Numbers from Tippecanoe County’s Local Child Fatality Review Team show a steep drop-off in sudden, unexplained or unexpected deaths of children under 18 from 2015 to 2016. Total deaths fell from 13 to just five and none of the 2016 deaths has been attributed to parents sleeping in the same bed with their young children.
Review Team Chairman and Tippecanoe County Prosecutor Patrick Harrington attributes the drop to increased education efforts among new parents. Harrington says thanks to efforts of local agencies, all new parents in Tippecanoe County hospitals now receive education on safe sleep practices, which direct parents to—for example—always lay a baby on its back during naps.
“We believe, since we’ve been doing that, last year we saw those numbers drop tremendously,” says Harrington. “We believe educational awareness to the parent is the critical factor here.”
Harrington says parents need to know what feels natural is not necessarily safe.
“You’re not aware personally that you’re getting sleep-deprived or getting fatigued,” he says. “It’s very natural to want to hold the baby. Unfortunately, when you fall asleep, the deaths occur when the parent rolls over on top of the child.”
Health officials urge parents to follow the “ABCs of Safe Sleep,” which direct caretakers to make sure babies sleep alone, on their back and in a crib.
Last year the West Lafayette Fire Department and the Tippecanoe Emergency Ambulance Service sponsored training for first responders on how to spot unsafe sleep areas when responding to calls.
The review team also focuses on deaths on the other end of childhood. Luann Horton of the Wabash Valley Alliance says there has been one teen suicide in the county in recent years, but many other attempts.
Horton says the dialogue around suicide has become more open, but she is worried about bullying’s effect on teens’ mental health.
“I’d like to believe,” she says. “[But] we still encounter a tremendous number of people who become suicidal because they’ve been bullied.”
A 2013 law created local fatality review teams in each Indiana county.