One recent email came from a pastor in East Orange, sharing the struggles of a young couple who have no safe place for their baby to sleep.
Then, there was also a phone call from a Newark hospital, making its fourth request in two years, as well as a frantic text from Puerto Rico, for a family who lost everything in the hurricane.
They all pleaded for the same thing: A safe crib for a newborn baby.
Over the past six years, my non-profit organization “Keeping Babies Safe” (KBS) has been providing free cribs, mattresses and other supplies to low-income families, hospitals and charities as part of our “Project Safe Crib.” I am proud to say more than 8,000 families have been served.
This year, however, I have no response to the steady stream of phone calls, emails, letters and texts that KBS receives. That is because we have lost foundation support for Project Safe Crib, as many of our funders had to make “difficult decisions” between providing safe cribs to low-income families and their other funding priorities.
The public needs to recognize that more infants die each year in cribs that any other nursery product. There are now more than 20 million potentially fatal cribs in the U.S., in use or in storage for future use. And there are an average 26 crib-related injuries requiring ER visits every day.
In New Jersey, 41 infants suffocated while sharing a bed in 2015 – the largest percentage of bed-sharing deaths reported in the state a single year. Black infants and Latino infants are three times and 2.5 times more likely to die while sharing a bed, respectively, according to the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It is somewhat reassuring that our state lawmakers recognize this crisis. It was reported in late December that the Senate Health Committee expects to explore preventable causes of infant deaths during hearings early this year.
Many individuals, hospitals and agencies rely on KBS for safe sleep information, making it so painful to say we no longer offer Project Safe Crib. Equally concerning is the fact that there appears to be no other viable, one-stop source for low-income families to get safe cribs that meet the latest federal standards.
We are a small non-profit, relying solely on charity and the good graces of many individuals who volunteer their time, excess supplies and the connections we need to operate. We launched Project Safe Crib as a supplement to other social services, but now find ourselves alone, fielding inquiries from throughout the nation.
And with no resources to help people.
It is my hope that other entities with the resources can step in and fill the gap. Project Safe Crib has succeeded because it responds to an obvious need.
We have witnessed countless scenarios in which families place their newborns in old, outdated hand-me-down cribs, many of which have been recalled by the manufacturer. We have seen babies placed in drawers, or on the ground or in toddler beds. Many parents have resorted to “co-sleeping,” with their infants, an enormous danger that has resulted in hundreds of suffocation deaths when sleeping parents roll over.
One of the incredible benefits of Project Safe Crib is that we just didn’t deliver products. We have experienced social service professionals visit the home, assess the sleeping area for safety, set up the crib and mattress and explain to the parents the safest way in which to ensure safe sleep.
We tell parents: Remove all soft items from the crib, including bumpers, pillows and blankets. Make sure to check the crib regularly for loose or missing parts. And, never, ever, use a supplemental mattress in a soft-sided play yard, as it is a proven suffocation hazard.
It is my hope that other social services agencies will hear about the struggles of Project Safe Crib and pick up the work. While we are proud to have provided thousands of cribs over the years, we have never been able to fulfill every request. And with the devastating hurricanes last fall, we remain overloaded with requests.
I ask that people continue to contact KBS, as we are eager to provide education about safe sleep. But I wish we had a partner in which we can forward requests for safe cribs. As of today, there is no one to call.
Joyce Davis is the president of Keeping Babies Safe, a nonprofit organization that advocates for safer children's products and practices.