Essential knowledge of safe infant sleep
“The vast majority of these deaths are preventable.”
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In the past three years of early learning and development, I have become too familiar with a troubling set of numbers:
- Although North Carolina’s infant mortality rate has declined over the past 20 years, it remains the 13th highest in the nation.
- While the overall rate has decreased, the disparity between black and white babies has increased slightly.
- Black babies are 2.67 times more likely to die in the first year of life than white babies.
At the last Child Death Task Force meeting, I was refreshed to hear about the work being done to change these realities. Safe Sleep NC, an initiative of the Collaborative for Maternal and Infant Health (CMIH) at UNC-Chapel Hill, trains providers and health organizations and provides families with materials on how to ensure babies have a safe sleep environment .
It turns out that deaths related to unsafe sleeping environments are the third leading cause of infant death and the leading cause of the postneonatal period (months 2 to 12), accounting for 121 deaths in the first years of life for babies in North Carolina in 2020. This is also a disparity factor: black babies were twice as likely to die from causes related to a dormant hazardous environment.
“The vast majority of these deaths are preventable,” said Erin McClain, deputy director and research associate at CMIH.
The group is requesting $250,000 in annual recurring legislative funds, which the task force supports in its recommendations to the governor and legislature. McClain said this level of funding would allow for a “multi-pronged approach”, providing more intensive training to social service and health care organisations, ensuring maternity units educate families about safe sleep, testing types of education that work best for high-risk families. , and adapt teaching materials to specific communities.
“Providers, organizations and communities want to do more to support safe sleep,” she said. “This funding would help us provide a comprehensive, statewide approach to making sleep safer for every baby in North Carolina.”
Below, don’t miss research on the continued shaping of the child care industry by the pandemic, and a call for preschool investments to reduce incarceration and increase public safety.
As always, I look forward to hearing your questions and story ideas. As EdNC strives to get to know our state’s communities more intimately, I am specifically looking for stories and contacts in these counties: Polk, Pender, New Hanover, Craven, Jones, Onslow, and Chowan. Let’s connect.
Early Bird reads: What We Write
Funds requested for safe sleep education to reduce infant deaths
Other states spend more than North Carolina on safe sleep efforts, McClain said, with West Virginia allocating $4.75 per baby compared to 38 cents per baby in North Carolina. Florida spends about the amount North Carolina does per baby on printing and shipping materials alone, she said. States draw from a variety of funding sources and programs: Medicaid, child mortality reduction efforts, child abuse prevention, and injury prevention.
In other early learning news: What I’m reading
Research and Resources: Let’s Talk Preschool and Childcare
Two recent reports, one from a group of law enforcement officials and the other from a leading child care advocacy organization, do not give up hope on the components of the Build Back Better Early Childhood, calling for investments in preschool and childcare.
The Council for a Strong America released a brief independent cost-benefit analysis last week showing that universal pre-kindergarten yields a profit (“economic benefits minus cost”) of more than $15,000 per child. The group then multiplied that figure by the roughly 6 million additional children who could benefit from the universal pre-K proposition in Build Back Better, estimating a benefit of $90 billion over the lifetime of those children.
The bottom of the report acknowledged the larger ecosystem in which pre-K sits: “Solutions must address how a federal-state preschool system would interact with the child care system, which often relies on the tuition it receives from 3- and 4-year-olds to offset the higher cost infant and toddler care.
Meanwhile, Child Care Aware picked up where the group left off, “demanding change” for the continuum of care and education from early childhood to kindergarten.
“We could be at a turning point towards a more equitable early learning system, as the provisions of this landmark bill will support our families and communities by funding universal preschool education for 3- and 4-year-olds and funding initiatives that increase wages for child care providers while making quality child care accessible to millions of families,” read the introduction to the report. “Our requests for change have been heard.
The group’s report explores four aspects of early childhood care and education: supply, demand, affordability and the child care workforce. The message is not much different from that of the group’s 2020 report: the pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing systemic challenges. The report also offers new ways to measure demand for childcare using Google Trends and an evolving conversation about what quality childcare means.