For the last several years we have had babies dying while sleeping with an adult (Co-Sleeping). The Milwaukee Health Department and others are now using the term “bed sharing” as if changing the term will make a difference in the results.
If there were a real understanding of the broader issue, “bed sharing” would not be the term used. Some people sleep on floors, on sofas and in chairs when babies die. Do we now call it floor sharing, sofa sharing, chair sharing?
This approach fails to let parents know that infants can still die in cribs even while “safe sleeping” rules are followed.
Public health and other entities want to latch on to what is called “low hanging fruit” and put all their attention on that strategy. They want to make the community aware so they develop costly Public Service Announcements and social media campaigns, that does very little to impact the community of concern. They can always pull one or two people from the community to rave about their program, but show no more real results than those who have tried to address the issue for years.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not want any babies to die no matter what color, but the fact remains that black babies die at 2-3 times the rate of white babies.
The majority of those who die (about 75%) never leave the hospital. Why does this continue to happen? One reason is that those in power or with resources looks at where can they put resources to give them the best leverage to say that their strategy solved the problem. You have others who have taken a decided interest in the topic because it’s a way to make money. So what am I saying needs to be done?
1. We must make sure that more persons in our community are aware of the increased risk related to co-sleeping with their infant. There are historical and cultural reasons why adults chose to sleep with their children. There must be a conscious reason to do this; a reason that outweighs the risk.
It was recently discovered that 100% of infants from last year and most of this year who died were bottle fed infants. Is it possible that the difference in a breastfed sleeping environment is safer than a bottle fed sleeping environment. We know that alcohol was involved in some, but not all. There needs to be more research conducted to provide information that is useful.
2. We must, as a community, take more responsibility for our infants. We all have members of our families or friends who we know are not doing a good job in making sure our babies are in safe nurturing environments.
We have moved to a “not getting involved” posture because the infants and or children may be taken by the Child Welfare System and the parent treated as criminals. Most of the time, they end up being taken anyway. We must become more proactive in attempting to assist persons in the community before there is a need to report them.
The children are our future and right now, they are dying too soon; facing serious physical or mental/emotional abuse; or being taken and placed in a system in which they are harvested out to predominately white families who can afford to care for them.
There is no doubt that some of these parents/caregivers are in fact criminals. However, too many are getting their children taken away because of the issues related to poverty. Those in the system are quick to say that children are not taken away because of poverty, but if looked at closely it is because of behaviors related to not being about to cope with the stressors related to being poor. Also, many of the children are not returned.
3. We must not let others define our problem or our solution. This does not mean that they cannot be a part of the solution, but most of the time when they are allowed to define the problem; the community is identified as the problem.
Our community has problems, but the community is not the problem. Words are very powerful. Because we are usually described as the problem, organizations with resources do not want to give us the resources to address our problem.
Instead this groups are much more likely to give the resources to public or private entities that take care of us. They hire black persons who have proven they work well in the system and will not cause in problem s with their agenda.
I had a person say to me once when I asked him if he had hired any black people for his agency, “You know Pat, I just can’t find any that I like.” This was not said as a joke. He meant it. I had to respect his honesty if not him.
This commented was stated to me ten years ago, and things in Milwaukee have not changed. As long as we have black people who are looking to launch their careers off of the misery of our community, those in power will continue to hire them. They feel more comfortable with them.
4. There are currently several projects to begin to “deal with the issue.” Please make yourself available to become a part of these projects. Do not be decide that you are not needed because you see a black face, including mine, in a leadership position and think that everything is okay.
Study the subject. Ask the hard questions. Always demand that the community of concern is in the forefront of decision-making. Do not let agencies tell you that they know the answer because they have evidence. After their evidence does not pan out. The community will be blamed as usual.
Please contact me if you are interested in helping stop the number of black babies who die from a number of reasons. The black families and community are the real long-term answer to this issue. All we need is more people who are in it for the right reasons and not just because funding is available.