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Research into SUDI risks for vulnerable Queensland families

Infants known to Queensland’s child protection system are over-represented in sudden and unexpected deaths, according to new research released by the Child Death Review Board (CDRB).

CDRB Chairperson Luke Twyford said the research completed by the Queensland Paediatric Quality Council identified risk factors surrounding sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI) and suggested actions to reduce SUDI in families known to the child protection system.

“When a child dies with no explanation, it can be particularly difficult to comprehend, especially for families involved in child protection matters,” Mr Twyford said.

“The Board exists to deepen the collective understanding of circumstances that contribute to the loss of a child in the child protection system and identify ways we can reduce preventable deaths of the state’s most vulnerable children.

“Of the 661 SUDI cases registered in Queensland between 2004 and 2019, around 24 per cent involved infants known to the child protection system, a concerning trend given the proportion of all Queensland children known to the child protection system sits at around eight per cent.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infants in care are over-represented in SUDI cases, with adversities experienced by Indigenous families contributing to a SUDI rate more 3.5 times higher than non-Indigenous infants in Queensland.

“The research found most SUDI cases occurred in highly hazardous sleep environments, including sharing a sleep surface in unsafe circumstances, particularly with a parent who smokes or uses alcohol or other substances.

“Families experiencing social vulnerabilities appear to have encountered barriers in accessing information and practical strategies around safer infant care and sleep recommendations, which have featured significantly in public health campaigns since the 1990s.

“Other factors that were regularly present in families known to the child protection system included alcohol and substance use during pregnancy, experience of domestic and family violence or poor mental health, intergenerational child protection involvement, criminal offending, and limited social support.”

Mr Twyford said the research identified opportunities for system improvements that would inform CDRB’s recommendations.

“For a program to effectively engage families who are at high risk of experiencing SUDI, the research stressed they must be tailored to each family’s unique circumstances; support families to address social and economic challenges; take a whole-of-family approach; and offer long-term, relationship-based, face-to-face, high-intensity contact, ideally with continuity of carer.

“In addition, the first of the three focus areas included in the research involves broadening referral pathways within government and community organisations to connect families experiencing vulnerabilities with support, ensuring services are region-specific and have local and cultural knowledge, and prioritising timeliness of support to protect children in early infancy.

“The second focus area involves integrating infant sleep safety assessments and safer sleep advice into all child protection assessments, not just health assessments, with advice delivered in the family home and tailored to a family’s needs.

“Finally, the research suggests a shift in strategy, from providing information to enabling action, and that means looking for opportunities to implement programs across Queensland that have demonstrated success in improving safer sleep practices.”

The CDRB thanks the Queensland Paediatric Quality Council for the research. The research is available here.

[ENDS] 22 November 2022

Media Contact:  Child Death Review Board – Kirby Cook ph: 0434 683 265