By Ron Scroggy, Acting Director of DHS’ Division of Family & Children Services
April is designated as child abuse prevention month and there is no better time than now to encourage the adults in our community to take action to better the lives of Georgia’s children. There are no easy answers to preventing child deaths. Understanding the prevalence of unintentional or accidental injuries and how we can prevent them is an important step we can take now to keep our children safe. Unintentional injury is the number one killer of children ages 1-14 in the United States. Children ages 4 and under are at greater risk, and they account for approximately half of all unintentional injury deaths. The most common unintentional injuries and deaths are suffocation, choking, drowning, fires and motor vehicle accidents. These are almost always preventable to some degree, and there are steps every adult can take to greatly reduce the likelihood of these occurrences.
Create a Safe Sleep Environment
Each year 800-1,000 children die due to choking/suffocation injuries. Many of these occur when an infant suffocates in their sleeping environment as a result of pillows, cushions, or blankets blocking their airways. Co-sleeping also presents dangers, and both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) advocate against co-sleeping as it ups the chances of accidental suffocation from parents' pillows, bedding and blankets.
Guardians should create a safe, secure sleep environment free of clutter, and share a room instead of a bed to reap the rewards of co-sleeping in a much safer setting.
Secure Areas Surrounding Water
Drowning deaths account for the second-highest count for unintentional injuries. Home swimming pools are the most common site. Some proven interventions to prevent drowning deaths and injuries have been identified by researchers. One is to have four-sided isolation fencing around home pools. This would prevent 50 to 90% of drowning deaths. The swimming pool is not the only water hazard. Infants and toddlers are more at risk for drowning and adults should be wary of bathtub, toilet and bucket hazards as well.
Install a Working Fire
Alarm Fires are another hazard for children. When a child is injured or dies from a residential fire, in two-thirds of the incidents, a smoke alarm is not working or is not present. Working fire alarms reduces the chance of dying in a fire by about one half.
Account for the Dangers of Motor Vehicles
Accidents associated with motor vehicles are the leading cause of death to children ages 2 to 14. Half of all children who die in motor vehicle crashes are not in a safety or car seat. Guardians should follow all car and booster seat laws and know how to properly install the child safety seat. It is estimated that children properly restrained in vehicles have an 80% lower risk of fatal injury than those who are unrestrained. This measure, along with having children ride in the back seat, saves countless lives.
Another high-risk item for children associated with cars is accidents that occur in and around parked cars. Examples of these types of accidents are trunk entrapment, children backed over by vehicles and children left in cars in hot weather. Within 10 minutes the inside temperature of a vehicle can rise 20 degrees, and within 30 minutes it will be 34 degrees hotter. Leaving a child in a parked car for any length of time has serious risks.
There are opportunities for every adult in Georgia to take action to better the lives of Georgia’s children. Arrange an educational event in your community. Encourage conversation with your neighbors so that every Georgian knows what s/he can do to keep our children safe. Let’s do all we can to prevent these unintentional injuries and deaths. It is our responsibility.