Would You Know the Warning Signs?

Feb 15, 2016 | Stories | 10 comments

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Eckerd recently partnered with Florida Department of Children and Families and Children’s Board of Hillsborough County to reduce preventable child deaths in Tampa Bay by launching a grassroots public relations campaign titled “Warning Signs”. The campaign will run for three years with a mix of billboards, radio and TV ads to raise awareness about the three main causes of needless child deaths which include un-safe sleep, drowning and head trauma.

WHAT IF I told you the following:

  • Over the past four years, the Tampa Bay area has lost the equivalent of a kindergarten class of children due to drowning deaths.
  • In the time it takes to read this fact, a young child can be just moments away from death by drowning.
  • 41 Tampa Bay area children under age 6 died last year from preventable causes. That is 41 kids who will never grow up with the opportunity to enter a Boy Scout or Girl Scout Troop or play on a Little League team. That is 41 lost lives of kids who will never experience those childhood memories we all cherish.

Would YOU believe me?

All these FACTS are sadly, TRUE.  Each week I present you with various topics that, at times have little to no meaning, really.  BUT, today, I have a topic that needs your undivided attention!  This is a subject/concern that is very near and dear to my heart.

Would YOU know the Warning signs?

Across Tampa Bay, 41 children under age 6 died last year from three causes that are 100 percent preventable: drowning, abusive head trauma (also known as “Shaken Baby Syndrome”) and unsafe sleep practices (co-sleeping).

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Lack of supervision in and out of the water is the main reason children die from drowning. Be water smart from the start. Designate a “water watcher” who keeps eyes on the child at all times. The watcher must stay close enough to rescue the child if needed and avoid being distracted by conversations, phone calls or other electronic devices. Just 20 seconds is all that it takes for drowning to begin.

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Across Tampa Bay, more than a dozen babies and young children died in the past four years after they were shaken violently or suffered other kinds of abusive head trauma at the hands of a caregiver. The lesson from these tragedies is clear: Never shake a baby.

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Infants are 40 times more likely to die in adult beds than in their own cribs. Room-sharing offers almost all of the benefits of bed-sharing, without the risks—bring baby’s crib into the parents’ room for the first six months.

While stories of these nature are too hard to read at times, they all are real and happen EVERY DAY.  I had the honor and privilege to interview Natalie Harrell, Director of Communications for the Suncoast Region of the Department of Children and Families who gives us a glimpse of the reality she faces each day.

TBB: Tell me about yourself and what you do.

Natalie: I’m the Director of Communications for the Suncoast Region of the Department of Children and Families. I handle all media relations and communications for the Department for an 11 county area from Pasco County down to Collier County.

Personally, I live in South Tampa with my husband and our two boys, ages 6 and 9. I grew up in the Tampa Bay area and I feel especially connected to the prevent needless deaths campaign. Too many children are needlessly dying in our community. Every year we lose the equivalent of two entire classrooms of children who died from 100% preventable deaths right here in Tampa Bay. Our children are our community’s most precious gift and every one of us has a responsibility to keep them safe.

TBB: Tell me about a few of the cases you’ve seen. Is there a specific story you could share (while not disclosing confidential information)?

Natalie: Any preventable child death is heartbreaking but the drowning cases are some of the most difficult for our child protection investigators. We had a case where both parents were home and thought the other was watching the baby, who had only recently begun crawling. They thought they had everything in place to prevent tragedy – a pool fence and alarms on the doors. Sadly though, the pool fence had been left open by a couple inches while they filled the pool up with a hose. All it took was one slightly ajar door and a small opening in the fence and now that family’s life is tragically altered forever. Multiple barriers are essential but we cannot solely rely on them. Drowning is silent and fast and can happen in the time it takes to change the laundry. Don’t ever assume your spouse or someone else in your home has eyes on your child. If the baby starts crawling into another room where you know someone else is, verbally “hand off” care of the child so it’s always clear who is responsible for the child at any given moment.     

TBB: What do you think they community could have done to prevented the outcome?

Natalie: Tampa Bay’s epidemic of drowning deaths in young children must end. These tragedies are 100 percent preventable but we must all take responsibility as a community and share knowledge about water safety.

