A second-born child is twice as likely to die from it as a first-born.

A third-born child is even more likely to die from SIDS.

More cases occur in the winter months.

The incidence of SIDS deaths is higher in Day Care Centers.

SIDS usually strikes infants between the ages of 1 month to 1 year.

73% of babies who died from SIDS were found sleeping on their stomachs.

breastfed babies have a lower incidence of SIDS.

co-sleeping cultures have a lower incidence of SIDS.
In many cultures, cosleeping is the norm until children are weaned, and some continue long after weaning. Japanese parents (or grandparents) often sleep in proximity with their children until they are teenagers, referring to this arrangement as a river - the mother is one bank, the father another, and the child sleeping between them is the water. Most of the present world cultures practice forms of cosleeping and there are very few cultures in the world for which it would ever even be thought acceptable or desirable to have babies sleeping alone.
Japan, not only has one of the lowest infant mortality rates (less than 3 infants per 1000 live births compared with around 7 for the United States), but one of the lowest SIDS rates in the world (between .2 and .3 babies per 1000 live births compared with approximately .5 per 1000 infants for the US). The Japan SIDS Family Organization reported that SIDS rates continue to decline in Japan as maternal smoking approaches practically 0, and exclusive breastfeeding reaches around 70-75 % .In fact, one report shows that as bedsharing and breastfeeding increased and as maternal smoking decreased, SIDS rates decreased.
Evidence also suggests that pacifier use at sleep time and room sharing without bed sharing are associated with decreased risk of SIDS. Although the cause of SIDS is unknown, immature cardiorespiratory autonomic control and failure of arousal responsiveness from sleep are important factors. Gene polymorphisms relating to serotonin transport and autonomic nervous system development might make affected infants more vulnerable to SIDS. Campaigns for risk reduction have helped to reduce SIDS incidence by 5090%. Child Fatality is not a result of loving parents who want to have their children in the same room or same bed. If abuse is going on that is the cause! Was the research I wonder written or done by a man? I highly suspect prejudice against from this article "co- sleeping a direct cause of Child Fatality!" Get real!

Posted: Friday, November 16, 2012
Article comment by: There are products

If parents are going to co-sleep with a baby, they should have the proper setup to prevent something like that from happening. I know we bought something where the sides were sturdy enough that made sure our daughter had her own space and could not get out from it and we could not roll into it.

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