Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Dangers of an Unattended Child

 Every year many children die from hyperthermia. The most common cause of hyperthermia is heat stroke. Children are more susceptible to hyperthermia than adults. Infants and small children do not maintain their body temperature as well as adults do. Their bodies heat up five times faster than an adult.
One of the common ways that children suffer from hyperthermia is being left unattended in vehicles. The inside of a vehicle, even on cool days, can get dangerously hot and hot quick. Your vehicle is like a giant metal oven being heated by the sun. In 80 degree weather a car can heat up to 123 degrees in just 60 min. Even in 10 minutes the temperature in the vehicle can rise 20 degrees and 34 degrees in 30 mins, about the time it would take a care giver to run into the store.
Picture will take you to a video
Heat stroke will happen when the childs body cannot cool itself quick enough. The child's core temperature will rise to dangerous temperatures which can resulting in kidney or liver damage, brain damage, or even death. Children can go into heat exhaustion in temperatures as low as 90 degrees with heat stroke being possible at temperatures of about 105 degrees. Even with the windows down the temperature can rise and be harmful for children.

How big of a problem is this?
According to SafeKids 527 kids have died since 1998, with 49 of those deaths happening in 2010. On average 38 children die yearly from being left unattended in vehicles.
Most of the incidents are accidents made by distracted parents. Safekids says about 50% of children who die from hyperthermia are due to the child being forgotten by accident.
I know what your thinking, how could you forget your child. But it happens and it happens to good parents. It happens because a schedule changes, it happens because we are busy and stressed, it happens because we are tired, it happens because we are human and we make mistakes. Unfortunately those mistakes have consequences that these parents must live with, consequences that no loving parent should have to live with.

What are some steps parents can make to prevent this?

  • Never leave children in a vehicle to make a quick run into the store or gas station
  • Put your purse, briefcase, cell phone or something you always take with you on the floor board by your child
  • Ask your day care provider to please call you if you are 5 min later than normal. Make it a habit to keep in contact with all your child's care givers and make sure they know how dangerous an unattended child is in a vehicle
  • With all the wonderful technology of this world you can set your cell phone to remind you to check for your child in the vehicle. There is even an app for that! Baby Reminder is a free Iphone App that was set up to help remind parents the child is in the car.
Do whatever you need to do to remind yourself. Make it habit to check anyway, this is what I do, leave sticky notes, have your partner call you, whatever it takes. This can happen to you, even if you're the best parent in the whole world. Using these preventive steps will help you avoid making this mistake.

 Trapped in a Trunk
 According to SafeKids 30% of hyperthermia deaths are due to children becoming trapped in the vehicle's trunk. Children are very curious by nature. They like to play games and discover new places. Sometimes they are even looking for a missing toy. But this can quickly become dangerous when the family car is involved. Trunks are even worse than being left unattended in the vehicle. They are not just high in temperature but high in humidity and low in ventilation. It is estimated that 35-40% of children under 14 who are entrapped in a vehicle trunks do not survive. Its important that parents take steps to prevent children from being entrapped in vehicles trunks.

What are some steps parents can make to prevent this?
  •  Keep vehicles locked when unoccupied and keep keys out of reach of children
  • Never allow children to play in and around vehicles. Teach older children that vehicles are not playgrounds and they should never ever play in them. When children are in and around vehicles supervise them closely
  • Teach children about the glow in the dark trunk release in case they ever find themselves trapped in a trunk. Every vehicle since September of 2001 are required to have these.

Louisiana Law
SafeKids say that 17% of hyperthermia deaths are due to care givers intentionally leaving a child in the vehicle. In Louisiana we have laws making it illegal to leave children under 6yrs of age unattended in a vehicle. We are one of 19 states with a law against leaving children unattended in vehicles. In our law "unsupervised" is defined as a parent/guardian who is more than 10ft away from the vehicle or when someone who is 10yrs or older isn't with the child in the vehicle. If you ever see a child under 6yrs of age in a vehicle alone call 911 immediately. Police officers must remove the child, leave a notification, and wait with the child until the parent/guardian returns to the vehicle. Police officers are also protected from any legal liability by his action as long as they are considered in good faith. The person who has left the child unattended can be fined up to $500 and possibly sent to jail for 6 months for the first offense. Consecutive offenses will be charged $1,000-$2,000 and possibly sent to jail for 1-2yrs with or without hard labor. These are pretty serious punishments.

How to Tell if a Child is Suffering from Heat Exhaustion/Stroke and What to Do About It
 If you find your child or another child who has been left unattended in a vehicle or trapped in a trunk you should immediately call 911. Heat exhaustion is when the body is dehydrated and loss of salt through excessive sweating. Children suffering from heat exhaustion are normally profuse sweating, have pale skin that is cool to the touch but their core body temperature is high, rapid and shallow breathing, headache,nausea, vomiting or diarrhea,dizziness, weakness or fainting, lethargic behavior, and muscle cramps. If you find a child whom you think is suffering from heat exhaustion try and cool them off. Remove extra unneeded clothing, use cool damp cloth to cool them off, and see if they will drink some cool water. Seek medical care as soon as possible. Heat stroke is more sever than heat exhaustion. But they are similar. Signs that differ from heat exhaustion are core body temperature above 104, no sweating, hallucinations, trance-like or irrational behavior, and increased heart rate. If you find a child who is suffering from a heat stroke you should call 911 immediately. Try cooling the body off with cool water or even with ice but do not give fluids. Please seek medical attention immediately!

Visit SafeKids to learn more about the dangers of an unattended child.