Thursday, 16 December 2010

SIDS: North Carolina: Child death investigation training called basic

- The Charlotte Observer
RALEIGH -- The state's top child advocacy task force will urge legislators to require all new police and deputies to take a course in child death investigation as part of basic training, the group voted Monday.
The task force also decided to support regionalizing the state's medical examiner system, which would place trained investigators across the state to respond to deaths. Because the effort could cost a lot, the group doesn't expect it to happen this year. The proposals were spurred by a Charlotte Observer series this year, "Cradle of Secrets," that looked at five years of sudden infant death syndrome cases in North Carolina. The series detailed that police frequently fail to investigate the deaths thoroughly, if at all.
The N.C. Child Fatality Task Force outlined its legislative agenda for 2011. The proposals involving child death scene investigation are designed to help gain "a standard for all death scene investigations," Brett Loftis of Charlotte, one task force committee chairman, said Monday. Currently, courses in proper child death investigation techniques are optional for North Carolina law enforcement officers.Many never take the courses; sometimes police don't respond at all to a child's unexplained death. North Carolina also doesn't have full-time trained investigators to send to most infant deaths, but a growing number of jurisdictions nationally do. Child death investigation is important, organizers say, because learning how children die can help the task force and other groups prevent deaths. Task force Chairman Tom Vitaglione said he was hopeful the N.C. Justice Academy, which trains all new officers, would agree to incorporate the plan. But if not, his group would push for a legislative order. The Charlotte Observer series also looked at the problem of safe-sleep education for parents. It found that at least two-thirds of babies who died of sudden infant death syndrome between 2004 and 2008 were sleeping in risky environments that suggested they could have suffocated. Those situations included sleeping with adults on beds or couches, sleeping among pillows and fluffy blankets or just sleeping on their stomachs. Studies have found that infants are more likely to die in these conditions. The Child Fatality Task Force also voted to ask for $150,000 for safe-sleep education in the coming legislative session, which begins in January. The amount is the same as the state spent last year, and that worried some committee members. The task force had talked this year about urging law enforcement statewide to complete optional checklists at child death scenes, which were designed to provide information about the child's sleep position and many other details. But the chief medical examiner's office decided this fall to stop using the Infant/Child Death Investigation Reports after learning they were public documents. The medical examiner's office had believed, and told law enforcement officers, that the information would be confidential. The task force looked at a wide range of proposals involving children's health. The group was created by statute and is among a few task forces that continue their work year after year.

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