Tarrant Baptists seek to reduce infant mortality

(NICHD Photo / Creative Commons / Public Doman 1.0)

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FORT WORTH—The Fort Worth area leads the state in infant mortality, but Tarrant Baptist Association is working in cooperation with churches and social service agencies to save young lives by providing babies a safe sleep surface.

With the help of a start-up grant from Texas Baptists’ Christian Life Commission, Tarrant Baptists have distributed 300 travel cribs so far to families, working through Mission Arlington, Cornerstone Assistance Network, Child Protective Services, churches, pregnancy centers and other service providers.

Becky Biser

The association is collaborating with Cook Children’s Medical Center, John Peter Smith Hospital, Baylor Scott & White, Texas Health Resources and other agencies to educate parents about the risk of accidental suffocation and “set up an infant safety net across Tarrant County,” said Becky Biser, director of leadership development at Tarrant Baptist Association.

Wake-up call from God

The program grew out of relationships Biser developed after an early morning epiphany.

“The Lord woke me up at 3 in the morning,” she recalled.

Biser believed God told her he had people in strategic places throughout the community for a purpose, and she needed to reach out to them. So, she began to contact officials in city government, law enforcement, social services and other areas.

“I was sending about 20 notes of encouragement a month,” she said.

Biser developed a relationship with pediatric anesthesiologist Dyann Daley, who at that time directed the Center for Prevention of Maltreatment of Children at Cook Children’s Medical Center.

Preventable infant deaths

From Daley, she learned about the high rate of infant deaths in the Fort Worth area. In 2014, Tarrant County had the highest infant mortality rate among Texas counties with 10,000 or more live births—7.2 deaths for every 1,000 births, compared to state and national averages of 5.8.

She also learned from Daley suffocation is the leading cause of injury-related death in infants.

“We don’t want that to happen on our watch,” Biser said.

While Baptist churches in Tarrant Count could not effectively deal with all the complex factors contributing to infant mortality, they could help promote safe sleep, she concluded.

“This one seemed to be something that should be more simple to address and make a big difference,” she said.

Safe Sleep Initiative

She worked with Breanna Anderson, program manager at the Center for Prevention of Maltreatment of Children, and representatives from Fort Worth Neighborhood Services, the Fort Worth mayor’s office and other community leaders to develop a strategy to support the Fort Worth Safe Infant Sleep Initiative.

She consulted with officials at the Fort Worth Pregnancy Center and Presbyterian Night Shelter to select the proper travel crib to promote safety and meet the needs of at-risk families.

With the Texas Baptist community care start-up grant, Tarrant Baptist Association purchased the first 50 travel cribs and distributed them to families through Cornerstone Assistance Network and Mission Arlington. Since then, the program has expanded rapidly in a few months.

Becky Biser, director of leadership development at Tarrant Baptist Association, facilitates a training event on infant safety at the associational office in Fort Worth. (Photo / Ken Camp)

“It all started from just doing what God said to do. He opened the doors,” Biser said. “It’s all God, not me.”

About 30 individuals representing law enforcement, children’s advocacy, social services, healthcare, refugee resettlement and the faith community attended a two-hour safe-sleep training event March 19 at the Tarrant Baptist Association office building.

In addition to learning the latest findings and recommendations from the Center for Prevention of Maltreatment of Children, participants discussed ways the training module could be improved and adapted for use in various settings.

Key points included:

  • Pillows, bumper pads and toys never should be included inside an infant’s crib.
  • Infants should sleep in a crib, not in a bed with parents. A study of more than 8,200 sleep-related deaths between 2004 and 2012 revealed 69 percent were due to sharing a bed with parents or caregivers.
  • Infants should sleep on a firm surface with tightly fitted sheets.
  • Parents always should place a baby on his or her back to sleep. The infant’s face should be visible, and the nose and mouth should be clear of obstructions.
  • Use a sleep sack or long-sleeved one-piece bodysuit—not a blanket—to help keep an infant warm while sleeping.
Danielle Biser

Empower moms to say ‘no’

Biser’s daughter-in-law, Danielle, preschool ministry director at Southcliff Baptist Church in Fort Worth, emphasized the importance of relying on the latest recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Some of those up-to-date recommendations may differ from what mothers learned 40 or even 20 years ago, she noted. That can create a difficult situation for young mothers who know the latest information but don’t want to be disrespectful when well-meaning relatives have other ideas—underscoring the need to inform other caregivers about best practices for infant safety.

“Nobody wants to be ‘that mom,’” she said. “But we need to empower mothers to say ‘no’ in love to mothers and grandmothers who believe babies should sleep on their stomachs.”

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