  • Educate grandparents, extended family members, caregivers and friends on how to properly supervise children in the water and safeguard against accidental drowning.
  • It’s not just families with young children who need to be involved in water safety. Even those without children have a role to play in preventing children from drowning.  Any homeowner with a pool – with or without children in the house – needs to be alert to the dangers and take steps to secure their pool. Contractors, real estate agents, pool maintenance companies – all of these and more can play a constructive role in sharing knowledge about how to keep our region’s children safe from drowning.
  • We must also arm our children with swimming and water safety lessons that are proven to save lives and reduce the risk of drowning. Participation in formal swimming lessons for children under the age of 4 reduces the risk of drowning by 88 percent.

?TBB: Knowing what you know now, if someone were watching your baby, what advice would you give them?

Natalie: Educate not only yourself but also your family and caregivers to prevent tragedy. As new moms, we’re inundated with messaging from all over and it can be overwhelming. If we all educate ourselves on the three leading causes of preventable child death – unsafe sleep, drowning, abusive head trauma – we can potentially save not only our child’s life but the lives of others as well.  

TBB: In Tampa Bay, more children die from co-sleeping or unsafe sleep environments than any other preventable child death.

Natalie: Infants are 40 times more likely to die in adult beds than in their own cribs. Room-sharing offers almost all of the benefits of bed-sharing, without the risks – bring your baby’s crib into your room for the first 6 months of life. Put your baby to sleep on his or her back in a crib with a tight-fitting crib sheet and firm mattress, free of blankets, pillows, bumper pads and stuffed animals.

Natalie: It’s also critical to have a frank conversation with all caregivers about safe sleep, including new grandparents. Over time, advice from medical professionals has changed over the years on the safest way for babies to sleep because we know more today than we did yesterday. Older family members may try to influence your baby’s sleeping arrangements, but we should keep in mind that just because we used to do things a certain way doesn’t mean we should always do it that way. Decades ago, it was common practice for babies and young children to ride in cars without car seats. Now, we know better. We used to think lead paint was safe. Now, we know better.

Natalie: One of our other leading causes of preventable child deaths in Tampa Bay involving infants is abusive head trauma, also known as shaken baby syndrome. Parents themselves most often cause the injury or death. Babies cry frequently and can be very stressful. An infant’s brain is very fragile and shaking or even throwing a baby forcefully on a hard surface can severely, even fatally, damage a child’s brain. Remind yourself and your significant other that when you get overwhelmed that it is perfectly OK to give yourself a time out. Put your baby in a crib and give yourself time to breathe and reduce stress.

Natalie: While drowning doesn’t immediately impact new parents, babies can begin crawling as early 7 months old and are then at high risk of drowning. Drowning isn’t like we see in the movies – it is surprisingly silent and fast. In just 20 seconds – less time than it takes to switch the laundry – a child can drown. Constant supervision without distractions is critical. Understand the dangers that can lead to a child drowning. Pools, ponds, lakes, beaches, retention ponds, buckets, pet water dishes, bathtubs, toilets – drowning can occur in places you don’t normally expect or in places where you’re not as much on your guard.

TBB: What messages on preventing needless deaths do you wish were more widely communicated about among families?

Natalie: These tragedies can happen to any of us and it’s going to take all of us to save more Tampa Bay children. As a community, our children are our most precious gift and every one of us has a responsibility to protect and safeguard their well-being.

This is a challenge our region needs to take on together. Here’s what you can do:

  • Visit http://www.preventneedlessdeaths.com/ to learn more about how we can keep our children safe.
  • Practice the proven safety techniques with the children in your care and share them with others in your circle of relationships.
  • Similar to the “See Something, Say Something” rallying cry that has been so effective in our nation’s counter-terrorism efforts, if you see a practice that is putting a child at risk, say something!

TBB: Why do you think it is that people are sometimes uncomfortable speaking up to family and friends about this life saving information or their concerns?

Natalie: It can be uncomfortable – I absolutely get it. No one wants to sound like a know it all or sound like they are criticizing someone’s parenting. The key though is sharing information in an inviting way. For example, if every reader shared this blog on their social media they would be educating their family and friends without sounding critical. Sharing the link with a personal story can also get a great conversation going. Another suggesting is for readers to mention this blog when they are talking with family and friends in person. It can work as a great ice breaker to get down to the much-needed discussions regarding their life-saving concerns.   ?

TBB: Why do you feel these types of deaths continue to occur?

Natalie: Education and then taking action on what we have all learned is the key. These child deaths are 100% preventable. As a community, we can all make a difference by speaking up and advocating for our children among family, friends and our social circles.     ?

