Commissioner's Message - Preventing Sleeping Related Child Deaths

Dear Colleagues,

Some parents believe sleeping with their child keeps the child safe and strengthens the parent-child bond.  While acting out of love, these parents are unknowingly placing their child at risk for injury or death.  An adult can easily rollover and unintentionally suffocate the child in the night.

Yesterday’s NJ Advance Media article highlights co-sleeping’s dangers, but there are aspects I feel compelled to address or amplify.

SAFE SLEEP OUTREACH AND EDUCATION

The New Jersey Department of Children and Families works to educate parents and prevent co-sleeping deaths, as yesterday’s article notes.

We distributed 2,400 brand new cribs to families last year that lacked a proper sleep environment for their infant.  We distributed 5,500 Halo Sleep Sacks and about 1,000 Pack n’ Plays since 2014, getting them to families with infants through hospitals.

We train hundreds of new caseworkers each year to inspect and ensure a child’s sleeping environment is adequate and safe.  More than 1,700 caseworkers since 2010 have received safe sleep training from the SIDS Center of New Jersey.

We created an infant safe sleep website, www.njsafesleep.com.  It provides safe sleep information, videos and downloadable brochures in English and Spanish, links to other safe sleep resources, and a link where parents can receive a free baby box and safe sleep education.

And thanks to its work with the Baby Box Company, the New Jersey Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Board is helping families get a free baby box, providing a safe place for babies to sleep.

STATE CENTRAL REGISTRY: “PROFESSIONAL, EFFICIENT AND EFFECTIVE”

The article includes content said to be about how the State Central Registry, our child abuse and neglect hotline, processed one call related to safe sleep.

Our hotline receives more than 14,500 calls a month, useful context the article does not provide.

The individuals answering calls to our around-the-clock hotline are trained professionals, and their work, dedication, and service has been documented over the years.

The Center for the Study of Social Policy, the federal monitor overseeing our performance, disclosed in July 2012 a review that “confirmed the high degree of professionalism of SCR [State Central Registry] staff …”

In later reports the monitor notes, “quality assurance remains a priority” for the State Central Registry, “staff training and quality review processes … contributed to the overall quality of SCR response,” and the department operates the “State Central Registry in a professional, efficient and effective manner with quality assurance mechanisms to support good practice.”

I’m grateful to the federal monitor for acknowledging our hotline’s professionalism and work quality.  Working the hotline isn’t easy.  Sometimes it’s emotionally challenging.  But without our trained and dedicated hotline professionals, our work would not be possible.

CHILD WELFARE CONFIDENTIALITY

The article alludes to child welfare confidentiality laws.  Adopted by the federal and state government, these laws prohibit child welfare systems from disclosing information about families to protect them from social stigma.

Without laws shielding their privacy, children and families would face added challenges to achieving stability and future success.

But protecting a family’s confidentiality can mean incomplete or misleading published content is left uncorrected or unchallenged.  This is a fact readers should keep in mind.

SLEEPING DEATH INVESTIGATIONS

Nearly all child abuse or neglect investigations have challenges, but few are as difficult as those involving a child dying in their sleep.  Household members are usually asleep when the child dies, leaving them unable to provide much useful information.

And when a child death involves co-sleeping, a parent cannot be substantiated for abuse or neglect without an aggravating factor.  This means investigators must find a parent acted with gross negligence or recklessness, like falling asleep impaired from alcohol or substance use.  But reaching this conclusion often requires the parent admitting to their impairment.  While urine and other tests may detect the presence of substances, tests don’t determine if a parent was impaired when falling asleep.

A LEARNING ORGANIZATION

I often describe our department as a learning organization.  We regularly review our work, seeking new insights to improve outcomes for the children and families we serve.

For our hotline, this means looking for trends in data it collects, periodically conducting qualitative reviews, and applying the insight to better process calls.  Results from a recent qualitative review will be made public in an upcoming report.  It is expected to reaffirm the monitor’s previous findings that our hotline operates with “a high degree of professionalism.”

Our recently established advisory committee on child fatalities is also looking for trends, reviewing child fatalities from abuse or neglect within a five year period for insight to prevent child fatalities.  It recently previewed its work, soliciting input from the New Jersey Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect, the Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Board, and the Staffing Oversight Review Subcommittee.  We will issue a report summarizing the committee’s review and work with the Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect and other stakeholders to implement recommendations to reduce these tragic child deaths.

Warm Regards,

Allison