Richmond Police report rise in sudden unexplained child deaths

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) – This year, the Richmond Police Department reports a rise in sudden unexplained child death within the city.

This year, the department reports 12 children have died. Police say this is an increase from the five total deaths reported in 2020.

Of these 12 deaths, the department said five children have died from co-sleeping and unsafe sleeping conditions.

On Wednesday morning, Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith joined community leaders at Park 365 to raise the alarm on the rise.

“One loss of life in this community within the family is a loss we all cannot bear within this community,” Smith said. “We should not lose another child due to accidental death or any death at all.”

Each year, the CDC reports about 3,500 sleep-related deaths among babies in the U.S., including sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), accidental suffocation, and deaths from unknown causes.

“When children are brought to the emergency department having suffered from this issue of suffocation or SIDS from co-sleeping, there’s very little we can accomplish for that family,” said Dr. Patrick McLaughlin with pediatric emergency medicine at VCU Medical Center.

A survey conducted by the CDC in 2015 found co-sleeping to be a common trend.

According to their results, more than half of mothers reported some form of bed sharing with their babies.

“Culturally, some folks believe co-sleeping to be a healthy habit, particularly for breastfeeding mothers,” Dr. McLaughlin said.

Dr. McLaughlin adds studies from the U.S. show co-sleeping increases the risk for SIDS and recommends parents put their babies to sleep in a safe space, including a crib or bassinet.

“That can be placed right next to the parent’s bed with a firm, flat surface, and just a single sheet,” Dr.

McLaughlin said. “We recommend no soft blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, or any after-market products to be in the crib with the child.”

Two cases of child death in Richmond were also a result of overdoses, which is another aspect police are worried about.

“Keep drugs and medications out of sight and out of reach,” Smith said.

A concerned Smith hopes they can prevent with intervention and education.

“We, as parents and as community leaders, we have to step in and do better, but sometimes we make bad judgment, bad choices,” he said. “These child deaths, these accidental deaths are 100 percent preventable.”

The police department also reports two children died by homicide. Police also list two child death cases as pending investigation.

Chief Smith also urges parents to call 911 if they believe their child is in distress. He also said resources are available to parents if they contact the Virginia Poison Center or Child Protective Services.

To contact the Virginia Poison Center Hotline, you can call 800-222-1222.

You can also call 804-646-0438 to reach Child Protective Services.

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