RICHMOND, Va. -- The death of an infant or child is a situation that's almost unbearable to even consider. The Richmond Police held a press conference on Wednesday after what they say is an alarming uptick in child deaths this year.
RPD reports that there have been 12 infant/baby deaths so far in 2021 compared to five in all of 2020. Officials said the practice of co-sleeping or bed-sharing caused suffocation in five incidents this year and two were the result of an overdose or poisoning.
“These deaths are 100 percent preventable,” said RPD Chief Gerald Smith. “I cannot fathom the pain of actually losing a child, but one loss of life in a family is a loss we all cannot bear within this community.”
Police officials and ER pediatricians at VCU Health said they were speaking out to raise awareness about the issue and educate families on best practices.
The issue of co-sleeping or bed-sharing is somewhat controversial in parenting circles.
Some researchers and advocates say bed-sharing is culturally acceptable in many parts of the world and can provide emotional and developmental benefits when done safely.
Still, the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics recommends an infant sleep in their own spaces, even if in the caretakers’ room, for at least their first year of life because of an increased risk of SID’s when bed-sharing.
“Our recommendation is still to practice the bonding with the child and infant and then place them in a safe place where you don’t increase the risk at all of the sudden infant death,” said Dr. Patrick McLaughlin, a pediatric emergency room physician at VCU. “Providing the education behind the reason tends to get through to folks. So in this instance, showing them the alternative, which could be waking up and no longer having your child with you, is heart-wrenching.”
Here is a list of safe baby sleeping arrangements from the CDC.
Chief Smith said the issue of children gaining access to drugs, prescription or otherwise, remains an ongoing concern. The solution is simple, police said: keep any medication or illicit drugs out of sight and reach of children.
“We as parents, as community leaders, need to do better. Many parents do a great job, but sometimes we make bad judgments, bad choices,” Smith said. “We have to remember this, there is no such thing as childproof. There is no such thing as a child-proof bottle or medication. If a child works hard enough or long enough, they’ll get into that bottle.”
RPD said recent changes to state law mean caretakers who call for help if their child ingests something they should not likely not face criminal charges, so they encourage anyone who finds themselves in that unthinkable situation to call for help immediately.
“If you call for help for your child, it doesn’t necessarily lead to that criminal aspect because you’re seeking assistance for your child,” said. Lt. Erlan Marshall, head of RPD’s Youth and Family Crimes unit.
Officers said Child Protective Services also has helpful resources. Call (804) 646-0438 to reach them.