Four out of eight child fatalities reported in Highland County in 2016 were related to unsafe infant sleep habits, according to Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner.
Warner told The Times-Gazette that according to national and state statistics, Highland County is about 33 percent higher than the state average when it comes to child fatalities.
“Sometimes, accidents are just accidents, and we don’t want to blame parents,” he said. “We don’t want any family to have to go through something like this.”
Warner said the state as a whole is higher than the national average in child mortality rates, and safe sleep habits are a contributing factor.
“Ohio definitely has a child fatality issue,” Warner said. “That was a big thing for us this year, trying to identify what the cause of these deaths is.”
Wparner said sometimes infant deaths occur because of lack of education or lack of resources – a problem he hopes the health department and community initiatives can solve.
According to Warner, the safest way for a baby to sleep is alone, on its back and in a crib – following the acronym ABC. If parents put infants to sleep in a bed or with them, Warner said the baby can be crushed, suffocated or be injured by falling off the bed.
Warner said REACH for Tomorrow – REACH stands for Restoring, Educating, Advocating, Collaborating and Hope – a Greenfield nonprofit, has partnered with Baby Box University, a national initiative, to provide cardboard boxes as a safe place for babies to sleep.
“On the surface, it sounds a little odd,” Warner said. “It’s been around for a while in other parts of the world, and it’s been used for a few years in Pittsburgh, New Jersey, and now Ohio… We’re one of the first counties in the state to do it.”
According to reachfortomorrowohio.org, the boxes are treated, water-resistant and flame-resistant, and come with a mattress inside covered by a firm-fitting sheet – in exchange for the box, parents must complete a safe sleep curriculum.
More information on baby boxes can be found by calling REACH for Tomorrow at 877-997-3224.
Warner said free cribs are available for low-income families through Cribs for Kids, a Highland County Community Action Organization program. According to hccao.org, families must be eligible for the Women, Infants and Children program and have a safe place for their baby to sleep, and the infant must be less than 30 days old or the mother at least 32 weeks pregnant.
Highland County Community Action can be reached by calling 937-393-3060.
“The message is simple,” Warner said. “They really should be sleeping alone, on their back and in a crib… If we can get people to take it to heart, we really reduce our infant mortality by a lot… It’s preventable.”
For more information on public health in Highland County, visit highlandcountyhealth.org or call 937-393-1941.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.