Broward County

Keeping kids safe: Broward aims to cut sleeping deaths, drownings

Cassie McGovern tells her family’s tragic story, losing her 19-month-old daughter to drowning in 2009, with the hope of preventing future tragedies. At right, is Kim Gorsuch of the state Department of Children & Families.
Cassie McGovern tells her family’s tragic story, losing her 19-month-old daughter to drowning in 2009, with the hope of preventing future tragedies. At right, is Kim Gorsuch of the state Department of Children & Families. Miami Herald Staff

Cassie McGovern has made it her life mission to help other families avoid the tragedy and heartache of losing a child.

Six years ago this August, McGovern’s 19-month-old-daughter, Edna Mae, slipped out of her chair in the kitchen while her mother was putting away groceries, opened an unlocked sliding-glass door and jumped into the family pool in Coral Springs without her father, mother or two older sisters noticing.

“My husband happened to call me into the living room for a moment to ask me a question and when I came back to the kitchen she was not in the spot I had left her,” McGovern recalled Wednesday.

“Being like every other parent, I didn't really have any concern or worry. I wandered around the house looking for her and never questioned the pool for one minute because we had a pool fence and our backyard was fenced in. When I went into my backyard, about three-quarters of the way down, I caught a glimpse of my daughter floating in our pool.”

Every parent’s nightmare soon became a reality when CPR performed by her husband couldn’t prevent Edna Mae from becoming the sixth of 10 children in Broward County to drown in 2009. Since that year, drowning has become the leading cause of death for children in the county (55 fatalities), according to the Department of Children & Families, with unsafe sleeping conditions (54 deaths) a close second.

That’s why McGovern, who now works for the Florida Department of Health in Broward, is among many in the community pushing DCF’s new #SaferBy4 public awareness campaign, which launched in February.

The hook of the movement, Kim Gorsuch of DCF explained, is that kids who reach the age of 4 have a better chance to survive because “78 percent of the children dying are under the age of 4.”

“It’s really too early to say how much it’s helped, but we’ve got our fingers crossed,” Gorsuch said. “This year we're at 14 child fatalities through the end of June, four sleep-related and three downing. But we've got six months to go.”

Last year, 41 children in Broward died. Nine drowned. Another 11 died from unsafe sleeping conditions such as being crushed next to adults or strangled from sheets.

“These tragedies cross all ethnic, racial and economic backgrounds,” Michelle Reese, executive director for Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition of Broward, said Wednesday during a news conference at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood.

“Sleep-related deaths do not discriminate. Whether you're a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle we must help each other understand … they are real and happening more and more often than ever before. We need to recognize these deaths will happen to everyone if you don't follow proper sleeping standards.”

On Wednesday, Oakland Park became the 31st and last municipality in Broward to join the #SaferBy4 movement, which has had the backing of Sunrise mayor Mike Ryan, Sen. Eleanor Sobel and other community partners.

Lt. James Carroll of Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue said that his department has been educating parents on proper sleeping standards since 2012.

“We've told our firefighters ‘When you're on scene, keep your eyes open — look for babies, a pregnant mother,’” Carroll said. “In that case we engage them and give them a sleep kit. Every fire truck has five of them. Then, if they have enough time and manpower we actually take a look at the sleep environment, see the crib and visualize right there what's wrong.

The fire department gave out 600 sleep kits and 15 cribs last year.

Carroll said his program has spread to Hollywood, Pompano Beach, Coral Springs, Margate, Coconut Creek, Davie and the Seminole Tribe.

“To have all 31 municipalities supporting this and promoting the message and information by using events, their websites, by tweeting, social media has been tremendous,” said DCF spokeswoman Paige Patterson-Hughes.

“And then to have fire officials literally going into homes and seeing a crib and asking, ‘How do you put your baby to sleep? I see you have a pool, let's check the doors’ — it's really that extra step they are taking to make sure everybody stays safe.”