Preventing child fatalities in Broome County

By Natalie Rubino
By Kelly McCarthy

April 3, 2013 Updated Apr 3, 2013 at 9:22 PM EDT

Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton) A seemingly innocent practice common among some parents cost the lives of more than a dozen children during the past six years, according to a study released Wednesday by the Broome County Health Department.

The Broome County Childhood Fatality Review Team came together in 2008 to research unexpected or unexplained deaths of people younger than 18.

The team reviewed 44 death cases dating back to 2007, half of which involved a child who was younger than 1-year-old.

A majority of the deaths were ruled accidental or by natural causes. But 30 percent of them were condensed into a category labeled "homicide, suicide or undetermined."

The team found that most of the deaths could have been prevented. That includes 17 cases where a child was placed in a dangerous sleep environment: An infant either co-sleeping with an adult or the result of items placed with them in a crib.

At least seven of the cases involved substance abuse by a primary caretaker, with prescription opiates being the most common.

Another common factor in the findings is a misuse of consumer products, the health department said.

The Broome County Health Department said parents can help prevent most of the deaths reviewed.

"Just proper supervision," said Broome County Public Health Director Claudia Edwards, "Keep your eyes on your child.

"Children are beautiful, curious beings and they need the help of their parents to navigate the world," she said. "Keep your eyes on your little ones until they can be truly independent."

The Childhood Fatality Review Team does not review the death of every child. Priority is given to cases involving the county's Department of Social Services.

The review team said there are no cases where DSS could have prevented any of the 44 deaths reviewed.

"Children develop at different rates and they are capable of different things," Edwards said. "That is something that can be researched and learned. As medical professionals, we need to reinforce these messages as much as possible to our families. There are many teachable moments to families."

The review team will continue to research Broome County's childhood fatality cases and will update the report each year.