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More than half of infants who died unexpectedly in their sleep during an two and a half-year period were co-sleeping with an adult or child at the time of their death, a State Ombudsman report revealed today.

The report showed out of 91 infant deaths between July 1, 2009 and December 31, 2011, 54 had died suddenly and unexpectedly in their sleep with 29 of those infants co-sleeping at the time of their death.

Shadow minister for child protection Sue Ellery called for Department of Child Protection Policies to be improved after the report revealed that in 37 per cent of cases, the families of the deceased child had been identified as ‘at risk’ by the Department.

“The Ombudsman found 20 of the 54 children were known to DCP because there were already concerns about the well-being of that child or other children in that family,” she said.

Ms Ellery said the report found the DCP and the Department of Health lacked a departmental policy on safe sleeping to guide staff, parents and carers.

“This is alarming, given deaths as a result of co-sleeping is not a new phenomenon,” she said.

Child Protection Minister Robyn McSweeney said the report had also shown that in 15 out of 20 cases where concerns about the child’s well-being had been raised with the DCP, the Department had taken action to protect the child.

Ms McSweeny said she had been keeping a close eye on co-sleeping deaths over the last decade and had been alarmed by the figures.

She said an education campaign was needed to inform parents about the dangers of co-sleeping.

“It is not a new phenomenon but it has been mixed up with SIDS and I think it’s high time that we separated the two and showed co-sleeping does cause death,” Ms McSweeney said.

She said the Department of Health had a Safe Sleeping Working Group, led by the Women’s and Newborn Health Network, which raised awareness about the dangers of co-sleeping.

This was in addition to the Best Beginnings Service, a home-visiting service provided to primary caregivers to help them create a safe environment for their child.