Unsafe Sleep Practices Are Leading Cause of Infant Death in Washington’s Child Welfare System

Written by: Ken Selander Category: Children's Injuries, Children's Issues, Wrongful Death

The Office of the Family and Children’s Ombuds (OFCO) released a report last week that cited unsafe sleep conditions as the leading cause of death for infants whose families have come into contact with the child welfare system in Washington. OFCO was established to oversee the state child welfare system and to ensure that government agencies respond appropriately to children in need of state protection. OFCO examines child fatalities and near fatalities as well as the implementation of recommendations produced from its executive reviews of child fatalities.

The numbers, of course, are disturbing: for 2014 and 2015, 114 child fatality and 45 near fatality cases occurred. For infants, or children under three years of age, unsafe sleep practices continued to be the leading factor associated with infant deaths. Unsafe sleep environments and practices include the following:

-adults, older children or pets sleeping with an infant;

-placing infants to sleep on adult beds, couches, sofa beds or other soft surfaces; and

-allowing the presence of soft items such as pillows, blankets or stuffed animals in an                infant’s crib.

With infants as the primary victims of child fatalities and near fatalities, several policy changes took effect in November 2014. If a newborn is substance-affected or born to a dependent youth, caseworkers must now complete a Plan of Safe Care. For families with infants to six months of age, assigned workers must verify that the parents and caregivers have received appropriate resources and information. For families with infants up to 12 months of age, each caseworker must complete a Safe Sleep Assessment and engage the parent or caregiver to create a safe sleep environment.

OFCO continues to study trends and common characteristics of child fatalities in Washington and to implement policies to thwart infant deaths. Yet too many of these tragic and preventable deaths continue to occur.

Kenneth Selander is a child injury attorney who represents families who have suffered the death of their child. Ken is an experienced lawyer who will review your potential case to determine whether your child’s death was due to the negligence of a caregiver or governmental entity.