Childrearing

If You’re A Foster Parent, You Don’t Get To Decide If Co-Sleeping Is Safe‏‏

By  | 

sleeping-baby-co-sleepingThe investigation into a foster child’s bed-sharing death has prompted some child welfare advocates to call for more stringent guidelines when it comes to issues like bed sharing. This is a story that has given me a complete case of the ragey-sads, and it’s not even noon in Texas yet.

The child, who was six weeks old and has been dubbed “Baby Dawn” in the official report chronicling her death, was found unresponsive in her foster parents’ bed last year. On that night, Dawn started out in a bassinet next to the bed and was later moved to the bed itself, where she became “tangled up in blankets” and was “not breathing” at around 5:30 am, according to the Edmonton Journal. The infant was pronounced dead at the hospital later that morning, where the medical examiner determined that the baby had died “as a result of undetermined causes when she was bed-sharing with adults.”

I have to admit that this story makes me very angry. I don’t have very clear opinions on bed-sharing; it wasn’t even an option for us, considering that the only bed we had was an unsafe air mattress. I can tell you that I often dreamt of owning a firm king-sized bed where I could just roll over and pop a boob into my kid’s mouth. Alas, it was not to be.

There are risks associated with bed-sharing. Like it or not, there are. You can reduce these risks down to minuscule and weigh them against the benefits of bed sharing and you are totally within your rights to do that. These foster parents did not have that right, because this kid wasn’t their kid.

This particular child was awaiting a potential kinship placement. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, this means that pending some background checks and paperwork, Baby Dawn was on her way to live with an aunt while her parents got it together (or didn’t, as is often the case). Eventually, she might have been eligible for kinship adoption. All that her foster parents needed to do was keep her safe and fed and healthy and happy while the process was completed.

Now, before you think I’m judging her fosters too harshly, know this; I truly believe that they were doing what they thought was right. I do not think that they are bad people. They took Dawn to the pediatrician six times in the three weeks that the baby lived with them out of concern for her health. They coaxed her into gaining the weight she needed to gain, supervised visits with Dawn’s parents, administered medicine that she needed, and included her as part of the family.

However, they made a conscious decision to go against the advice of pediatricians and the state (to whom in this case, they are in fact, answerable) because they thought that they knew better. They did not, and now Dawn’s aunt will never be able to adopt her. It’s sad, and it’s ridiculous, and it didn’t need to happen.

You just can’t fudge safety stuff with children that aren’t yours, even if you disagree with it. I think some of my kid’s friend’s parents are too uptight about certain things like Purell and knee pads, but that is completely inconsequential. If I’m watching those kids, they get knee pads and all the germ juice they can handle, because it isn’t my risk to take.

Upon the conclusion of Baby Dawn’s report, Del Graff, the Alberta Child and Youth Advocate responsible for drafting it is recommending that there be a clear policy laid down; no bed sharing with foster kids, period.

I agree, and I hope that it can help prevent another unnecessary death like Dawn’s.

(Image: Evgeny Atamenko /Shutterstock)