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Protecting Your Kids From The Heat Is Even More Crucial In Vehicles. Here’s How To Keep Them Safe | #childsafety | #kids | #chldern | #parents | #schoolsafey

A searing heat wave is on the horizon. Temperatures are predicted to reach 113 over the weekend in parts of Southern California, prompting health officials to issue a heat warning.

Heat can affect anyone, but vulnerable groups like babies and young children run the risk of serious harm. The risk is exacerbated when they’re in a vehicle.

Nationwide, 11 children have died so far in 2023 from vehicular heatstroke, according to NoHeatStroke.org, a site through San Jose State University that tracks pediatric vehicle heatstroke deaths.

“Leaving a kid unattended in a vehicle can cause serious harm because within minutes temperatures within a car can increase significantly — a 19-degree increase in temperature within 10 minutes,” said Seira Kurian, a regional health officer with Public Health. Her area covers the Antelope Valley, Santa Clarita and San Fernando Valleys, which are among the areas that are under heat watches, advisories or warnings.

“Whatever the temperature might be outside, convert that,” she said.

Rear-facing car seats are safer and recommended for babies and toddlers, but they can mean a sleep-deprived parent won’t see their kids from a quick glance in the rearview mirror and may get out of the car without them.

“It’s often parents who are extremely distracted, especially those who have young children,” Kurian said.

Not all children are left in vehicles accidentally. Of the 951 children in the U.S. who have died from vehicular heatstroke since 1998, about half were forgotten by their caregiver. A quarter gained access to the car on their own and 20% were “knowingly left by a caregiver.”

Kids In Cars: Tips To Remember

    • Leave one of your shoes in the backseat after you buckle the child’s car seat. You won’t be able to walk away without remembering to check the backseat. 
    • Leave your purse, work badge or phone in the backseat next to the child. Phones often make noise and may remind you to look back. 
    • Leave a teddy bear in the car seat. When you put the child in the car seat, place the teddy bear in the front seat with you. It acts as a reminder to take your child out of the vehicle. 

“You shouldn’t leave anything in a car that can’t get out by itself, be that a child or a pet,” Kurian said. “No matter the temperature outside, it’s never safe, not even with the windows cracked, especially not if the car is running.”

Kurian recommends keeping car keys away from children, even at home.

“It’s important just to teach children that cars and car keys are not toys or things to play with. A toddler may get a hold of it and then get themselves into a vehicle,” she added.

Children regulate heat differently

Young children tend to absorb heat a lot faster than adults in hot environments and have a harder time regulating their body temperature.

“They also have sort of a lower rate of sweating than adults do, and so that means that it’s even harder for them to sweat and cool their body off. Often kids aren’t as tuned in to making sure that they’re drinking water,” Kurian said.

A child’s body temperature rises three to five times faster than an adult’s, experts say. Heatstroke can occur if the core body temperature rises to 104 degrees or higher and 107 degrees is potentially lethal.

Everyone Can Keep Children Safe. Here’s How

    • Call 911 if you see a child alone in a vehicle.
    • Always lock car doors and trunks — even at home — and keep keys out of children’s reach. People without children should make this a habit as well. 
    • Touch a child’s safety seat and safety belt before using it to ensure it’s not too hot before securing a child.
    • Teach children if they can’t get out of the rear doors, try the front doors. If that doesn’t work, honk the horn to get other people’s attention. 
    • If a child is missing, check the pool first, then the car, including the trunk. 
    • Tell your childcare provider to call you if your child does not show up for school. This is especially important if your routine changes and another parent or caregiver is dropping your child off. 

Kaitlyn’s Law

Parents or caregivers can face charges in California if a young child is left alone in a car.

In 2001, the California State Legislature enacted Senate Bill 255, also known as Kaitlyn’s Law. The law was named in memory of 6-month-old Kaitlyn Marie Russell, who died on Aug. 15, 2000, after being left in a hot van by a caregiver.

The law makes it illegal for a child under 6 years of age to be left unattended in a vehicle without the supervision of someone 12 or older when there is a risk to the child’s safety, when the key is in the ignition or when the engine is running.

But children who have died from vehicular heatstroke in the United States since 1998 have ranged in age from 5 days to 14 years, according to NoHeatStroke.org. While the likelihood decreases with age — more than half of the deaths (54%) are children under age 2 — adolescent children are also at risk, Kurian said.

“Adolescent children tend to be a lot more active. And so they may be in sports or doing activities again where they may not be replacing fluids as they should,” she said. “All different age groups have different issues that put them at risk for heat-related illnesses.”

As weather extremes become more frequent and intense, Kurian said there’s been an increase in both adults and children dying from heatstroke. In 2022, there were 19 heat-related deaths in L.A. County.

The county has opened a number of cooling centers ahead of the triple-digit temperatures. Some are pet friendly. Kurian also recommends that everyone drink plenty of water or fluids and keep hydrated throughout the day, regardless of how active you are.

“Stay away from the drinks that are really sugary or caffeinated or of course alcoholic. Drink lots of water,” she said.

What questions do you have about the pandemic and health care?

Jackie Fortiér helps Southern Californians understand the pandemic by identifying what’s working and what’s not in our health response.

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