Regional review finds leading cause of preventable child deaths is unsafe sleeping

DELAWARE COUNTY, Ind. -- A review board studying child deaths across five Indiana counties last year found most of them were preventable.

Many of the deaths were found to be the result of unsafe sleeping.

The regional review board covers Delaware, Grant, Randolph, Jay and Blackford counties. It's made up of law enforcement, county leaders, child advocates and medical professionals.

In 2017, there were 24 child deaths in those counties alone. The group reviewed 16 of those cases and found at least nine of those child deaths were preventable. Four of them were due to unsafe sleeping practices, which is a common occurrence in these counties.

"Time and time again, what really frustrates the team are the unsafe sleep deaths," said team chairman Eric Hoffman, who is also the chief deputy for the Delaware County Prosecutor's Office.

The report shows a handful of specific cases where unsafe sleeping was cited as a reason for a child's death.

In one case, a 2-month-old Grant County boy died after the child's mother and her boyfriend slept on a mattress on the dining room floor. The review team noted multiple risk factors including bed sharing with an infant, the infant sleeping on an adult mattress and the presence of blankets.

In another case, a 7-month-old Delaware County girl was found unresponsive in a pack-n-play. The review board noted the baby was born as a drug-exposed infant. Both parents were patients at a methadone clinic and on the night of the baby's death, they tested positive for drugs.

The risk factors noted in this case include drug use, multiple blankets in the crib with the sleeping child, prior DCS involvement and premature closure of a prior DCS case.

The team also reviewed two other cases of unsafe sleeping. One involving a 2-month-old Delaware County boy and a 2-month-old girl from Grant County.

Last year, a Muncie woman was charged for her daughter's 2016 death. Investigators said Tricia Cavanaugh slept in the same bed with her 4-month-old daughter, Celina, while she was under the influence of controlled substances. She was charged with neglect of a dependent resulting in death.

"It's extremely frustrating. If you follow the ABCs of safe sleep: (A)lone, on your (B)ack and in the (C)rib, we could reduce these unnecessary and tragic child deaths," Hoffman said.

Many counties offer resources and free beds for families in need. Contact your local health department for more information.