TBB: We know how to prevent drowning, unsafe sleep and head trauma, what do you feel is the best approach to educate the public about the dangers?

Natalie: The prevent needless deaths campaign is reaching out to both the public at large as well as targeted audiences through print, radio and other targeted advertising. However, the most effective way to truly get the message out at the grass-roots level is through peer-to-peer communication. We trust our family, we trust our friends, and we trust online bloggers we follow, like yourself. When that trust is already built-in, we are all more receptive to hearing the information. This is why sharing what you learn with others is so critical to keeping the message alive and in turn, keeping more children alive.

TBB: If parents reading this want to make a difference in preventing these needless deaths in our community, what suggestions do you have for them?

Natalie: Share this information with family and friends. Visit preventneedlessdeaths.com to educate yourself and then share that information with others. In the past five years we’ve lost more than 150 local children from 100% preventable deaths. That’s 150 local families whose lives have forever been tragically changed. As a community, we can all make a difference by speaking up and advocating for our children among family, friends and our social circles. Working together, by sharing this life saving information, we can all help prevent another needless death in Tampa Bay.

TBB: Is there anything else you’d like to add??

Natalie: Don’t be afraid to speak up; if you see something, say something – it may save a child’s life.

One preventable death is one too many. We all can do our part.  Educate ourselves.

Join me and take just five minutes to visit PreventNeedlessDeaths.com to learn how you can keep our children safe and share this lifesaving information with your family and friends.

These tragedies can happen to anyone, and it’s going to take all of us to save our Tampa Bay children. Our children are this community’s most precious gift and every one of us has a responsibility to keep them safe.

Do you now know the warning signs?  BE the warning signs!

Let’s stand together!  Shall we?

The review is written by me on behalf of Tampa Bay Bloggers, Eckerd & Florida Department Children and Families and PreventNeedlessDeaths.com “Warning Signs” campaign.  The opinions expressed above are all mine.


  1. Gwendolyn Mulholland

    I think it is very important to spread the news about the warning signs. Drowning can happen so quickly and leave devastating results. There is nothing that needs to be done while children are in or near water that can’t wait. By spreading the word, a change can happen.

  2. Bernadette Siazon

    I learned about dry drowning last year on Facebook too. It’s pretty scary that’s why I think it is very important to have a watchful eye on our children at all times.

  3. Bernadette Siazon

    I heard about dry drowning on Facebook last year. It’s pretty scary that’s why I see to it that I keep a watchful eye on my daughter all the time.

  4. Sarah Ebner (@sarahjebner)

    These preventable tragedies are so tragic. It’s excellent that you’re raising awareness. We all need to be aware, to speak up and also to do the practical things which help too.

  5. Megan Elford

    In my circle, the most controversial of these dangers is co-sleeping. Everyone wants to do it, no matter what the research says. And I freely admit I often brought my own babies to bed with me when I was nursing them and was just too exhausted to sit in the rocking chair. But having a foster child that I didn’t have the option of co-sleeping with (because of child protection rules) taught me that as tired as I am, I can still take the two steps to the crib to lay a child down even if they’ve fallen asleep on my chest. And it’s totally worth it, from the stats that you’ve mentioned here!

  6. KoKoa (@KoKoaMagazine)

    It can happen anywhere and we must all be aware and take actions. I love the tip about having a person looking out that’s a great idea! I think we should strive to do anything that we can so these babies can enjoy the water without any problems.

  7. polkadotsandcurry

    Its a long article but very informative. Worth reading.

  8. Sage (@sageandsimple)

    I think I’d be a nervous wreck worrying about everything that could go wrong if I had a child, not to mention the stress of listening to their screeching. It’s tragic that people shake babies, but I can completely see how they’re driven to it. That kind of frustration is one reason I know I’m not cut out to be a mother, I wish more people would make an informed decision before blindly following the life script.

  9. Tami

    I have a burden to help the children and their stressed parents. My heart hurts fir the suffering children and knows we cam help some of these parents be better to thwir children. Let me know how I can with this wonderful lifesaving campaign.


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No Ordinary Liz is unique stories about my past in foster care, my awesome present life and hope for the future. I have lived a not so ordinary life so to speak and feel that I need to share these experiences with each of you. These stories will be funny, sad, inspirational, uncomfortable and motivational. Stop by and take a look around. And don’t forget to purchase my book! http://tinyurl.com/noordinaryliz

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