An 11-week-old baby who died in squalor, having slept on a fold-out couch with his mother and siblings, is unlikely to have died as a result of the viral infection he was recovering from, a court has heard.
This is the first time the public has been made aware of the baby boy’s death, which occurred in November 2018 in a home in rural South Australia.
The Department of Child Protection (DCP) last week won a bid to keep details of the baby and his family suppressed, despite knowing of the death for four years.
The baby reportedly died while co-sleeping with his mother and young siblings on a fold-out couch in a house heavily littered with rubbish and faeces.
The DCP had reportedly been notified of risks to the baby and his siblings 23 times, with many of the reports made before the baby boy was even born.
On Tuesday, an inquest at in the Coroner’s Court was shown footage and photographs of the conditions the baby was living in before his death on November 30, 2018.
The photographs show the house covered in rubbish, with items strewn across floors and on surfaces.
In the video footage, a Detective is heard commenting on the scent of the home: “There is quite a bad smell of animal faeces through the house.”
Photos from SA Police, showing the home in which the baby died. Picture: SA PoliceThe empty fridge in the home. Picture: SA PoliceThe kitchen in the home. Picture: SA Police
On Wednesday, the inquest heard from Associate Professor Mike Starr, a paediatrician and infectious diseases physician.
Professor Starr said he was not of the opinion the infant boy had died as a result of various viruses found in his lungs post-mortem, but rather his sleeping arrangements were a major contributor.
The court had previously heard that on the night of the boy’s death, he had been sleeping on a fold-out couch with his mother, who was a smoker, and siblings.
Professor Starr said a baby of his age should have been sleeping in an appropriate bed with a hard mattress with no objects like pillows which could obstruct his airways.
Rubbish across the floor in the home. Picture: SA Police
The court also heard the baby boy had visited a GP and paediatrician in the month leading up to his death, and was treated for a common cold.
“The unsafe sleeping environment was a factor in his death,” Professor Starr said.
“I agree that it’s impossible to determine (cause of death) precisely, but I don’t think the respiratory infection was a major factor.
“I would weigh (the unsafe sleeping environment) more heavily based on the clinical picture and the pathology.”
He told the court the infant’s death could have been prevented if the child had been provided with suitable sleeping arrangements.
“I believe it could have been prevented because there were a number of preventable factors, and I do think the poor hygienic living factors were one of those factors,” Professor Starr said.
“There were a number of things that could have been prevented, the biggest one was having a safe sleeping environment, in my view.
“If he had been put to bed in a cot, without anything in the cot, and it was an appropriate mattress, and the area was clean, and the mother didn’t smoke, then this death would not have happened. They’re all preventable things.”
State Coroner David Whittle will next hear from a not-for-profit case manager for the family, who had tried to conduct welfare checks on the children prior to the infant’s death.