Image Credit: Jess Graefe Photography

Child care is a costly but necessary service for many households across the U.S., with more than 11 million children under the age of five currently enrolled in a child care facility. Today, a family in Oklahoma is taking initiative to make child care safer after losing their 11-week-old son, Shepard.

Ali and Derek Dodd lost their second child on April 6, 2015, just six days after soliciting the help of an in-home caregiver. The daycare provider had left Shepard unbuckled and swaddled in another child’s car seat, where he was unattended in a bedroom behind a closed door for two hours. It is believed that Shepard slid down in the car seat and his chin touched his chest causing his airway to collapse.

Sadly, this wasn’t the first time the daycare provider had been cited for hazardous sleeping practices.

In an article he penned for YourTango, Derek wrote that the Department of Human Services had given the same caregiver a citation for allowing another baby to sleep in a swing. As of this writing, the daycare has not been charged, and the case is still open.

According to Us Weekly, the family has been legislating on behalf of safer daycares ever since.

“I didn’t want to live anymore after Shepard died,” Ali said in an exclusive interview with the Independent Journal Review. The mother of two was devastated by his unexpected loss. She says:

“I had lost four other children before they were born. I was sure I would get to keep Shepard, and I didn’t.”

Immediately after his passing, Ali wanted to do something in honor of her son. She found some direction online. Two weeks later, on April 24, 2015, a study was published by the American Academy of Pediatrics that said babies were at greater risk of asphyxiation when placed in car seats unattended.

Image Credit: Screenshot of pamphlet/Shepard’s Watch

The study was too late for the Dodds, but Ali realized that the information regarding safe sleeping practices for babies needed to be made more readily available. She designed the first-ever safe sleep pamphlet to help distribute the information for parents and daycare providers. It helps prioritize the dangers of allowing infants to sleep in sitting or carrying devices.

“It’s still the only safe sleep information pamphlet, as far as I know.”

By July of 2015, Ali and Derek had started a their own foundation, Shepard’s Watch, and began meeting with state senators in Oklahoma. They’ve since drafted three bills, including one named after their son: Shepard’s Law.

Image Credit: Ali Dodd/Independent Journal Review

The new bills were huge milestones for the Dodd family. After working with state officials, Ali realized that federal legislation was necessary to ensure all children were protected from unsafe sleeping practices.

This year, she’s advocating for two more causes— that caregivers be required to take a two-hour formal safe sleep course approved by the American Academy of Pediatrics and for a paid family leave policy.

Image Credit: Ali Dodd/Independent Journal Review

Ali recognizes that not everyone will agree with her. Even during the presidential election, there were candidates who fervently objected to paid parental leave. But she’s used to the objections.

After Shepard died, she says that her family had to deal with backlash from commenters who wanted to know why she had placed Shepard into daycare at all.

“People would write that his death was my fault, that I should have never put my baby into daycare. But a majority of American households rely on daycare. Most families need two incomes to make ends meet.”

Ali is now looking to the Trump administration to move the needle on safer and accessible daycares for families. She said that Trump officials were receptive to a better paid family leave policy during the election, but she’s nervous that it will get bumped due to other priorities.

“The plan [Trump] has drafted is much better than the system we have right now. This is one of the biggest promises that would do the most good for the most people.”

Ali and husband Derek now have two children, a 6-year-old boy and a 3-month-old girl, who keep them busy in addition to the nonprofit work. Their newborn daughter is scheduled for enrollment into a daycare when she turns one.

Image Credit: Laura Sheth Photography

Ali feels safer placing her daughter in child care now that the new Oklahoma state laws are in place, but she wishes more had been done earlier:

“I stayed home as long as I could without benefits [when I had Shepard]. I put him in the safest daycare I could find. [He didn’t die because of] my lack of planning, it was the fact that it was OK his childcare provider didn’t have to know anything about safe sleep.”

The Dodd family plans to do everything they can to ensure more children — and their parents — across the U.S. can sleep a little more easily.

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