Parents with criminal records, histories of substance misuse and housing problems face higher risks of sudden infant death syndrome (Sids), a five-year police study disclosed to Community Care reveals.
The revelation of the analysis from the Metropolitan Police’s Project Indigo, which investigates sudden unexplained infant deaths, coincides with calls for social workers to help target at-risk families with preventative messages about the syndrome.
The executive summary of the report, seen by Community Care, says that in addition to the more established risk factors for cot death, such as low birth weight and parental smoking, their figures show criminal convictions and documented problems with substance misuse increase the risk. Other family concerns that could disrupt the infant’s routine such as eviction, redundancy, bereavement and health issues are also risk factors.
Detective chief inspector Dick Henson of the Child Abuse Investigation Command said he did not want to reveal specific figures, or draw conclusions from the findings, particularly around the issue of parents with criminal convictions, until a more detailed analysis had taken place.
“It’s an emerging finding,” he said. “It could be linked to any number of things such as upbringing and deprivation and even because there is a higher proportion of those in this population who smoke. What we are saying is that if a family ticks a number of these risk factor boxes then that is the time when professionals should be thinking about targeting support to them.”
Sally Parma, head of safeguarding and chair of the child death overview panel at Enfield Council, said cot death should be seen as a safeguarding issue for social workers.
“We know social deprivation is a risk factor and these are the families that social workers are already visiting. If there’s an infant in a family then a social worker should not be afraid to ask: ‘Where is baby sleeping? Show me where baby slept last night’.”
Joyce Epstein, director of the Foundation of the Study of Infant Deaths, said they were in the process of creating an online resource for social workers and foster carers to educate them about the preventative messages.