CNCounty News

Hamilton County, Ohio creates ‘Safe Sleep’ Initiative to prevent infant deaths

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Key Takeaways

Hamilton County, Ohio Job and Family Services launched a Safe Sleep initiative in an attempt to curb infant deaths related to unsafe sleeping, including co-bedding and improper sleep positioning. The public health campaign included the re-training of county employees to updated practices, education outreach and providing swaddles and sleep sacks to caregivers in need.

“It was just so critical, because obviously it’s such a vulnerable age for young children, and we want to see all of our children grow up thriving and healthy, and we know we have to start right from the beginning to make sure that happens,” said Margie Weaver, director of Children’s Services. “We can’t assume that families have all the resources they need.”

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The county’s Safe Sleep initiative was a 2022 Achievement Award winner in the Children and Youth Category.

Applications are open for the 2023 NACo Achievement Awards program though April 7

From 2017 to 2021, 67 percent of infant deaths in Hamilton County were a result of unsafe sleeping and 2020 marked the worst year in almost a decade, with 21 sleep-related infant deaths. Stressors from the COVID-19 pandemic, like social distancing and burnout, exacerbated the county’s problem with unsafe sleep practices, Weaver said.

“I mean being a parent is exhausting, you’re filled with anxiety and fear and worry, and during that time with COVID, you didn’t have people in your life –– people were separated from people who typically could have been a support to them,” Weaver said. “They were working long hours and didn’t have somebody at home, or a grandparent or [other] relative to help support them in caregiving.”

Job and Family Services partnered with Cradle Cincinnati and Queens Village, both local organizations dedicated to infant health, on the initiative, and Cradle Cincinnati trained all the Services staff on safe sleep practices and education. Moving forward, the Services staff will retrain under updated practices as research on safe sleep continues to evolve and each new hire will be trained in safe sleep practices, according to Weaver.

“We were pretty alarmed by the increasing numbers,” she said. “In child protection, we’re always charged with assessing safe sleep practices with families as a proactive or preventative measure with every family we encounter, and so we thought we really needed to rekindle those practices to make sure that our staff are aware of ‘What are safe sleep practices?’ –– they change all the time –– so we wanted to make sure that people understood and that we were taking time to educate, even if that wasn’t the reason they were interacting with that family.

“So that that was constantly in their framework –– if there was a child 2 and under, they were talking about that with the caregivers.”

In Hamilton County, from 2017 to 2021, almost seven out of every ten sleep-related infant deaths were Black babies. Hamilton County Job and Family Services provided Queens Village, which focuses specifically on racial disparities in birth outcomes, with $250,000 in funding.

“[Cradle Cincinnati and Queens Village] are the experts in this area and really have done a deep dive and have invested a lot in research and education around community support and infant mortality in general and we ended up partnering with them about seeking solutions and what we could do in this space,” Weaver noted.

Hamilton County Job and Family Services also took an existing approach, the county’s 513Relief Bus, and applied it to its infant health educational outreach plan.

The 513Relief Bus was created out of the pandemic and traveled to lower income neighborhoods throughout the county to educate people on specific benefits and emergency funding they could be eligible for through public assistance.

“A lot of CARES Act dollars, a lot of emergency assistance dollars were out there at that time and we were looking for ways to connect with the community and make sure that we could quite frankly get those dollars out to families in need, because a lot of those families may not have typically come to us for public assistance or even known, ‘If I’m in an emergency or a crisis I could be eligible for these dollars,’” Weaver said.

Hamilton County Job and Family Services provided those that attended the neighborhood 513Relief Bus events with an educational one-pager with tips on safe sleep, like the “ABCs”––“Baby sleeps Alone, Baby sleeps on its Back and Baby sleeps in a Crib”––and handed out safe sleep supplies, including swaddles and sleep sacks that were purchased by or donated to Job and Family Services.   

“We’re trying to be as proactive as we can, given our role in the community in terms of helping educate parents beforehand, or anyone, because oftentimes in child protection, if a child can’t safely be with their parents, we’re asking grandma or aunts or uncles, other people in their lives, to take care of them, and we can’t assume that they understand everything around safe sleep practices, either,” Weaver said.

“Families need support from every way and any way they can get it, so we really wanted to supplement what was already out there for families,” she said, “and if we can prevent one tragic situation then it’s worth it.”


From 2017 to 2021, 67 percent of infant deaths in Hamilton County, Ohio were a result of unsafe sleeping; 2020 marked the worst year, with 21 sleep-related infant deaths.


Create a prevention program so county employees can educate families about updated sleep and health practices for infants.

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