The Tragic Truth About Vehicular Heatstroke

You’ve seen it on the news. Every year as temperatures across the country rise, quiet children are forgotten in hot cars. The result is serious injury or death and families that are changed forever.

Never leave your child alone in a car, not even for a minute.

Image via Safe Kids Worldwide

Vehicular heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash-related fatalities for children 14 and younger. Heatstroke has claimed the lives of 606 children from 1998 – 2013. Forty-four children died in 2013 alone. In 2014, there have already been eighteen deaths. With hyperthermia deaths occurring 11 months out of the year, that number will almost certainly rise. The good news is that these deaths are preventable.

What’s the number one cause of child vehicular heatstroke? Forgotten child care dropoff. The truth is that the majority of children who fall victim to heatstroke have the most loving and responsible of parents. The terrifying fact is that this mistake could happen to anyone… Even you.

Everyone has days where their thinking is distracted. If you’ve ever jumped in the car and reached your destination in what seems like record time, it’s probably because part of your brain set itself on “auto-pilot.” This is an instinctive reaction, a function of the primitive side of the brain, and can happen for any number of reasons. You could be sleep-deprived, stressed, doing too many things all at once or all three. So your brain sets your body in motion. Normally, your husband drops your baby off at child care. So on the day of his six-month dental cleaning, the same day your water heater goes on the fritz, the same day you’re running late to work because the baby spit up on your first outfit, is the same day your brain clicks to autopilot and allows you to drive past the turn to your child care provider’s home without a moment’s hesitation.

If you’re lucky, you’ve already made an absence verification plan with your provider and she calls you the moment your baby fails to show up for care. This simple phone call could save your baby’s life. The alternative is too horrific to imagine. I urge you to take the time to set up a plan right now. And follow these steps to prevent vehicular heatstroke from happening to another child:

  • NEVER leave a child alone in a car—not with the windows down, not with the car running, not even for a minute.
  • Remember that children overheat up to five times faster than adults. Heatstroke can happen even on mild or cloudy days.
  • Always check your backseat before you lock your car. Simple habits like keeping your purse or cell phone in the backseat are great ways to ensure a quiet child is never forgotten in your car.
  • Thirty percent of children who died of vehicular heatstroke gained access to an unlocked car and then trapped themselves inside. Never leave a vehicle unlocked and teach children never to play in or around cars.
  • Use technology to your advantage. The Kars4Kids Safety App, is a free, downloadable app that works with Bluetooth-enabled cars. The minute you and your phone leave the car, an alarm goes off reminding you to yes, check your backseat.
  • Watch our archived heat safety webinar for more prevention tips.
  • If someone else is driving your child, or your daily routine has been altered, always check that your child has arrived at their destination safely.
  • Visit safercar.gov/heatstroke for fact sheets, flyers, and other helpful heatstroke awareness materials.
  • For more information, visit the Safe Kids Worldwide page or check out these resources from the Administration for Children and Families.
  • If you see a child alone in a car, take action immediately. Don’t wait for the driver to return. If the child appears to be in distress, call 911 immediately.

Don’t let another child fall victim to heatstroke.  Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle and always check the backseat.

California makes progress ensuring basic health, safety of children in licensed child care

Guest blog from Kim Johnson, Public Policy Director, California Child Care Resource and Referral Network.

Editor’s Note: Child Care Aware® of America participated in a story with a California investigative reporting team writing about families’ access to licensing and inspection information on child care in their state. The story, which also featured an interview with Kim Johnson, public policy director at the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network prompted local lawmakers to move forward getting inspection records online and easily accessible for families. Kim writes here as a guest blogger about the history and progress of protecting children in child care in California and why this might be the year the system gets a much needed technology fix.

California’s licensing program, the Community Care Licensing Division (CCLD) performs the essential function of protecting the basic health and safety of children in licensed centers and family child care home settings in California. Budget cuts and compliance procedures have resulted in a program that now provides inadequate oversight and monitoring of these facilities – as few as one site visit over five years.

Prior to 2003, licensed child care centers were required to receive a site visit at least once a year and family child care homes three times a year under CCLD. In reality site visits may occur as few as once in five years from the licensing program, hardly enough to ensure minimum safety in an industry with high staff turnover.

The California Child Care Resource and Referral Network (the Network) has led efforts that would require more frequent inspections by sponsoring Assembly Bill 419 (Mitchell): Care facilities, in the 2011-12 legislative session and in the current year with Assembly Bill 1454 (Calderon): Care facilities: regulatory visits.

Research demonstrates that licensed programs are more likely to be in compliance with required regulations if inspections occur more frequently. In addition, inspections are associated with lower rates of accidents requiring medical attention.

The Network strongly encourages the allocation of new resources to expand states’ capacity to ensure the basic health and safety of children in licensed child care settings by strengthening the licensing infrastructure.

The Governor’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year provides additional funding to the Licensing Division to strengthen their accountability and oversight and to make efficiencies. The discussion about this proposal in Budget Committees in both the Assembly and Senate, demonstrate that the Legislature is also supportive of providing new resources to the Licensing Division.

Paired with recent television and print media attention that highlights California’s need for improvement, citing research such as, Child Care Aware® of America’s 2013, “We Can Do Better Report,” may just put this issue over the tipping point to make positive change.

Individuals and organizations are encouraged to learn more about AB 1454 and support this effort by signing the Network’s petition located here: http://www.rrnetwork.org/support_ab_1454.

Recent Media:
NBC Bay Area Coverage
California Lags Behind in Child Care Oversight
Completely Outdated Inspection System Needs Fix

Parents Struggle to Access Child Care Records
California’s Lack of Online Child Care Records Leaves Parents in the Dark

Kim Johnson serves as the Public Policy Manager of the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network where she guides the Network and its member agencies in budget and legislative analysis, public policy education and advocacy efforts. Kim also leads the Network’s Public Policy Committee. She is a mother of three.

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