Police weave in cultural skills to prevent sudden infant deaths

By Raphael Franks

Police approached Hāpai Te Hauora looking for an indigenous and culturally appropriate way to support whānau who have or may experience SUDI. Photo / Eva Wilson

By Raphael Franks, Te Rito journalist cadet

Counties Manukau police will weave wahakura (flax bassinets) as part of an initiative to reduce sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI) in South Auckland.

Hāpai Te Hauora, a public health and policy service, will host a wānanga wahakura (bassinet-weaving workshop) with the district's police workforce.

The chief executive of Hāpai Te Hauora, Selah Hart, says the deaths of about 50 babies a year across the country are attributable to SUDI, with a disproportionate number in Māori and Pacific communities in South Auckland.

"Police don't get paid to provide health intervention," she says, "and yet they are the frontline responders."

Hart says the wānanga will develop skills and competencies for police for reducing occurrences of SUDI. She hopes it will enable a cultural shift within the police that can be longer-lasting than other resources.

Police have to deal with whānau grief and shock, and they have to treat the home as a crime scene. They are now looking for their own solutions to serve Māori and Pacific communities.

Preventing distress

Hart said the wānanga wahakura will give police better outcomes as well, by preventing that distress from further incidents of SUDI.

"They want to prevent themselves from being scarred," she said.

Police approached Hāpai Te Hauora looking for an indigenous and culturally appropriate way to support whānau who have or may experience SUDI.

Hart said, "Police were an organisation that was overlooked. But they attend a lot of callouts where they notice babies sleeping in unsafe circumstances."

She explained, "what usually happens is there is unsafe bedsharing, a baby sleeping next to mum, dad or an older sibling. In most of these instances, you've got whānau in crowded living environments.

She said wider issues that need to be solved, such as poverty and overcrowded housing, have a high prevalence in Māori and Pasifika communities.

Culturally appropriate

The wānanga wahakura is part of Hāpai Te Hauora's National Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy Prevention Co-ordination Service (NSPCS).

Hart said, "we haven't had a health system that was working for Māori, it hasn't solved accidental or preventable deaths, and it has not responded as it needs to. With the ongoing health reforms, we don't want initiatives like this to be lost in the noise. We need to prioritise lowering rates of smoking, poverty, and infant death at more strategic levels."

While Te Whatu Ora Counties Manukau, previously the district health board, has ample funding to prevent SUDI, Hart said, there hasn't been a prioritisation for Māori in a culturally appropriate way.

Hart says while the high rates of SUDI are "heartbreaking", she is grateful the Police are engaged and interested in the initiative to serve Māori communities.

Public Interest Journalism, funded through NZ On Air