Infant deaths linked to sleep practices

A year-and-a-half-old team designed to review the deaths of children in Jackson County has found that unsafe sleep practices might be behind the deaths or injuries of children here.

Jackson County’s child death review team, formed in mid-2013, found that trend as part of its state-mandated mission.

The county is one of 79 in the state that put together a child death review team to find out why children die and determine possible prevention steps.

Under a state law that went into effect July 1, 2013, all 92 counties are supposed to create either a county or regional team, according to the Indiana State Department of Health.

Jackson County Prosecutor AmyMarie Travis, the lead on the county’s child death review team, said the group was formed not long after the law took effect.

“Our goals are to try to figure out if there’s any particular trends and to see if we as a community can intervene in some way to prevent it,” she said.

Travis said the county team includes police officers, the Seymour fire chief, doctors, the coroner, a health department representative and an official from the department of child protective services.

A meeting is conducted following each death of a child younger than 18. Travis said they tend to wait about 15 to 30 days after a police investigation is completed and an autopsy is performed.

A state-mandated form is then filled out, and the team tries to see if there are any patterns noticed in the deaths.

So far, they have found that some children died or were injured due to unsafe sleep practices, Travis said. Those include lying face down or being surrounded by blankets, pillows and stuffed animals.

Travis said she couldn’t release the numbers for Jackson County, but according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 4,000 U.S. infants die unexpectedly each year.

While the cause of death in many of those children can’t be explained due to the possibility of sudden infant death syndrome, most occur while the infant is sleeping in an unsafe sleeping environment, according to the CDC.

In addition, nearly 55 percent of U.S. infants between 2008 and 2010 were placed in unsafe bedding that increased the risk of death,

according to a 2014 report from the National Institutes of Health.

In order to create awareness and prevent deaths, Travis said the team has worked to engage the community by talking to high school health classes and handing out informational material.

“The theory is that they may be baby-sitting, or they will be future parents at

some point,” she said of

the students.

She said their recommendations are to place children on their backs before they sleep, to never leave a child alone in a crib wrapped in fluffy, heavy bedding and to avoid co-sleeping.

Travis said there also has been educational information given out through a parental education program for divorcing parents and also to parents who leave Schneck Medical Center after having a baby.

She said collecting data statewide will allow authorities to see if deaths across the state are related in some way so problems can be addressed at both the local and state levels.

For example, she said, if there’s a heavy metal toxicity in a river and it affects a child locally, officials can then look to see if it’s happening elsewhere.

“When it’s sent up to

the state, they plot where

and why it’s occurring

and may be able to see

trends for disease or poisoning,” she said.

“It could be really efficacious.”

Kenneth Severson, spokesman for the Indiana State Department of Health, said seven counties are either working on forming a team or have an unverified one. Teams have yet to be established in Clark, Floyd, Fulton, Orange, Pike and Spencer counties.

Pull Quote

“Our goals are to try to figure out if there’s any particular trends and why children are dying and to see if we as a community can intervene in some way to prevent it.”

Jackson County Prosecutor AmyMarie Travis