Alberta's child advocate urges foster parents to stop bed-sharing with infants

Alberta's child advocate says foster parents should not share a bed with with infants. The recommendation follows an investigation into the death of a 45-day-old infant in foster care last year.

Recommendation follows investigation into death of baby girl last year

The child, called Baby Dawn in the report, fell asleep in a crib. Her foster parents brought her into bed some time during the night and found her dead in the morning. (CBC)

Alberta's child advocate says foster parents should not let babies sleep with them.

Del Graff made the recommendation in a report into the death last year of an unnamed six-week-old girl.

Her foster parents had her in a crib, but brought her into their bed in the middle of the night. She was found unresponsive the next morning.

The medical examiner concluded they baby died “as a result of undetermined causes when she was bed-sharing with adults.”

An autopsy could not determine a cause of death and police ruled there was no crime.

At the time, eight other children were in the foster home: two biological children, two children who had been placed in the home for a year, and four children from another foster home. The family occasionally provided respite care for that home.

However, the report determined the number of children in the home did not exceed policy.

Graff said the province does not provide clear direction to foster parents about bed-sharing with infants.

“Please do not sleep while sharing a bed with a vulnerable infant in your care,” wrote Graff“The potential consequences of sharing a bed with an infant can be catastrophic.”

The government is making a new training course mandatory for foster parents starting this fall.

Dr. Ian Mitchell, a pediatrician at the University of Calgary, agrees with the recommendation.

"All of the national bodies and international bodies strongly recommend that infants do not share a sleeping surface with an adult," he said.

"When the government takes children into care, they become ours temporarily, [and] we must achieve the highest possible standard."

Alberta's Human Services Minister Manmeet Bhullar issued a statement Tuesday on the report.

"While we recognize co-sleeping can be an important cultural aspect, each child in care must have a separate bed or crib as a permanent sleeping arrangement.  We do not recommend bed-sharing due to a number of associated risks including falls or suffocations," he said.

"To ensure children are raised in safe and caring environments, we will clarify our policy on co-sleeping and the Safe Babies course is now a requirement for all foster parents that care for children under the age of three."

With files from Canadian Press