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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date: June 24, 2020
Contact: Jon Ebelt, Public Information Officer, DPHHS, (406) 444-0936, (406) 461-3757, jebelt@mt.gov
                Chuck Council, Communications Specialist, DPHHS, (406) 444-4391, (406) 461-8367, hcouncil@mt.gov

Lt. Governor Cooney, DPHHS announce Safe Sleep Initiative

1500 Pack ’n Play cribs distributed; new educational materials created

Lt. Governor Mike Cooney, Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) Director Sheila Hogan, Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies-MT (HMHB-MT) Executive Director Brie Oliver, and several public and private partners announced today the launch of the Safe Sleep Initiative to promote safe sleep practices for all Montana babies.

“Montana’s children deserve the best start in life possible, and promoting safe sleep practices is crucial,” Lt. Gov. Cooney said. “This effort is designed to provide parents, grandparents and anyone in care of an infant with the best information possible when it comes to safe sleep.”

Lt. Gov. Cooney said the Initiative is the result of meetings with stakeholders from across the state and focus groups of Montana families. “Their insight into the current landscape of safe sleep information, real-life sleeping practices, and recommendations for public messaging were critical to creating a unique message for Montana,” he said.

The effort includes information on evidence-based safe sleep practices for infants and provides educational materials to families all across Montana through new materials provided through the Safe Sleep: Learn, Plan, and Provide education and media campaign materials. The campaign doesn’t ignore the realities of bedsharing and instead promotes open conversation and tips for reducing risks associated with unsafe sleeping situations. It also respects cultural differences in traditional sleep positions.

Focus groups and stakeholders agreed the public message should be focus on harm reduction methods of safe sleep. “The reality is, co-sleeping happens, and so this really examines how to promote safe sleep practices in the best possible way to give parents the information and tools they need to keep their children safe,” said DPHHS Director Sheila Hogan. “This approach to safe sleep aims to open the gates of honest communication between families and their providers, resulting in safer sleep and a reduction in infant deaths within sleep environments.”

In addition to the public messaging efforts, HMHB-MT has distributed 1500 cribs since December 2018 to Montana families in need of a safe place for their baby to sleep. The crib comes with education about safe sleep, a book, sleeper, and fitted sheet.

Oliver said many times these cribs are delivered to the home by a public health home visitor, which is an added level of support and often leads to helping families access other supports during this vulnerable time. 

“It’s important that we support and provide new parents with the materials and information they need to be successful, and to ensure all children are given the best start in life,” Oliver said.

The Pack ’n Play cribs were purchased with public and private funds from DPHHS, Montana Children’s Trust Fund, and HMHB-MT.

Oliver is encouraging other interested organizations to join the cause. “We are thankful to all those who have made generous contributions to this effort,” she said. “It’s amazing to know there’s so much support for Montana families, and we hope to continue this effort. It’s our goal to have more partners join the Safe Sleep Initiative to give infants a safe and healthy start.”

Safe Sleep is the third pillar under the DPHHS overarching First Years Initiative that was launched three years ago. The initiative was born after analysis showed children under two comprised most child deaths in Montana, and the majority of those fatalities involved infants in unsafe sleep environments.

The First Years Initiative focuses on providing targeted resources, education, and services during the early, critical period in the lives of children and their parents—pregnancy, the weeks and months after birth, and extending through the first years of a child's life.

Oliver said her organization already distributes the Pack ’n Plays year-round on a limited basis. However, she noted this new funding quadrupled their current efforts. For HMHB-MT, the initiative spotlights a very important issue. “This is a significant investment in the lives of newborns all across Montana,” she said. “This is not just a basic need item, but a crucial one. It not only increases safe sleep, but also leads to better family outcomes.”

The 1500 cribs have been distributed to various locations throughout Montana, including local Child and Family Services Division, Women, Infants and Children (WIC) clinics, Tribal health programs, home visiting locations, American Indian reservations and other partner organizations. The cribs were distributed with other safe sleep materials, at no cost to families in need, through referrals made to local public health departments or early childhood specialists.

Oliver noted that cribs are proven to provide a safe sleep environment for infants. She said that by providing them at no cost removes a barrier for many new parents, plus they’re portable. “They can easily be transported, so where a baby goes, the crib can follow,” she said. “This is especially convenient when friends or family are caring for a child but may not own one themselves.”

Organizations or individuals interested in partnering with the Safe Sleep Initiative are encouraged to contact Stephanie Morton, Program Manager at HMHB-MT, (Stephanie@hmhb-mt.org) or call the office at (406) 449-8611. HMHB-MT also maintains a list of locations where cribs are available.

 

Safe Sleep:  Learn, Plan, Provide