Child Passenger Safety Week typically highlights the importance of using the appropriate child restraint in passenger vehicles. Yet, as hot temperatures persist for longer periods of time, especially in many southern states, child and safety advocates want to raise awareness about protecting the littlest passengers from heat-related deaths. These deaths are completely preventable and carry stiff penalties for child care providers, such as daycares, found negligent. Child care providers include the business owners and the workers they hire to provide the care.
On average, 37 children die each year from “hot car deaths.” The official term is hyperthermia, also known as heatstroke. In 2017, 42 children died in hot vehicles and that number was up from 39 the year before. Even worse, anecdotal evidence shows increasing reports of children who are left behind to die from hyperthermia while traveling on child care providers’ buses and vans.
Tragic results for children forgotten in vehicles
Many child care providers work tirelessly to keep safe the children left in their care. Yet, advocates warn that it can happen to anyone and it is extremely important to implement and exercise protocols that will reduce the risk of unintentionally leaving children to die in hot child care providers’ vehicles. Data shows that 81 percent of the incidents are unintentional and that 54 percent of the children are forgotten by a caregiver.
- On Aug. 15, 2018, Raymond and Dikeisha Whitlock-Pryer filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Discovering Me Academy nearly a month after their 3-year-old son was found dead in one of the child care provider’s vans. Raymond “R.J.” Pryer Jr., was left in the van for four hours after it returned from a field trip. Temperatures inside the van reached at least 113 degrees. The lawsuit alleges the bus driver and chaperones were negligent in failing to ensure R.J. was off the van.
- The same day the Pryers filed their lawsuit, three mothers, coworkers at a Columbus, Ohio, nursing home, rescued another child from the same fate. The women noticed a shadow on The Learning Experience child care provider bus they were parked next to at lunch and realized it was a child who had been forgotten. They recovered the child who was soaked with sweat and still strapped in his seat. The women expressed shock, since they are responsible for taking similar safety precautions as those required of child care providers to ensure the safety of nursing home patients they transport. Two of The Learning Experience child care workers were charged with child endangerment and neglect.
- Similarly, in August 2017, the body of 5-year-old Kamden Johnson was found in the driveway of a private residence in Mobile, Alabama. A preliminary autopsy found that Kamden’s cause of death was being trapped, likely for hours, inside a child care provider’s van when temperatures reached 92 degrees. The van belonged to Community Nursery and Preschool Academy, owned and operated by Community Church Ministries Inc., in Mobile. The child care provider was registered as a religious facility, a status that exempted it from state licensing requirements. However, because it received federal funding it had to meet certain requirements. Investigators found the child care provider had 23 instances of failing to meet those minimum standards. Additionally, the child care worker who failed to ensure Kamden’s safety had an extensive criminal background – something that ordinarily would have prevented her from holding the job. She was charged with manslaughter and abuse of a corpse for discarding Kamden’s body in an attempt to cover up the cause of his death. Kamden’s family also filed a lawsuit over the child care provider’s negligence. Further, the child’s death strengthened advocates’ calls for requiring child care licensing, without exemptions, across the state.
“Parents assume that child care providers are required to follow some type of industry regulations which include inspections but that’s not always the case,,” said Rhonda Mann, deputy director for VOICES for Alabama’s Children, a statewide children’s advocacy organization that has been spearheading efforts to improve the state’s child care licensing laws.
“The state requires licensing and regulation of nearly every other type of business or industry and it should be even more important to oversee the services provided by child care providers. Following state Minimum Health and Safety Standards will put in place procedures that will reduce the risk of preventable injury or death such as leaving children on a van,” Mann said.
Precautions for families considering child care
Choosing child care is one of the most important decisions for a family and there are precautions they can take.
- Check with the state agency charged with regulating child care providers to determine which facilities are licensed.
- Get familiar with the state’s minimum standards required of child care providers.
- Investigate the providers’ history to determine the frequency and type of violations.
- Examine the ratio of child care workers to children.
- Visit the facility during operational hours to determine how closely the staff follows safety protocols.
- Talk to the facility about the staff turnover rate.
Going the extra mile to ensure safety
In addition to any state and federal requirements, child care providers can take additional steps to help ensure children’s safety when transporting them. Insurance Hub provides the following tips and reminders:
- Make sure the vehicles themselves are in good shape and are right for the job. Check that the drivers are trustworthy.
- Ensure that there’s adequate supervision.
- Be mindful of the drop-off and pick-up location.
- Create a standard procedure for unloading the bus.
- Check the bus. It’s best to have multiple people conduct their own checks to be sure that no one’s left on-board — this increases the chances of finding any stragglers, or any children who may have fallen asleep during the ride.
- Use proper seat restraint equipment.
National Safety Council
Safe Kids Worldwide
VOICES for Alabama’s Children
New York Times