When your child’s teacher asks for the traditional “What I Did This Summer” paper the first day or two of school, you don’t want it to be mostly about how the summer was spent recovering from severe sunburn or sun poisoning. With the summer of 2012 already producing record-breaking temperatures across the nation, precautions to prevent just that are more important than ever.
Reports of children and pets dying after being left in vehicles, accidentally and intentionally, have come in from across the country. Just last week, five month old, Jeremy Rivera, was found dead in the back of his father’s van when his father went to his son’s childcare facility in Portsmouth, VA to pick him up at the end of the day. His father was horrified when he realized Jeremy had not been inside the daycare, as expected, but had been left in his car seat all day while his father worked inside. This is the type scenario which haunts parents, grandparents, guardians, and babysitters when infants through toddlers are left in their care and is the 12th case in the United States this year.
Since 1998, there have been 538 deaths of children due to hyperthermia. More than half of these children were unintentionally left in cars, similar to Jeremy. Another 30% of the deaths are the result of kids playing in unoccupied vehicles while 17% are children intentionally left in vehicles while the parent or caregiver took longer than expected to run an errand.
Temperatures inside a car typically rise 40 – 50% above the outside temperatures in the first hour; cracking a window does not reduce this temperature. When a child’s body temperature reaches 107 degrees, the organs begin to shut down and death can follow quickly thereafter.
How does a nightmare such as this happen, one might wonder? Before any of us deems to judge, we should examine possible reasons which could lead to such a tragedy. Kate Carr, president of Safe Kids Worldwide, shared that this normally happens to good, educated families who love and take care of their children. In most of these cases where children are forgotten, there has been a change in routine where the father takes the child to daycare instead of the mother, or vice-versa.
To help prevent this tragedy from occurring while a child is in your care, Carr’s organization recommends parents and caregivers remember the acronym ACT:
The A stands for avoiding heatstroke by never leaving your child alone in the car, even for a minute, and consistently locking unattended vehicle doors and trunks.
The C stands for creating reminders and habits. Some good reminders and habits are:
- When you drop off your child, call or text all other caregivers so everyone knows where the child is.
- Place a purse, briefcase, gym bag, cell phone or some other item you will need at your next stop in the back seat.
- Keep a large teddy bear in the child seat when it’s not in use. When you place the child in the car seat, put the teddy bear in the front seat.
- Ask your babysitter or daycare to call if the child does not show up when expected.
- Set an alarm on your cell phone as a reminder to drop your child off, especially if it’s a change in routine.
The T stands for taking action if you see an unattended child in a vehicle. People should dial 911 immediately if they notice a child left in a parked vehicle, Carr said.
Lastly, Carr said, the community can support families it happens to by not being judgmental.
“It’s not our job to judge the families that this happens to,” she said. “It’s our work to try to prevent it.”
One may find a need to remove the child from the vehicle prior to the arrival of emergency responders. In such a situation, one needs to weigh the safety of the child with the laws regulating entering someone else’s vehicle without permission. In my opinion, the safety of the child would always come first.