New Research Findings Underscore the Importance of Promoting Health and Safety in Infant Child Care Settings

Feb 16, 2010

By Teresa Lim

Researchers have released new scientific findings on the biological processes that lead to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). SIDS is the third leading cause of infant deaths. The new findings are part of a study funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) investigating SIDS and other causes of infant death. In this latest development, researchers found that infants who died from SIDS had low amounts of a message-conveying brain chemical called serotonin, which is used in regulating breathing, heart rate and sleep. Researchers believe that low levels of serotonin may impede an infant's ability to respond to breathing obstacles, such as when an infant is sleeping with its face down.

The new findings are another positive step towards identifying infants at risk for SIDS. Until the causes of SIDS are completely understood, however, they also highlight the importance of promoting particular health and safety practices in settings where infants are cared for. In 1994, NICHD launched a back-to-sleep campaign to increase awareness about preventative care practices. Following this launch, SIDS cases decreased by over 50 percent. Some states have taken particular measures to protect the health and safety of infants and toddlers in child care settings, such as:

  • North Carolina requires in the state's child care licensing rules that providers in both centers and family child care homes complete training in infant/toddler safe sleep practices and SIDS within four months of becoming employed and working with infants and toddlers.
  • Wisconsin sends out child care nurse consultants to provide training and technical assistance to providers on the health and safety of children. The state's child care program performance standards require that providers have training in child health and safety issues, such as infant/child CPR.
  • South Dakota has health and safety grants that providers can apply for to help them meet child health standards and improve the quality of care.

Infants and toddlers are at a vulnerable stage of development and consequently, more susceptible to health and safety dangers. States have a wide range of policy options and resources available to them to help them move towards ensuring that infants and toddlers are cared for in safe and protective environments.

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