Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Parent-infant beds raise risk of death

Eight children killed since 2005 in co-sleep cases

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Manitoba parents need more information about the risk of sleeping with their babies.

That's one of the recommendations of the Manitoba's children's advocate in the office's 2011-12 annual report released Tuesday.

Children's advocate Darlene MacDonald said while popular, parent-infant bed sharing raises the risk of the infant being smothered by bedding or a parent. Other hazards include entrapment and overheating.

"We've heard of caregivers that have accidently rolled over on their infants during sleep or while intoxicated," MacDonald said Wednesday.

MacDonald said her office has investigated seven such cases between 2005-11 and in the past year her office has seen one death.

"There are many parents, including myself way back when, who feel that co-sleeping is very beneficial. We simply want parents to be informed and if they choose to co-sleep to minimize the risks as much as possible."

MacDonald said the province's Advisory Committee on Child Abuse has recently released a pamphlet titled the ABCs of Safe Sleep so new parents learn about those risks through a doctor's office or social services agency.

The children's advocate's office investigates child deaths referred to it by the chief medical examiner's office if the youth was involved with child and family services. The Office of the Children's Advocate (OCA) is an independent office of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba. It represents the rights of children and youth in Manitoba who are receiving care under the Child and Family Services Act and the Adoption Act.

The full annual report is at www.childrensadvocate.mb.ca.

The annual report said 61 child deaths were referred to OCA's special investigations review unit last year. That's up from 53 deaths the year before. Twelve were children who were in care.

In total, 148 Manitoba child deaths were reported in 2011-12, down from 156 in the previous year and 177 in 2009-10.

MacDonald said the increase in the number of reviewable deaths is not unexpected with the increase in the number of children involved with the child-welfare system.

There were 9,432 children in care in 2011, up from 5,782 in 2004 -- a 63 per cent increase (3,650), according to the report.

MacDonald also said her office received a total of 2,382 requests for services last year, a 3.5 per cent increase from the 2,299 requests for service the office received in the 2010-11 fiscal year.

The main concerns of those requests related to children's rights, case-planning and quality of care.

The report also said high caseloads and demands of front-line social workers are to blame for a lack of contact between children in the child-welfare system and their social workers.

The OCA said this breakdown leads to cases where there has been little or no assessment conducted at critical times during service delivery to children and families.

The report also said OCA continues to receive requests for advocacy regarding a lack of planning for independence when youth in care turn 18 and must leave care. It also receives requests related to young adults 19-21 who are having difficulties with the terms of their extensions of care.

The office also continues to get complaints regarding the removal of children from foster placements.

MacDonald said she is scheduled to testify at the inquiry into the death of Phoenix Sinclair, which is underway in Winnipeg. The inquiry is examining how the young girl slipped through Manitoba's child-protection safety net prior to her murder in 2005.

MacDonald added her office has developed, with input from the four authorities that oversee child and family services agencies, a more collaborative approach to writing recommendations after child-death reviews.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 10, 2013 A8

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Updated on Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 8:39 AM CST: adds fact box

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