One in 10 surveyed day cares still use the Fisher-Price Rock ’n Play, a popular infant sleeper recalled in April that was linked to at least 32 infant deaths, says a new report released Wednesday by two consumer watchdog groups.
US Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG) and Kids in Danger (KID) — two nonprofit advocacy organizations — contacted 600 day cares and polled the responding 376, focusing on states that mandate day cares remove recalled products, as well as states without clear laws regulating child care facilities. In states with lax recall-related laws on the books, like Georgia, “regulations relied on vague statements, not even mentioning the word recall, or suggesting some items do not need to be removed,” says the report.
Adam Garber, the consumer watchdog for US PIRG, discovered that Rock ’n Plays were still in use at his son’s day care in June, two months after the nationwide recall. His son’s teacher hadn’t heard about the recall at all, Garber tells Vox, and instead mistakenly believed that Fisher-Price had only issued a warning and that Rock ’n Plays were safe if used correctly.
Fisher-Price and the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) had indeed issued a warning on April 5 that caretakers only use the Rock ’n Play with babies younger than 3 months and with babies who can’t yet roll over, along with a disclaimer to use the product’s provided restraints. As Vox’s Chavie Lieber noted, however, the warning flip-flopped on the product’s original minimum weight requirement of 25 pounds — the weight of a baby much older than 3 months.
The manufacturer’s warning coincided with the release of a Consumer Reports review documenting at least 32 infant deaths between 2011 and 2018 linked to the Rock ’n Play, many from asphyxia or suffocation. A statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics soon followed, highlighting that the Rock ’n Play’s documented infant deaths included babies younger than 3 months (the Rock ’n Play’s instructed maximum age), adding that the AAP never recommends infant sleepers requiring restraints.
“We cannot put any more children’s lives at risk by keeping these dangerous products on the shelves,” said Rachel Moon, chair of the AAP Task Force on SIDS, at the time. “The Rock ’n Play inclined sleeper should be removed from the market immediately. It does not meet the AAP’s recommendations for a safe sleep environment for any baby.” (The AAP’s safe sleep protocol details that infants should sleep on their backs, on flat, firm surfaces, without bedding or bumpers, on a tightly fitted sheet alone. The Rock ’n Play is inclined, not flat, and features not only waist restraints but soft bedding atop a concave base.)
“It started me thinking,” says Garber to Vox, “did I get an unlucky day care or was it a larger problem?”
What Garber uncovered speaks to a thorny issue: Recalls don’t always work as intended. As of 2016, says US PIRG and KID’s report, only 18 states ban recalled products — like the Rock ’n Play — from child care facilities. For the rest of the country, there’s an accountability lag; recalling companies currently don’t have any other legally required responsibility beyond simply issuing the recall itself.
Garber believes that should change. “Parents and day cares and caregivers prioritize keeping their kids safe, but can’t do it if they don’t have the necessary information,” he says, adding that the past six months alone have seen a not altogether unusual rash of recalls, from toys that contain toxins to toys that pose a choking hazard. It’s too easy to miss news of product recalls when they happen every month. Says Garber, “This is a good example of a larger hidden danger.”
US PIRG recommends that states without legislation banning recalled products change their laws immediately. But state legislation isn’t known to be a particularly swift or straightforward process, as the AAP laid out in its 2009 Advocacy Guide. And passing a law can become even more mired in bureaucracy on the federal level. In the absence of new legislation, companies like Fisher-Price can — and should, says US PIRG — do more to inform and educate consumers.
“Companies collect huge amounts of information on each of us,” says Garber. “They know what I bought, and they use it to target me for more things that they want me to buy. If they’re going to collect all this information about me, whether it’s through a loyalty rewards card program that tracks my purchases and account or for their marketing purposes where they buy this information, they should use that information for good in the world by helping to keep us safe.”
Garber adds that Fisher-Price and others should do a better job of publicizing recalls via social media and direct marketing. Fisher-Price does indeed tweet out news of recalls, and engages with customers on the platform to answer questions. But targeted ads could be a more immediate way to reach consumers since, as Garber points out, they can be “eerily accurate.”
“Ensuring that consumers are notified of a recall is critical,” Fisher-Price said in a statement provided to Vox, adding that the company takes several steps to alert the public about recalls. In the case of the Rock ‘n Play, Fisher-Price created a website translated into nine languages to “centralize information for consumers,” in addition to publishing news of the recall on Twitter and Facebook, and alerting resale companies to “prevent unlawful resales” of the Rock ‘n Play.
“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,” said Fisher-Price. When products are recalled, Fisher-Price says it immediately notifies everyone who has registered their product — that is, everyone who takes the time to mail in those white cards that come inside the product packaging, or submit their information and product number online.
The thing is, says Garber, many people don’t. “Most of us look at those [cards] and go, ‘I’m going to fill that out later,’ and then never do because we’re busy, especially if you’re a new parent.” The onus remains on the consumer — and in the case of day cares, relying on product registration means that the burden of responsibility falls on both businesses providing child care and on parents to ask their day cares, essentially, if they’ve seen the news. Fisher-Price also suggests that consumers sign up for product updates on its site, and register for product recall alerts from the CPSC at recalls.gov.
Government agencies are not off the hook, however. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission could demand that these social media and advertising recommendations are essential policies stipulated by recalls, says Garber. US PIRG also advises that the CPSC must work more closely with recalling companies to inform day cares of recalls, and calls on the commission to hold both child care facilities and recalling companies accountable. Adds Garber, “That would go a long way to keeping kids safer.”
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