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ADVOCATES JOIN TO SAVE KIDS' LIVES

A campaign to prevent injury and death is gaining momentum.

Susan Martin-Warren looks at her 4-year-old son. A brace on his right ankle. A splint on his limp right hand. He talks and walks, but she worries about his development.

When Graham was just months old, his father caused permanent trauma to the left side of his brain. Doctors called it shaken baby syndrome. Authorities sent the father to prison.

Graham will live with the impairment for the rest of his life.

"We don't know what he will face as an adolescent and young adult. I worry about him everyday," said Martin-Warren.

It's the sort of incident that has led child advocates to launch a major campaign to reduce preventable deaths and traumatic injuries of young children.

"I got sick of hearing about kids dying from being wedged in a couch cushion or drowning in 6 inches of bath water. They had loving parents that didn't know any better. Their deaths were completely preventable," said Nick Cox, the Suncoast regional director for the Department of Children and Families.

So he and other child advocates have teamed up and launched an ambitious new effort. The campaign has gained sweeping momentum county-wide with partnerships between the Children's Board of Hillsborough County, the Department of Children and Families, Healthy Start Coalition of Hillsborough and public and private organizations.

"Most parents have good intentions and want the best for their child and most communities are equipped with the resources to aid parents, but the challenge is connecting the two together," said Carolyn Eastman, director of communications for the Children's Board of Hillsborough County.

She says the campaign focuses on three initiatives: safe sleeping, safe caregivers and water safety. To promote these messages, CBS Outdoor will post 16 billboards of rotating child safety messages, and HARTline buses will display 30 full-length ads on buses traveling all routes of Hillsborough County.

Hospitals will also play a big role, according to Jane Murphy, executive director for the Healthy Start Coalition. Beginning this fall, updated informational packages will be distributed to new mothers. The package will include a 95-page pamphlet outlining infant developmental processes and safety guidelines with a listing of community resources and phone numbers; a parenting DVD focusing on child safety that features mother Martin-Warren and her son Graham; a onesie reading "Put me on my back to sleep"; and a letter that parents will be asked to sign promising the child good care.

Some hospitals will offer one-on-one training and screening, including risk assessments, where they can provide parents with helpful advice, like where to get the best child care or how to obtain free car seats and baby beds.

Throughout the county, five Family Support and Resource Centers see about 60,000 families a year.

They too have committed to supporting the campaign and will tailor information and resources specific to their surrounding communities, Eastman said.

"The best result is when the entire community sees it as their responsibility to protect a child," she said. "If they don't know how to do it, then they will know how to find a resource and come together as community to help the impact of the needless amount of children that die every year."

The campaign will run at least through the end of next year, Cox said.

"If it saves one child, then it is worth it," he said.

Stephanie Bolling can be reached at (813) 226-3408 or sbolling@sptimes.com.

FAST FACTS

Child statistics

- Florida ranks third in the nation behind Kentucky and South Dakota for the highest rate of child death by maltreatment.

- In the past six years, preventable child deaths in Hillsborough County would fill three elementary school classrooms. Ninety-three child deaths since 2003 were caused by drowning or unsafe sleeping practices.

- Most children who died from abuse or neglect were age 5 or younger.

- Adult use of alcohol or drugs is often a factor in co-sleeping deaths.

- For information, call the Children's Board of Hillsborough County at (813) 229-2884. On the Web, go to www.dreamsworthgrowing.org or www.healthystartcoaltion.org.

Sources: Florida Department of Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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