How We Can Protect Children From Dying in Hot Cars
Some days I think I need to stop scrolling my Facebook feed. Just when I need a little break and decide to casually peruse social media, I end up reading so many upsetting things. One narrative that seems to repeat over and over, like some kind of dreadful horror movie trailer on repeat, is that children and infants are being left in hot cars to die.
I’m sure you’ve heard of this and you probably read these stories in the same way I do, with angry tears stinging the corners of your eyes and a bitter lump forming in your throat. WHY does this keep happening?! WHO could forget their child in a car?! HOW can we make this stop?! These are the questions I want to explore with you today.
The Kids and Cars website calls this whole thing of kids being left in cars an “epidemic” and a tragedy that can be prevented. This summer, CNN reported that heatstroke deaths in children who have been left in hot cars has TRIPLED in 2016. Yesterday I read the headline, “Summer’s Over, But Another Baby Has Died in a Hot Car.” This just keeps happening and I have a sense that the only way to stop the trend is to talk about it over and over and over.
So, let’s talk.
WHY CHILDREN ARE LEFT IN CARS
We need to first discuss the reason infants and young children are being left in hot cars to begin with. There seems to be a myriad of causes, and if you think I’ve left any out, please tell us in the comments.
1. Overworked parents
This is a big thing. If you’re a working parent, you know. We are pressed on all sides, working in increasingly high stress environments with high standards, constant deadlines, too few staff to complete the tasks, and expectations from employers that work comes first. Working parents in particular may struggle with guilt for needing to take a day off due to illness or their child’s needs. We’re running on too little sleep, too much caffeine, and far too much stress.
Overworked parents are juggling work pressure and family schedules at the same time. It can be too much at times and something gets missed. Tragically, in a few recent cases, the “thing” that was missed was the baby in the back seat who should have been dropped off at daycare.
2. Distracted adults
Cell phones, radio, racing thoughts of everything that needs to be done… this can and does lead to disaster.
3. Negligent parents
Yes, there are without a doubt some parents who just plain suck at parenting. These are the kind of people we read about who are in a restaurant eating while their baby is being rescued from a hot car in the parking lot. These are the kind of people who leave a sleeping little one in a hot car while they grocery shop. Then, when confronted, these are the parents who act like nothing is wrong with their behavior.
4. Exhausted parents
Few things in life are more exhausting than having a baby. It’s unbelievable what months of severe sleep deprivation can do to a person. I have been there! I never forgot my baby anywhere, but I made one very serious mistake over and over because of the extreme daze I lived in due to lack of sleep. On more occasions than I wish to admit, I forgot to buckle my baby into her car seat. I would lay her in her car seat inside the house and then somehow forget to fasten her in to the seat. I’d carry her out to the car and secure the car seat to the base. Then we’d drive off to our destination, never realizing my terrible mistake. I was a walking zombie. Thank God nothing happened to my little girl! I was lucky, but some are not.
Without a doubt, some of these precious little lives lost to painful and terrifying heatstroke while strapped in to their own little car seat have been heartlessly murdered at the hands of someone they know well.
HOW WE CAN PROTECT CHILDREN FROM DYING IN HOT CARS
I’ve been collecting a list for months of good ways to prevent your own child from dying in a hot car. If you have other ideas, please tell us in the comments.
1. Don’t think “it couldn’t happen to me”
Yes, it could absolutely happen to you and your child. The best, most focused, most loving parent can make a mistake. It’s very likely that almost all of our mistakes will not be fatal, and yet somehow the moment you think you’re invincible, tragedy can strike.
The first way to help protect your own child from being left in a car is to stop telling yourself that you’re better than the parents who make this mistake. Don’t be lured into inaction through self-righteousness; make a plan to protect your children.
2. Leave something in the back seat
This is a fantastic idea! Some suggest taking one or both of your shoes off and placing them on the floor below your child’s car seat. I also like the idea of leaving your cell phone in the back seat. You could set an alarm on your cell phone to go off at the time you intend to leave your house. When the alarm goes off, immediately place the phone in a pocket of your diaper bag, then put the diaper bag on the floor of your vehicle right next to or on the floor below your child. Please keep in mind that in the case of a car accident, anything in the car becomes a projectile, so use caution.
3. Know and address your child care providers policy regarding absent children
In some cases, children have died in their car when they should have been at daycare. This makes me wonder why the daycare didn’t call to find out why the child was absent?
When my daughter was a baby, her daycare let my husband and me know that if she did not arrive to her room by a certain time in the morning, we would be getting a phone call. Her current preschool also has this same policy. We are asked to please notify the school if she will be absent, and if we don’t, they’ll be calling our numbers and even emergency contact numbers until they know where she is and why she is missing. This policy can save lives!
Talk with your child care provider and express the importance of this policy. This isn’t just to have a back up protection for your own child, but to also help protect the other children. If your daycare or school does not follow up on absent children, you should work to effect change.
