It's Getting Hot in Here...
Heatstroke (hyperthermia) death of infants left in cars is a highly discussed topic of late. In 2015 11 children are already reported dead and in 2014 there were 32 reported fatalities. The media is usually quick to pick up on these incidences, touting them far and wide, like the recent case of the Iowa Hospital CEO who discovered she'd left her 7 month old daughter in her vehicle while she worked a busy day.
Many in the media and in public forums are quick to judge parents who make this fatal mistake. The comments run the gamut from sympathy to severity; many calling for the prosecutions and even death of the parent. While a few cases have been deemed to be the reprehensible acts of desperate people, a majority of the cases seem to have one similarity: a change in routine.
I support parents. I have supported parents through joy and despair, adjustments and difficulties. I can't begin to fathom what these parents must feel when this occurs. To be taken out of your daily routine by something like an early meeting, a change in driver to the baby sitter, or unexpectedly going shopping on your day off; something that seems so innocent and harmless, that results in a series of events that steals the life of your child is terrifying. The abject misery, guilt, self flagellation, and personal recriminations that must become their daily life is just unimaginable.
Instead of being judgmental and calling to task these individuals let's show some sympathy. Let's discuss some ways to avoid this ever happening again. There are some inventions that might be coming to market soon and a few available now that might help notify a parent if a child is left in the car. However, these devices are not 100% reliable. Experts in child safety recommend there should always be layers of protection in place.
Here are some recommendations that might help you avoid ever personally knowing this tragedy. Have a check-in process with your babysitter or day-care. If the child isn't dropped off on time there should be multiple people contacted (mother, father, emergency contact). The more people who know the baby isn't in care, the more people who will question where the baby is. "Look before you lock." This should be a habit for every busy parent. Every time you get out of your car - no matter where you are, check your backseat. Use memory cues. Place the diaper bag on your passenger seat as a visual cue. If you have keyless ignition place the keys in the back seat by the baby so you have to get the keys to lock the door. If you carry a wallet, purse, or briefcase make a habit of putting it in the backseat next to baby's car seat - whether they are with you or not. Doing this means becomes second nature that whenever you arrive anywhere you have to access the backseat. Some have even gone so far as to suggest leaving your shoe in the backseat. Do a daily check-in with your parenting/care partner. "How's the baby?" "How did drop off go?" During the course of your day, a few times a day, take a mental roll call. "Where is Tom? Where is Joey? When do they need picked up? Where?" If you schedule this out to coincide with daily activities that are scheduled, like break, lunch, or certain reports, you'll be more likely to be present and aware.
If you see something, say something. Recently bystanders called the police and tried to open a cracked window to access a toddler left in a vehicle. It is unclear if the mother knew she had left the child in the car. What is clear is that the bystanders did the right thing. They called authorities and got help for the child. I would ask that you exercise discernment of judgement in these cases. If there are older children in the car, the windows are down, the car is locked and running...that might be a different situation. Look, observe, and be good citizens. Help one another out. Try to avoid accusations and recriminations. Instead, let's all focus on keeping our children safe.
We all get busy, stay at home moms and CEOS. Whether we want to admit it or not, leaving your baby in the car could happen to anyone. Let's all put processes and layers of protection in place so we can avoid this tragedy in each of our lives. Remember, on a day even as mild as 70, the temperature inside a car quickly rises in the first 15 minutes. Depending on the outside temperature and sun conditions the interior of a car can reach 172 degrees! That is well in excess of what is required to cook an egg. Therefore, it is never okay to leave a child (or adult or dog for that matter) in an enclosed car turned off. Even when it is cool out, the risk of hypothermia is present. Think, look, listen, try to be present, use sensory tricks, and check-in with your loved ones; avoid the tragic mistake of leaving your child in the car unattended.