Friday, December 11, 2020

Safe Sleep is a Community Responsibility

Check out this recent article by CFPS team member and Community and Equity Program Specialist Christal Garcia! 

Although October is recognized as Safe Sleep month, parents, grandparents, and communities need to talk about the importance of safe sleep every month and throughout the year. 

Sudden unexpected infant death (SUID) is a term used to describe the sudden and unexpected death of an infant less than 1-year-old in which the cause was not obvious before investigation. These deaths often happen during sleep or in the infant’s sleep area.

Sudden unexpected infant deaths include sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), accidental suffocation in a sleeping environment, and other deaths from unknown causes.

The three commonly reported types of SUID include the following:

  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • Unknown cause.
  • Accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed.

Safe sleep practices can help protect babies from SIDS, accidental suffocation and strangulation. Christal Garcia, a teen mom in high school, single parent throughout adulthood and now proud involved grandmother, wasn’t familiar with safe sleep when she was raising her kids. For Christal, being closer in age to her kids has made having these conversations easier. She wants every parent and grandparent to feel this comfortable, too.

Like any parent or grandparent, Christal is concerned about safety for her own family members but she is also working to keep all kids safe in her role as the Community and Equity Program Specialist on the Violence and Injury Prevention team at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

Spreading awareness about safe sleep

As Christal remembers, no one talked about safe sleep back in the 1990s. Christal recalls cribs being full of items like stuffed animals that could have caused accidental suffocation. The first Safe to Sleep campaign (formerly known as the Back to Sleep campaign) to bring public attention to SIDS and to educate caregivers on ways to reduce SIDS risks wasn’t introduced until 1994. 

It wasn’t until Christal began working in child fatality prevention at CDPHE that she first learned about the importance of safe sleep. Now being more knowledgeable about safe sleep and remaining intentional about staying up to date with the latest safe sleep recommendations, Christal sees it as her responsibility to spread awareness as even teaching just one person at a time can save an infant’s life.

“We assume that parents and grandparents know and understand what it means for a baby to sleep safely and that assumption can be dangerous,” said Christal. She recalls her daughter’s experience of being discharged from the hospital after having her second baby. Christal’s daughter received a packet with safe sleep information and Christal felt upset because the nurse didn’t go over the packet with her daughter to ensure that she understood the importance of safe sleep. 

When it comes to up-to-date safe sleep recommendations, there are many misleading examples in photos and in-store displays, further confusing parents and communities. Christal recalls shopping in a retail store to prepare for the arrival of her first grandson. She noticed a crib display that was full of items considered dangerous to a sleeping infant. “What if parents or family members mimicked that display to create a sleeping space for their child? The child would have been in danger and at risk of SUIDS,” said Christal. 

Standing firm in her commitment to educating others about safe sleep, Christal approached the manager of the store and educated that manager about infant safe sleep. She talked with the manager about possible harm and fatality risks to babies due to the items in the crib. The manager thanked Christal, immediately made changes throughout the store to display proper safe sleep practices and committed to educating his staff about safe sleep.

Culture and safe sleep practices

Christal, a Chicana woman, says that trying to teach family members and others who aren’t familiar with safe sleep about the importance of it can sometimes feel like a culture shock/shift because the family has already become comfortable with what they have always done. In the Chicana culture, grandmothers make blankets and give them to expecting parents as baby gifts. This is an important tradition, Christal agrees, however, parents need to keep in mind that their baby should not sleep with a blanket, even when the blanket is received as a meaningful gift.

Christal recalls having conversations with her own mother about solely utilizing a fitted sheet or safe sleep sack when putting her grandchild to sleep. “It can be difficult to encourage elders to do things in a different way than they have always known, but it is important, especially when the change can result in the safety and well-being of a child,” said Christal. Christal says baby showers can also be a challenge for many parents. “Although you cannot control what people buy and provide you with at a baby shower, parents should feel confident in making the choice not to use what isn’t safe for their baby,” said Christal.

Safe sleep in underserved communities

The rates of SIDS and accidental suffocation are two to three times greater among black and brown infants. SUID rates per 100,000 live births for American Indian/Alaska Native (215.8) and non-Hispanic black infants (186.5) were more than twice those of non-Hispanic white infants (85.4). SUID rates per 100,000 live births were lowest among Hispanic (53.8) and Asian/Pacific Islander infants (33.5). 

In Christal’s current role she is writing up prevention recommendations related to safe sleep. One recommendation suggests strategically increasing black and brown health care providers, doula’s and community health workers amongst organizations across the state as they can share experiences with families of color in a more relative way.

Families are strengthened when they have access to resources and information that helps to keep them safe and thriving, such as education about safe sleep. Strengthening families helps to prevent child abuse, neglect and fatalities. Christal knows her own family was strengthened by her efforts to disrupt the norm of not discussing safe sleep, so she has made it a priority to do the same for others. Initially, her kids thought that she was crossing the line between work and home too much when advocating for safe sleep practices to be incorporated into the lives of her grandchildren, but she worked through that challenge by remaining focused on the goal of helping her family - and other families - understand the importance of safe sleep.


“Even when I've been told that it’s none of my business, I made it my business – whether the child was my grandchild or the child of a family friend. Safe sleep is a community responsibility.”

Christal Garcia, Community and Equity Program Specialist, CDPHE


Learn more about safe sleep

Babies should sleep alone, on their back and in a crib. Visit our safe sleep page for more resources and tips to talk about safe sleep with anyone caring for your baby, including grandparents, co-parents, family members, friends and child care providers.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Behavioral Health Training Institute for Health Officials

 We'd like to share the following professional development opportunity for public health officials (senior public health professionals, such as directors of county health departments):

Supporting public health leaders is critical to strengthening our nation’s responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring affordable and quality care for all and shifting social norms on mental health and substance use disorders to address community needs.

The National Council for Behavioral Health’s 2020-2021 Behavioral Health Training Institute for Health Officials Program,* in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Center for State, Tribal, Local and Territorial Support, seeks to provide a national cohort of public health officials with training and technical assistance opportunities to advance behavioral health efforts in communities across the nation.

This opportunity will provide a dynamic eight-month leadership program to support public health officials:

  • Cultivate crisis leadership skills and support mental health resiliency during COVID-19.
  • Develop and enhance behavioral health competencies in designing and enhancing supports for communities and vulnerable populations.
  • Improve interagency partnerships to address behavioral health needs with guidance from subject matter experts.
  • Advance health equity, operationalize critical activities that move the needle on social determinants and integrate trauma-informed approaches.

Participation in the Behavioral Health Training Institute is FREE, including participation at NatCon21, and includes direct access to coaching calls, monthly webinars, workshops, Mental Health First Aid training and exclusive peer-to-peer engagement.





Applications for the 2020-21 Behavioral Health Training Institute for Health Officials Program are due by 11:59 p.m. ET on Friday, December 18, 2020.

Questions? Contact us.

Monday, December 7, 2020

New Report: Identification of Child Maltreatment in Colorado


The Child Fatality Prevention System (CFPS) has released a new report: Identification of Child Maltreatment in Colorado Through Child Death Review, 2009-2018.

The effects of child abuse and neglect are serious and impact people's wellbeing and health throughout their lives. One way to prevent future deaths from child maltreatment is to understand the circumstances of deaths that have already occurred. The purpose of this report is to gain a better understanding of the characteristics of child maltreatment deaths determined solely by CFPS teams and how these deaths differ from those substantiated by county Departments of Human Services. This report presents findings using ten years of CFPS data (2009-2018), and includes summaries of demographic characteristics and other trends of child maltreatment deaths occurring in Colorado.