Agencies unite to reduce heatstroke deaths in the United States

DOT Sec. Ray LaHood, parent of heatstroke victim Reggie McKinnon, and HHS Sec. Kathleen Sebelius.Today, the cabinet secretaries from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Transportation joined early child care educators and advocates at a Head Start center in Alexandria, VA, to talk about “Look Before You Lock” -- a safety campaign to prevent heatstroke injuries and deaths.

Twenty-three children have died due to heatstroke after being left unattended in vehicles in 2012. Eight children died in the first two weeks of August alone. Federal government officials have teamed up with the nonprofit, Safe Kids USA, to promote safety tips to parents. Now that campaign will target Head Start personnel and child care providers within HHS’ Administration for Children and Families to spread its safety message to a wider audience.

“By engaging the nation’s network of Head Start staff and child care providers we can potentially reach the parents of 13 million children in early care and education with the critical message and simple steps that can save lives,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at the Campagna Center Head Start center.

Earlier in the day, Secretary Sebelius signed a joint letter with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that will go to every Head Start center and Child Care provider. The letter includes resources and tips to share with parents, along with a voluntary pledge attached that asks both caregivers and parents to immediately inform each other if a child does not arrive at home or at an early care and education center as expected.

“Safety is our top priority for everyone on our roadways – but we have a special responsibility to protect our most vulnTemperatures outside and inside a locked-vehicle.erable passengers,” said Secretary LaHood. “Our message on heatstroke in hot vehicles is simple: while parents and caregivers are the first line of defense, everyone has a role to play in preventing these needless tragedies.”

Since 1998, 550 children in America have died due to heatstroke in vehicles.

According to the Department of Geosciences in San Francisco State University, a review of news stories about the 494 child heatstroke deaths between 1998 through 2011 revealed the following causes: 

• 52 percent - child "forgotten" by caregiver (253 Children)
• 30 percent - child playing in unattended vehicle (150)
• 17 percent - child intentionally left in vehicle by adult  (86)
• 1 percent - circumstances unknown (5)

All these deaths were preventable. The following tips will be shared with Head Start personnel, child care providers and parents:

Joy Trejo, a Senior Director at the Campagna Center, poses with a Look Before You Lock sign.• Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle – even if the windows are partially open or the engine is running and the air conditioning is on;
• Make a habit of looking in the vehicle – front and back – before locking the door and walking away;
• For caregivers transporting children by van or bus, check every seat to make sure no child is still in the vehicle before locking and leaving the vehicle;
• Ask the Head Start or child care provider to call if the child does not show up for care as expected;
• Do things that serve as a reminder a child is in the vehicle, such as placing a cell phone, purse or briefcase in the back seat to ensure no child is accidentally left in the vehicle, writing a note or using a stuffed animal placed in the driver's view to indicate a child is in the car seat; and,
• Teach children a vehicle is not a play area and store keys out of a child's reach.

For more information about the Look Before You Lock campaign, visit http://www.safercar.gov/parents/heat-involved.htm.

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