Foster care has brought a lot of kids into our home. So many in fact, that we went out and bought a minivan (a story for another day). The number of people in our family is always changing. Sometimes we have four, sometimes six, and sometimes we have a couple extra.
Sometimes we pick up kids for other foster families from daycare at the last minute. There are lots of heads to keep track of and there have been a few times I almost forgot to stop in a particular classroom at daycare to pick up that extra kid. There is pregnancy brain, but has anyone coined the term “Foster mom brain” yet? Keeping track of a constantly changing number of kids is challenging. And it hits on one of my biggest parenting fears: when will I forget a child in a hot car? It is something that on random nights has kept me up worrying; my anxious brain runs through all the possible scenarios of how it could happen, trying to convince me that it is not a matter of if, but when.
In 2019, there have already been 24 child hot car deaths according to KidsandCars.org. It is summer and this issue is at the forefront of my brain– made worse by the news and media stories of devastated parents that thought it could never happen to them, until it did. Recently it was one-year-old twins in New York. This is my nightmare. They are mostly good people. Good parents. My fears only multiply when I think about the fact that I am parenting not my own children, but entrusted to care for the beloved children of others.
So, rather than dwell on the statistics and the lives lost. I want to focus on what I can do, what YOU can do, to avoid another tragedy.
- Head Count- when you are out with kids, number them. Count them out as they get into the car and out of the car. I do this at the park too; a quick scan of the playground tells me if I can still see the correct number of children that I brought with me. And they like counting off by their number as well as if it is a game
- Lock the Doors- Use your key or fob to lock the door and then immediately put your keys away in a safe designated spot (in your purse, on a key hook, etc.). Curious children can climb into the car when you aren’t looking and it may be harder for them to get out than it was for them to sneak in. Our kids love playing with keys so we bought multiple fake plastic keys for them to use rather than to have access to ours which they of course prefer.
3. Left Shoe- Keep something you need in the backseat that you are sure you won’t leave the car without. I will put my left shoe behind the driver’s seat. It can be a cell phone (you shouldn’t use it while driving any way), briefcase or purse, computer, etc. Having to open the door to get the item may trigger your brain to remember the sleeping infant in the car seat or the distracted toddler who is rear facing and doesn’t realize you’re getting out of the car.
4. Buckle Up Baby– Keep your child’s baby doll or stuffed animal in their carseat. When the child is in the car seat, the stuffed animal rides in the front passenger seat. When you see it, it serves as a reminder that the child is in the car. You can do this with their left shoe, blanket, etc. But it is something that always stays in the car. You can add something else for when you have extra kids- remember the head count.
5. See Something, Say Something- If you see a child (or pet) alone in a car, do not hesitate to call 911. It is better to be safe (and maybe have an awkward interaction with the driver) than sorry.
The number one tip from experts is to look before you lock. Make a habit of opening the back door every time you park to make sure no one is left behind. The most dangerous mistake you can make is thinking that leaving a child alone in a car could never happen to you or your family. It only takes a simple distraction or change in daily routine to unknowingly leave a child alone in a vehicle.
Check out these prevention and safety tips from Kidsandcars.org.