County Launches Pilot Program to Address Infant Deaths Due to Unsafe Sleeping Practices

In a motion by Supervisors Don Knabe and Mark Ridley-Thomas, Los Angeles County will develop a two-year pilot program at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center that will address the staggering number of infant deaths that have occurred due to unsafe sleeping practices and head trauma.

The program, modeled off a similar pilot program in Baltimore, Maryland, will focus on educating parents and hospital workers on safe sleeping practices, proper handling of fragile infants and the risks of shaking newborns. The Baltimore program, Infant Safe Sleeping and Abusive Head Trauma Pilot, led to four years without a single abusive head trauma death and a decrease in the rate of sleep-related deaths.

“Infant deaths resulting from unsafe sleeping practices or Shaken Baby Syndrome are a preventable tragedy,” said Supervisor Knabe. “It is important that we educate parents on how to safely care for their newborn before they take their infants home from the hospital.”

Harbor-UCLA Medical Center was selected for the pilot program because of its strong pediatric department. Approximately 900 live births occurred at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center last year.

At least 140 infants in Los Angeles County have died in the past two years due to unsafe sleeping practices, while others have died or been disabled by Shaken Baby Syndrome, which occurs when an infant is forcefully shaken. Half of children affected by Shaken Baby Syndrome die, while survivors may require lifelong medical care.

The program will be operated by the Inter-Agency Council on Abuse and Neglect (ICAN), part of the Department of Health Services, which also operates the Safe Surrender program.