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DCFS Warns of Safety Risks Associated with the Summer Months

Hot cars, drowning present potentially fatal dangers

BATON ROUGE - With summer temperatures consistently in the mid 90s across Louisiana, the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) reminds parents and caregivers to take extra precautions with summer safety, particularly regarding the risks of heat stroke and drowning.

Since 1989, DCFS has investigated 22 deaths of children suffering from hyperthermia, or heat stroke. The deaths were the result of a child being left in a car or climbing into a vehicle and becoming trapped.

"A child should never be left in a vehicle alone," said DCFS Secretary Suzy Sonnier. "Summer increases danger as temperatures rise and established routines including work and school schedules change. Simple precautions can prevent a deadly accident."

Scorching temperatures during the summer months can cause a car's interior temperature to rise at a rapid rate, putting children at the risk of heat stroke, brain damage and death. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that a child's body temperature can rise five times faster than that of an adult and a car's interior temperature can increase 10 degrees in just 10 minutes, even with the windows cracked two inches.

Safety tips to prevent hyperthermia include:

  • Never leave infants or children in a parked vehicle, even if the windows are partially open and you plan to return quickly.
  • Make a habit of looking in the vehicle - front and back - before locking the door and walking away.
  • If someone other than yourself is dropping your child off for the day, call the childcare provider to make sure the drop went according to plan. Or, if you have a smartphone, use an application like Find My Friends, which will alert you when they arrive at specified locations, such as the childcare center. If you do not receive an alert, immediately call the person who was dropping the child off that day.
  • Ask your childcare provider to call you if your child does not show up by a certain time each day.

Inside the vehicle, remind yourself that a child is in the backseat by writing a note and placing it where you will see it when you leave the vehicle; placing a bag, briefcase or something else you will need when you reach your final destination in the back seat; or keeping an object in the car seat, such as a stuffed toy. When the child is buckled in, place the object where you will notice it when leaving the vehicle, like the front seat.

Children occasionally climb into vehicles on their own and become trapped. To prevent this, do not let your children play in an unattended vehicle and teach them that a vehicle is not a play area. Additionally, always lock vehicle doors and trunks and keep keys out of children's reach. If a child is missing, check vehicles first, including trunks.

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. Warning signs of hyperthermia include red, hot and moist or dry skin, no sweating, a strong rapid pulse, a slow weak pulse, nausea or acting strangely.

Another potential risk as temperatures rise is the allure of water, whether a swimming pool or natural body of water.

Since 2000, DCFS has investigated 57 accidental deaths caused by drowning in an outdoor body of water. On average, four Louisiana children die each year in pools, lakes, rivers, canals, ponds and ditches.

"With Louisiana's hot summers, many of our families spend significant time in the water," said Sonnier. "It's important to know the risks and recognize when a swimmer needs help. Parental supervision is a crucial precaution to ensure a child's safety while swimming."

According to Safe Kids Worldwide, drowning is the leading cause of injury-related death among children between one and four years old and is the third leading cause of death among children older than four. Drowning incidents can also increase up to 89 percent during the summer months, as compared with the rest of the year.

Safe Kids Worldwide offers the following swimming safety tips:

  • Actively supervise children in and around open bodies of water, giving them your undivided attention.
  • When there are several adults present and children are swimming, prevent lapses in supervision by establishing "shifts" that designate a single adult who will watch the children in the water for a certain period of time, like 15 minutes.
  • Whether you're swimming in a backyard pool or in a lake, teach children to swim with a partner, every time. From the start, teach children to never go near or in water without an adult present.
  • Educate your children about the dangers of drain entanglement and entrapment and teach them to never play or swim near drains or suction outlets.
  • Look, don't just listen. Many times, a person in drowning distress is calm and quiet under the water, not thrashing at the top.
  • Remove all toys from the pool area when it's not in use to keep children from going near the area.
  • If you are the pool's owner, install a four-foot-high fence around all sides of the pool, along with a locked gate that's beyond a child's reach.
  • Learn CPR.
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