WEDNESDAY RANT: Why would you leave a kid in the car?

Every summer we hear about child deaths in hot cars, yet the number of deaths is rising. So, why would you leave a kid in the car, or better yet, how could you forget your child in the car?

The recent death of 22 month old Cooper from Georgia is inexplicable to me. Leaving any child in the car unattended is beyond comprehension. Yes, I know there are times when parents or caregivers are unbuckling car seats for multiple children, a child might have to wait until he/she gets unbuckled. I am not talking about that. I have had to do that myself. What I do not understand--and never will--is how a parent can leave a child in a car and totally forget about him/her.

So far this year, 14 children have died as a result of being left in a hot car. Last year it was 40 kids. According to the fact sheet put out by The Dept. of Earth and Climate Services at San Francisco State University, the deaths break down this way:
  • 51 percent are actually forgotten
  • 29 percent are kids who get trapped after playing in an unattended car
  • 18 percent are left intentionally
  • 1 percent are unknown
Through my years at 9-1-1, there were numerous incidents where children were left in cars. In most of these cases, the parent(s) thought the child was sleeping and went into the store to shop. Really? Thank heavens for the alert passerby who called us to dispatch police or fire, and then waited at the car to direct emergency personnel. A sleeping child may have been the reason in these cases, but come on! Is buying a new pair of shoes so important to you that you would let your baby die of hyperthermia? If it is, then you do not deserve the privilege of being a parent. 

I know, I know, the experts defend the actions of parents who have left their child in the car. They say that a part of our brain shuts down when we do a patterned behavior, and if dropping the child off at day care is not the norm, then it's easy to see how the child is forgotten. There is even a button put out by the National Weather Service to help parents remember. I've attached it below. And, yes I feel sorry for the parent who actually does accidentally leave their son or daughter in the car. This is truly tragic. I can have empathy--yes--but understand the action--no. 

The temperature inside of car--even in mild weather--can raise dramatically when the sun is out. In fact in the first 10 minutes, the temperature can raise 19 degrees. So leaving a child inside a car in 80 degree weather for that quick 10 minute trip inside the local Seven Eleven is leaving him/her to slow cook in a 109 degree oven.

Perhaps if these parents really though about hyperthermia the way emergency responders and 9-1-1 dispatchers do, this would not happen. We see and hear hundreds of cases where an adult has been in the sun without water and quickly succumbs to the heat. They complain of being dizzy, confused, agitated, and in extreme cases, lose consciousness or have a seizure. This can be expected if the body's core temperature rises from our usual 98.6 to 104 degrees.  Children, however, experience hyperthermia three to four times faster than an adult, and when their body's temperature rises to 107 degrees, the internal organs begin to shut down. Can you imagine what a painful and excruciating death it would be to bake alive in the backseat of a car. I can. So here are a few safety tips to consider, so this never happens to you.

  • Get your kids out of the car first--before your purse, diaper bag, groceries, briefcase, or whatever
  • Ask your day care provider to call you if your child does not arrive at day care.
  • Ask your day care provider what their plan is to make sure your child isn't left in their car.
  • Warn your kids about playing in the car when you are not there
  • Put the diaper bag in the passenger seat instead of the back to remind you that the child is with you.
  • if you are a passerby who sees a child left in a car, call 9-1-1
  • Get one of the stickers below to put on your car window or dash to help you remember
  • Lastly, if help is a ways away such as in a rural area, and you can see the child is in danger, break the window. Some states are now making laws that allow this action and preventing the legal law suit for damages that occur when the window is shattered.

Kids--all kids--are our future and it is up to us to determine what that future will be.

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