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What if a Child Dies During Nap Time or Sleep Time at a Licensed or Unlicensed Day Care Center?

By  Jonathan Safran, Attorney and David Wolf, Attorney

Nap Time - Moon and StarParents rely on day care centers during the working day to care of the child in an environment that is safe and clean.  One overlooked area of child care in a day care center can be the sleeping or napping arrangements.  Children especially infants are at risk for injury during sleep and nap time.   An infant should not be placed in an adult bed or even a toddler bed for that matter.   Pillows and soft objects should be removed from the crib area or sleeping area for the infant.  Swaddling is also something that many pediatricians and experts advise against.
When a facility is a licensed day care center, state officials will come in from time to time to survey and inspect the facility.  During these inspections, dangerous sleeping arrangements and accommodations can be spotted and removed.   Of course, inspections are often spaced out over time and sometimes not performed at all.
For unlicensed facilities, the overnight just is not there.  Many day care centers in various states avoid the requirements of licensure due to size, location, and / or religious affiliation.  Whether a day care facility is big, small, unlicensed or licensed, it is important that the children especially infants are cared for in a safe environment during sleep or nap time.  Otherwise, there are significant risk of personal injuries or death to the child including but not limited to SIDS, strangulation, suffocation, and other complications.
A child’s death at a day care center was recently reported in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin.   An autopsy was performed.  It was reported that the medical examiner could not determine why or how the child died.   There was a part of the article that causes some concern about the sleeping environment at this unlicensed day care center. It was reported that the 4 month old was swaddled, placed on a “Snuggle Me” fusion on his back, and placed on  an adult twin bed.  Of course, there are various ways and methods of putting an infant to sleep.  The swaddling technique is questioned by many medical experts. Furthermore, an adult bed should not typically be used as the bed for a child.   Placing the child on his or her back is the recommended position for most infants.  Finally, there is a question as to the type and level of supervision when evaluating the care provided to a child while in a day care center.
Certainly, the loss of any infant is a tragedy for the family as well as the day care providers responsible for the care of that child.  It is important for parents to ask questions of the day care center as follows:
Does the day care center have a license? If no, why not?
What are the arrangements for sleep and nap time?
What level of supervision is provided to children during sleep or nap time?
What is the staff to child ratio at the day care center?
What precautions or measures are taken during sleep time or nap time to prevent SIDS related deaths, suffocation, strangulation?
When is the last time that the day care center was inspected?
What is the training and experience of the day care center staff members employed at the facility?
If a child is injured or dies at a day care center due to the negligence or carelessness of the facility or its staff, a case or claim may be pursued on behalf of the child or the family of the child.  It should be pointed out the pursuing a case against an unlicensed facility can be quite challenging especially if the facility lacks any liability insurance coverage.   A day care center that is exempt due to religious affiliation may still have insurance because of its affiliation with an established and ongoing reputable business in the form of the church or religious institution.  However, it would be difficult from a practical standpoint to pursue a case against  the day care facilities that fly under the radar and just do not bother to get licensed or insured when they are required to do so.
The book titled – The ABCs of Child Injury – Legal Rights of the Injured Child – What Every Parent Should Know – has chapters on Day Care Center Injuries, School Injuries, Playground Injuries, and other topics. You can get this book for free at The ABCs of Child Injury.
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