Each year, an estimated 8.7 million children are treated in emergency rooms for unintentional injuries. 225,000 of them are hospitalized.
Worse, every day two dozen kids in the U.S. die from unintentional injuries, adding up to 9,000 deaths annually.
How do this many children get hurt?
According to the CDC, unintentional injuries are those that are “predictable and preventable when proper protections are in place“.
Intentional injuries would include abuse and violence against children. Unintentional injuries include those caused by suffocation, drowning, falls, motor vehicle collisions, and concussion or traumatic brain injury.
Unfortunately, many unintentional injuries occur as a result of intentional disregard for safe practices or prevention measures, such as distracted driving, leaving children unsupervised near water, or children playing with toys that pose a choking hazard.
Accidents happen, but too many children are hurt in “accidents” that are preventable. Too many children are hurt when an intentional action—such as choosing to text while driving—leads to an unsafe condition that causes injury.
What do these alarming statistics mean for you and me? Simply, preventing injury for America’s children is everyone’s responsibility.
Whether you are a parent, grandparent, caregiver, teacher, or person without children, you can impact children’s safety. There are many things that we can do individually or within our own families, our work places, community organizations, schools, and communities to help reduce childhood injury.
On your own:
Practice safety in everything you do! Children look to adults for cues on acceptable behavior. If they see their parents, family, or neighbors practicing safe behaviors, they are more likely to mimic this behavior.
Follow the rules of the road. Obey school bus stop signs, do not speed (especially on neighborhood streets), and pay attention to crosswalks as children are often much shorter than we’re cued to look for.
Pledge to stop driving distracted. Many injuries can be prevented if drivers are engaged in driving and not using electronic devices while behind the wheel.
If you own firearms, make sure they are stored unloaded in a locked location, even if you don’t have children. Access to firearms is a community safety issue.
Spread the message! If you hear about a safety hazard, tell others about it. Social media is a powerful tool for all of us, parents or not, to share useful information. There are emerging risks and threats all the time – detergent pods are a good example of a new product that posed a serious risk to young children. Through social media, concerned citizens were able to spread the message and help keep children safe.
In your family:
Store poisonous substances where children cannot access them. Many pills and cleaning products look like candy or toys, and children will be attracted to them.
Use a child safety seat every time your child rides in the car. Do not let children ride in the back of a truck, or unbuckled in the cargo area of an SUV. Attend a free child safety seat check to make sure you have the correct size seat, and have it professionally installed.
Practice fire drills at home. Make sure children understand what to do if they encounter fire or see smoke.
Keep your home’s windows closed, locked, and secured. Children can fall out of surprisingly narrow openings—a mere 4 inches— so keep your window locks and stops on. If you live in an apartment, make sure your landlord is educated about the risks and safety measures available to prevent window falls.
Make a disaster plan. Schools practice fire drills and earthquake drills, but does your family know what to do if there is an emergency or disaster at home?
Learn walking and bike riding safety. Teach children to use crosswalks and look both ways, and not to dart into streets, or play behind vehicles.
Make sure your child wears a bike helmet every time they ride a bike. They can fall and hit their head anytime they are on the bike – even if they’re just making circles around the driveway.
In your workplace:
Consider corporate sponsorship of a safety initiative, or safety event in your community.This is a great opportunity to provide a service to your clients or customers, while supporting the important work of your community injury prevention organizations.
Start a volunteering or community service program in your office. Ask your employer what staff resources can be devoted to service projects, and suggest that you focus on a childhood injury prevention.
My office, D’Amore Law Group, volunteered at Safe Kids Day at the Oregon Zoo with Safe Kids Oregon and Safe Kids Portland Metro. We all had fun helping families select bike helmets and learn about safety, and gave away tickets through local non-profits.
In your community:
See something? Say something! An Oregon man broke into a locked vehicle when he saw a small child in a hot car in a parking lot on a summer day. The police responded, and he was hailed as a hero.
As a caring adult, you have the obligation to intervene when a child’s life or health is at risk.
While it may be scary to knock on your neighbor’s door if you see their children playing in the street, it will feel better than hearing that a child died or was injured.
Give money or resources. Child injury prevention practitioners are passionate about what they do. Unfortunately, they might be grappling with tight budgets and diminishing resources. If you are able to donate to disadvantaged children and families, you are contributing to the safety of your community.
Support your local safety organizations, police departments, fire departments, and non-profits.
In Oregon, Safe Kids Oregon, and the 8 coalitions statewide focus on reducing unintentional injury for children ages 0-19. Safe Kids USA has state offices and local coalitions in each state, and it’s easy to volunteer – go to Safekids.org/get-involved.