4. Make a check-in plan
Talk with your spouse and anyone else who cares for your child and may transport to and from daycare, school, a babysitter, etc. Ask them to work with you to create a check-in system. This means that when someone drops your child off, they text or call you to simply say “Just dropped off and doing well!” or something similar. This is a great habit. It does not mean that you don’t trust each other, it’s just a good way to ensure parents and guardians know the child has arrived safely. If the recipient of the message hasn’t heard from the other party within a reasonable amount of time, he/she can follow up to ensure all is well.
5. Don’t leave your child, even for a minute
Let’s just be clear, it is NEVER okay to leave your child in a vehicle alone or with other children. NEVER EVER.
Last year I saw a post on Facebook that I just loved:
Hello, mom life! Sometimes kids are cranky. Sometimes you’re tired and stressed. Sometimes Starbucks forgets your drinks. Sometimes you wish you could just leave your kids in the car for a minute to run inside and get your drinks. NEVER do this. It’s not okay and the list of things that could go wrong is long, scary, and real. It’s also important for you to know that leaving a child in a car for a minute to run into a store just a few feet away can land you in serious trouble with Child Protective Services. Check out this article. You can also check out this list of state laws concerning leaving children alone in vehicles.
6. Secure your keys and vehicle
Children can be really good at getting into vehicles. I remember very vividly a scary experience when I have five years old. I was playing outside alone (something we used to do often back then) and I walked across my backyard and into a parking lot behind my house where our light blue mini van was parked. It was unlocked and I climbed inside to play. Out of curiosity, I sat in my baby brothers car seat and buckled myself in. I played for a minute, pretending to be a baby, and then tried to unfasten myself. I remember the immediate panic when I realized I couldn’t unbuckle the seat. It was getting hot and I struggled for several minutes to free myself. Even at the age of five, I knew this was a dangerous situation. No one was in sight. I cried and screamed, but no one could hear me inside the van. After at least 10 minutes, I reached down over the side of the car seat and stretched my arm out with ever bit of strength in me. I managed to unlatch the seat belt that held the car seat in place. Then I crawled out of our mini van wearing the car seat like a turtle shell. I was hunched over and screaming in pain and fear when I saw a neighbor running very fast towards me. Just a few seconds later my mom came running too.
Children are so innocent and curious. Sometimes it seems like our main job is to protect them from themselves! Vehicles are NEVER safe places for children to play.
Make it a habit to always keep your car doors locked when it is parked at your house to help prevent small children from getting inside on their own. Hide keys from children in places where they can’t reach them.
Talk with children about the dangers of cars and ask them to never get inside a car without mommy or daddy present.
If a child is ever missing, immediately check your vehicles and trunks as well as any vehicles in the vicinity.
7. Ask for help
Being a parent is amazing. I’ve found nothing in life as wonderful as being called “mom.” Nothing makes me happier and there’s just no other love like the love for your child. At the same time, it’s soul-sucking work that turns you into an insane person.
Please friends, ask for help.
We can’t do it all alone. You may need to find a way to have someone stay with your little one overnight once or twice a week so you can get a full night of sleep. You may need to ask someone to watch your baby occasionally just so you can take a nap. Maybe you need to seek out a postpartum support group where you can express the struggle. You could talk with your doctor about your struggles and ask for resources.
Do not be afraid to ask for help. When you’re overwhelmed, mistakes can happen. Protect yourself and your child by reaching out for support.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU SEE A CHILD ALONE IN A CAR
It seems like it should be a simple process to rescue a child from a car, but it actually isn’t. Obviously, saving a child’s life comes first, always. But there are a few things to think about before you go smashing car windows…
1. Quickly observe the situation
Maybe a parent is bent down on the other side of the car picking something up or assisting a small child with tying their shoe. Check all around the car and look in every seat to know for sure if the child is alone before you take any action.
2. Is the child in distress?
Is the child crying? Sweating? Is the car running? Are windows down? Quickly assess the situation. Immediate action is necessary if the child is in danger.
3. Yell for help
It’s a really good idea to get the attention of people around you to ask for assistance. These people can also serve as witnesses.
4. Stand by
If you find children alone in a vehicle but they’re not in distress, you can stand by the vehicle to ensure their safety until the parent returns. I would not necessarily recommend a confrontation, which could actually put you in danger. I know most of us will be angry, but screaming at the parent could do more harm than good.
5. Don’t forget your own kids
If you see a child in a vehicle and you’re addressing the situation, don’t forget to keep your own kids safe. This is another reason that yelling for help is a good idea. Others can intervene in the crisis while you protect your own kids in the parking lot.
6. Store security
Ask a bystander to run into the nearest store to alert their security. This of course only works if it’s a larger store that will have security staff, such as a grocery store, Target, Walmart, etc.
Most importantly, call 9-1-1 for assistance. This should hopefully only take a couple of seconds and then you’ll have help on the line to walk you through the safest way to help the child. In some cases, you may have no choice but to break a window to pull a child who is near death from the vehicle without pausing to call for help. But in most cases, you should call 9-1-1 first and follow their lead in dealing with the crisis.
Friends, please share this and other similar posts with your own friends and family. We have to talk about this! We have to be proactive to protect our kids!