HELENA — The Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services (DPHHS) released its 2019 Child Fatality Prevention Report this week.
Last year, 17 children died that were known to the Child & Family Services Division (CFSD). The incidents range from established cases with CFSD to a single call made about the child or one of their siblings.
The primary three causes of death were: unsafe sleep for infants (5), medical-related conditions (4), and abuse and neglect (3). The five other cases included drowning, a car accident, a firearm, and SIDS.
There were an additional seven deaths reported of children who were not known to the Montana child welfare system. DPHHS learned of the children when it was notified immediately after the fatalities.
The causes of those fatalities include drowning (2), abuse and neglect (2), and unsafe sleep (1), choking (1), and undetermined (1).
“Montana’s child fatality rate is lower than the national average,” DPHHS director Sheila Hogan said. “We at DPHHS continue to build and support our community partnerships as we all work to prevent child abuse and neglect in our communities.”
“Taking a close look at this data is not easy, but it’s extremely important,” said DPHHS deputy director Laura Smith. “We as a community really need to take a close look and really direct our efforts eliminating unsafe sleep for infants, as well as well as really working to prevent drownings.”
The state has already taken steps to help prevent similar deaths with a couple of programs.
In 2018, DPHHS launched the “First Years Initiative,” which focused on providing targeted resources and education to parents with young children. The 2019 data saw a 20% decrease in unsafe sleep fatalities since 2017.
The CDC recommends babies always sleep on their backs, use a firm surface in a crib, keep blankets and soft toys out of the sleeping area and have the baby sleep in your room but not your bed.
DPHHS also partnered with Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies-MT to distribute more than 1,500 cribs for safe sleep.
The agency is also working with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to provide more than 300 life jackets at loaner life jacket stations across Montana.
Smith says when it comes to water, always make sure there is a close, focused eye on the child. “Going into the fourth of July holiday weekend, we really recommend that adults and older children really work to be water aware,” said Smith. “That means assigning an adult to be a water watcher, ensuring that they’re watching children around the water.”
Water at the home can be just as dangerous for young children, and people are advised never to leave a child unattended in the bath or pool.
“We’re also really encouraging families, caregivers, baby sitters to be emptying sources of water in the home immediately after use.,” said Smith. “That includes bathtubs, waiting pools and any freestanding water.”
DPHHS also strongly encourages people to report cases of child abuse or neglect.
The Montana Abuse and Neglect Hotline can be reached at 1-866-820-5437. The number is toll-free and the call could potentially save a life.
Click here to read the complete report (pdf).