THE DEATHS of two babies at an Eastern Shore family day care home would be easier to cope with if some regulatory deficiency were to blame. Indeed, the case has prompted cries for more frequent inspections of day care homes and centers. Lax regulations, however, were not the problem and, hence, are not the answer.
As child advocacy groups note, Maryland has some of the nation's toughest rules governing child care facilities. The requirements for a license to run a family day care cover everything from splintered wood on the outside of the house to the condition of toilet seats.
The cause of the infants' death -- the state medical examiner has ruled they suffocated when they were put to sleep on an adult bed with a soft blanket -- is addressed in the law, which mandates cribs for each child under 18 months. Inspections hTC showed the day care provider had met this requirement.
But inspections -- important as they are -- cannot prevent careless day-to-day practices. That is why more frequent checks probably would not have saved these babies. More than inspections, better training and screening are needed to help eliminate providers who are unfit or do not understand basic safety, such as the prohibition against soft bedding for babies.
Another serious issue, unrelated to day care, is the infant bedding on the market. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), physicians and advocacy groups agree the public needs to be warned that bedding sets -- often fluffy, pretty comforters and sometimes matching pillows -- are potentially lethal to young babies. At the very least, the labels on bedding sets ought to include warnings about their dangers.
In the end, though, regulation is less important than parents' vigilance. New parents need to educate themselves about the latest safety guidelines. They need to realize that the relationship with a day care provider is a curious mixture of trust and watchfulness. Wise parents ask questions and voice concerns. They watch for signs that their child is unhappy or untended.
Observation and inquisitiveness might not have made a difference in the Eastern Shore case. Still, they are the best protection parents have.
Pub Date: 7/13/98