Adam Garber is pushing for big changes in the U.S. recall system after he discovered his son's day care—and many other child care providers—were still using inclined sleepers for infants.
More than 4 million of the Fisher-Price Rock 'n Play sleepers were recalled in April following infant deaths. This spurred more recalls of inclined sleepers, including approximately 700,000 Kids II rocking sleepers and about 24,000 sleepers made by Dorel Juvenile Group.
Garber, who is a consumer watchdog for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) in Philadelphia, used his personal story to launch an investigation into the continued use of recalled sleepers at daycares.
U.S. PIRG and Kids in Danger found through a survey of 376 day cares that one in 10 indicated they were using at least one of the recalled inclined sleepers.
Babies should always sleep on a flat surface, alone on their backs and in a crib that is free of blankets, bedding and toys. This is the "safe sleep" practice recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
But for sleep-deprived and desperate caregivers, products that look like they could induce sleep are tempting, even if they don't meet the "safe sleep" recommendations.
'I was shocked'
Garber said his wife Sara Landis alerted him when she saw a Rock ‘n Play sleeper in the infant room at their son's child care facility in south Philadelphia.
Because of Garber's watchdog background, he immediately took action.
"I was shocked. So I went in the next day to talk to the teacher and when I mentioned it was recalled, she was confused," Garber told USA TODAY.
While the teacher knew of a warning the company had issued urging proper use of the Rock 'n Play sleepers, she was unaware of the recall, Garber said.
Within a few hours, the day care removed the product, but the dad wondered if he had just been "unlucky or if there was a larger problem here."
He turned to his work.
'There was just this information gap'
U.S. PIRG and Kids in Danger sent the survey to more than 600 child care facilities in Georgia, Texas and Wisconsin between June 20 and July 10, asking if they were using any of the recalled inclined sleepers in their day cares.
They did not tell the day cares the sleepers were recalled, but identified themselves as a product research group.
Garber said they followed up with the day cares still using the sleepers and the majority of them said they were unaware of the recall.
"There was just this information gap," Garber said, noting that the U.S. recall system relies on media distribution and product registration cards to notify consumers.
"So most people don’t hear about recalls, even when they are as big and as well-publicized as this one (the Rock 'n Play recall)," he said.
A call for action
U.S. PIRG and Kids and Danger are pushing for states, the CPSC and the makers of recalled products to do a better job.
The two safety groups are calling for states to pass laws prohibiting day cares from using recalled products. They're asking the CPSC to ensure day cares are automatically notified of recalled children's products and they want manufacturers like Mattel and Kids II to "double down" on their efforts to reach consumers who purchased the recalled products.
Garber said companies should be using all the information they are gathering about consumers such as their past purchases and shopping history to warn them of recalled products.
"The ads I get for my son are pretty accurate about what I'm looking for and what I might need or want. Why can't they use that same ability to tell people you might have a dangerous product?" Garber said.
Fisher-Price, CPSC respond
Fisher-Price, the maker of Rock 'n Play, said the company has taken several steps to make sure the sleepers are no longer being used.
"One of the best ways for consumers to ensure they receive notice of a product recall is to register their products when they are purchased or at any time after that, which takes only a few minutes," Fisher-Price general manager Chuck Scothon said in an emailed statement to USA TODAY.
"When we announce a product recall, we immediately notify everyone who has registered their product, and provide comprehensive information regarding the recall process, including call center telephone numbers."
For the Rock 'n Play recall, Scothon said the company also issued a joint press release with the CPSC; created a website translated into nine languages to centralize information for consumers; published recall information on Fisher-Price websites, Facebook and Twitter pages, and on the business' online customer service center; and reached out to online marketplaces notifying them of the recall, urging them to take action to prevent unlawful resales.
The CPSC, the U.S. government agency that regulates the safety of consumer products, also suggests consumers register products and encourages day cares and parents to sign up to receive recall announcements.
"Child care centers should never use recalled children's products," Patty Davis, Deputy Director of Communications and Press Secretary for the CPSC, said an emailed statement to USA TODAY.
Davis said that thousands of child care providers already receive recall notifications and some states require day cares to sign up for them. The CPSC also sends recall announcements to state agencies that license day cares and asks recalling companies to contact all known purchasers, including child care providers.
"Parents should also raise the issue of recalled products and these recalled inclined sleepers with their day care providers," Davis said.
Despite these efforts made by Fisher-Price and the CPSC, some parents said they still planned to use the Rock n' Play sleepers.
What parents can do
Parents should remember that babies are safest with a flat, bare sleeping surface. Parents should not expect babies to sleep through the night immediately.
"We all have these hopes that our infants are going to sleep long periods of time right from the get-go, but that is not how babies are programmed to work. So waking up every two hours is a normal newborn thing that we shouldn't be trying to overcome," pediatrician Dr. Elizabeth Murray previously told USA Today in response to the recalls.
She recommends other sleep-saving strategies like making sure one partner is sleeping when the baby sleeps and getting babies into a bedtime routine. Before purchasing baby sleep products, Murray said to check with reliable sources like pediatricians for recommendations.
Garber said parents should sign up for product recall alerts on the CPSC website and should talk with their day care operators about how the facility stays up-to-date on recalled products and what their process is for removing them.
"Sparking that conversation can help them put systems into place," he said.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Rock 'n Play recall: Day cares may still be using them, survey finds