June 4, 2014 at 1:00 am

LETTER

How furniture can fight infant mortality

Could portable cribs keep more Detroit infants alive? (Bryan Mitchell / Special to The Detroit News)

I truly appreciate The Detroit News calling attention to high infant mortality rates due to unsafe sleeping conditions. There are far too many of these deaths, and the real tragedy is that they’re preventable. We cannot overlook the high rate of infant deaths within the city of Detroit, which holds the largest local concentration of newborns at risk.

But Detroit is not alone. Data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that Pontiac has consistently high rates of infant mortality, rates in Eastpointe have risen between 2007 and 2011 and, surprisingly, Southfield has higher-than-average rates of infant deaths. The problem is widespread.

Education is critical. Parents and caregivers need to know that infants should sleep on their backs between 13 and 16 hours a day in their first year of life. They should sleep alone, on a firm mattress, in a crib that meets current safety standards and contains no soft bedding, comforters or stuffed animals. The room must be free of cigarette smoke and at a comfortable temperature.

Knowing how and where your baby should sleep is only part of the solution, however. In many instances, babies are being born into families that do not have the means to obtain an adequate crib.

At the Furniture Bank, we have a program that provides portable “Pack ’n Play” cribs to Oakland and Macomb County families who are in poverty. They are referred to us by local human service agencies — including those who provide child protective services — and the crib’s mobility is an asset because these families tend to move more frequently than the general population.

The cost to obtain the cribs is underwritten exclusively with private funding, often from local foundations.

We then ask for a modest co-pay — roughly a third of the crib’s retail value — that can be paid by the referring agency or the family themselves. This helps defer the cost of implementing the program, making it more sustainable.

When families receive their portable crib, they also receive information on safe sleep, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and positional asphyxiation, as well as information on the amount of sleep their child needs for healthy growth and development. This way, the education they’re receiving from our referral partners is augmented by the materials they receive from the Furniture Bank.

Since starting the program, we’ve provided almost 300 portable cribs to local families, and it is our hope to secure funding to expand this and our other programs beyond Oakland and Macomb counties and into Wayne County and Detroit.

It is important to have community-based resources available to families who want their children to get a healthy start in life. It can mean the difference between life and death.

Robert Boyle, executive director, Furniture Bank of Southeastern Michigan