Rockland County, NY - Report Shows Statistically High Number Of Infant Deaths In Orthodox Community Related To Unsafe Sleeping Positions
Rockland County, NY - An unusually high number of Orthodox Jewish infants and toddlers are dying in sleep-related deaths in Rockland County and the Department of Social Services (DSS) says it is working within the insular community and among various sects to prevent future deaths.
Lohud.com writes (http://lohud.us/1D968r9) that since 2008, nine infants have died in incidents likely related to unsafe sleeping practices, and eight of those babies were Jewish, a total of 89%, even though Jews are just one-third of Rockland County’s population. But because religious Jews eschew autopsies, doctors cannot determine with certainty how or why the children are dying, and must rely on external exams only.
Medical examiner Dr. Jonathan Arden said he is sensitive to the religious objections of an autopsy, but that they are still helpful in determining the exact cause of death. “In some cases, if the evidence is strong enough, some medical examiners will then certify that death as an actual asphyxiation death, not unexplained infant death. The recognition of the inappropriate sleep conditions should derive from the investigation of the scene and circumstances.”
In the meantime, babies are regularly found dead in Rockland or elsewhere either in the prone position or with blankets and pillows in cribs. Rabbi Aron Reiner, executive director of the Ramapo-area Bikur Cholim says typically the local hospital, such as Good Samaritan in Suffern, instructs new mothers about how to safely position their babies for sleeping, but added, “If there is a need to do more, then we will definitely do that. There is no death that is OK. One death is too much.”
Rockland’s Department of Social Services says it is trying to coordinate with local rabbis and organize educational meetings with women’s groups in the Orthodox community, but records show DSS has a spotty history of investigating deaths of children.
In 2011, a 14-month old girl was found dead, but the caseworker assigned to investigate did not determine if the child had slept alone in her bed or if there were objects in the bed with her. Nor did the caseworker investigate why the child had not been checked on by her parents for 14 hours. Another case in 2013 revealed a 3-month old found dead face down in her bassinet. The mother said she knew about proper sleeping practices, but had followed her pediatrician’s advice to place the infant prone because the child had colic. The pediatrician refuted that assertion and no autopsy was performed.
A report issued by the Office of Children and Family Services, recommended that caseworkers needed additional training “regarding the unique needs of the insular religious community” and “specific behavioral protocols expected from visitors” while a family is sitting shiva. Workers are also being instructed to interview all witnesses at the scene of a child death.
Rabbi Moshe Tendler of the Community Synagogue of Monsey says county officials should distribute educational information in the community about proper sleeping positions. “Certainly, there should have been distribution of a circular or a poster to get that information over to the community. Every synagogue would be happy to post such a poster.”
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