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Look Before You Lock: Losing One Child is Too Many

The words "look before you lock" next to a thermometer registering a high temperature.By Katherine Beckmann, Ph.D., M.P.H., Senior Policy Analyst for Early Childhood Health and Development

As temperatures across the country continue to escalate above average highs, it is more important than ever to understand the health effects for children.  Infants and young children are particularly sensitive to the effects of extreme heat and must rely on others to keep them safe.  In fact, when left in a hot vehicle, a young child's body temperature may increase three to five times as quickly as an adult.

On average, every 10 days a child dies from heatstroke in a vehicle ( These deaths are preventable, and everyone in the community – especially parents and Head Start and child care providers – have roles to play in protecting our children.  Here are examples of simple things you can do:

  • Make it part of your every day routine to account for all children in your care.
  • Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle—even if the windows are partially open or the engine is running with the air conditioning on.  Vehicles heat up quickly - if the outside temperature is in the low 80s, the temperature inside a vehicle can reach deadly levels in only 10 minutes, even with a window rolled down two inches. (NHTSA: Keeping Our Kids Safe)
  • Always make a habit of looking in the vehicle—front and back—before locking the door and walking away.
  • Set up backup systems to double check that no child is left in the vehicle. 
  • Ask the child care or Head Start provider to call you if the child does not show up for care as expected.
  • Create reminders to ensure no child is accidentally left behind in the vehicle.  For example, place a purse or briefcase that is needed at your final destination in the back seat next to the child.  You can also write a note or place a stuffed animal in the driver's view to indicate a child is in the car seat.  
  • If you see a child alone in a hot vehicle, call the police.  If they are in distress due to heat, get them out as quickly as possible.  Cool the child rapidly.  Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
  • Take the Look Before You Lock pledge.  In partnership with the Department of Transportation and National Highway Traffic Safety Association, the Department of Health and Human Services has developed this voluntary pledge that providers and parents may use to work together to keep children safe. 

During the warm months…

  • Never leave a child unattended in a parked vehicle.
  • Avoid direct sunlight.
  • Keep cool: find an air-conditioned shelter and do not use fans as your primary way to cool down.
  • Stay updated on local weather forecasts so you can plan activities safely when it’s hot outside.
  • Dress infants and children in loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing.
  • Make sure YOU and your child are drinking more water than usual.  Don’t wait until they are thirsty to give them more fluids.
  • Regularly apply sunscreen on your child as indicated on the package.
  • Seek medical care immediately if a child in your care experiences symptoms of heat-related illness.

How can I tell if my child I suffering from heat-related illness?
Muscle cramping might be the first sign of heat-related illness, and may lead to heat exhaustion or stroke.  Here is how you can recognize heat exhaustion and heat stroke and what to do:

  • Heat Exhaustion:
    • Heavy sweating
    • Weakness
    • Cold, pale, and clammy skin
    • Fast, weak pulse
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Fainting
  • What You Should Do:
    • Move to a cooler location.
    • Lie down and loosen clothing.
    • Apply cool, wet cloths to as much of the child’s body as possible.
    • Sip water.
    • If the child has vomited and it continues, seek medical attention immediately.
  • Heat Stroke:
    • High body temperature (above 103°F)
    • Hot, red, dry or moist skin
    • Rapid and strong pulse
    • Possible unconsciousness
  • What You Should Do:
    • Call 911 immediately — this is a medical emergency.
    • Move the child to a cooler environment.
    • Reduce the child's body temperature with cool cloths or even a bath.
    • Do NOT give fluids.

For more information:


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