Sunday, January 28, 2001

Safe at home

Child-care professionals assess safety in low-income residences

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Every three months, Anita Brentley sings in a choir as part of a memorial service offered by Children's Hospital Medical Center, and watches as families light candles to remember their lost children.

        The service is for children who died regardless of cause. Still, it serves as a powerful reminder of why Ms. Brentley became the project coordinator of a new program called Home Safe Home.

[photo] Jackie rivers (left) and Cinty Lewis of Home Safe Home, role play a visit to a home.
(Gary Landers photo)
| ZOOM |
        “A lot of the individuals the people are lighting candles for are kids who were involved in injuries,” Ms. Brentley said. “The thing we have to keep in mind is that injuries can be prevented.”

        In fact, unintentional injury is the leading cause of hospitalization and death for children nationwide. And especially for young children, those injuries occur at home.

        At Children's Hospital, more than 900 children under age 4 were hospitalized for serious injuries suffered in their homes from 1997 through 1999. Of those, 32 died.

        These kinds of statistics were the inspiration to launch the Home Safe Home project, said Judith Van Ginkel, president of Every Child Succeeds.

        Since July 1999, Every Child Succeeds has provided a variety of services to low-income, first-time mothers. The program is sponsored by Children's Hospital, Cincinnati-Hamilton County Community Action Agency and the United Way & Community Chest.

    These are some of the questions that workers with the Home Safe Home project will be asking as they visit more than 1,000 low-income new mothers in coming months:

    • Are stairs gated or otherwise inaccessible to the child?

    • Are sharp corners on furniture protected by corner guards?

    • Is furniture placed away from windows?

    • Are there waterbeds or beanbag chairs in the home?

    • Are there baby walkers in the home?

    • Are windows tightly screened or equipped with window guards?

    • Do kitchen cabinets have safety latches?

    • Are knives, cleaning supplies and medications (including vitamins) stored in the kitchen inaccessible to children?

    • Do unused electrical outlets have plug covers?

    • Does the home have a carbon monoxide detector?

    • Does the home have working smoke detectors?

    • Are matches, lighters, cigarettes and ashes kept out of reach?

    • Does the family have a fire escape plan?

    • Is the hot water temperature kept between 120 and 130 degrees?

    • Is there a safe place to secure the child while cooking?

    • Are buckets smaller than 5 gallons?

    • Are toilets locked?

    • Are medications in bathroom inaccessible to children?

    • Is the poison control center phone number posted?

    • Are guns stored unloaded and inaccessible to child?

    • Does the child have a car seat?

    • Is the car seat installed in the back seat?

    • Is the car seat appropriate for child's age and size?
   Source: Every Child Succeeds

        The Home Safe Home project has started training a group of nurses, social workers and other child-care professionals to conduct home-safety assessments when they visit families with new babies. This year, project officials plan to visit more than 1,200 homes in Hamilton, Clermont, Brown, Kenton, Campbell and Boone counties.

        “This is an attempt to address an issue that's important in the lives of young children, and that is the prevention of accidents,” Ms. Van Ginkel said.

        Every day, the trauma unit at Children's Hospital patches up children who get hurt at home.

        They fall down stairs, get scalded by overheated bathwater, choke on small objects, swallow pills or household cleaners, play with guns and get injured running.

        While injuries can happen to any child, national studies show that deaths and hospitalizations from injury are more common among low-income and minority children.

        For example, low-income and minority children are five times more likely to die in a fire, four times more likely to drown and twice as likely to die in a car crash as children in general, according to the Safe Kids Coalition and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

        Yet preventing a fatal childhood injury can be as simple as using a small plastic tube to measure whether an object presents a choking hazard. Or having a thermometer to check hot bathwater. Or learning the right way to install a car seat.

        In hopes of reducing childhood injuries, the Home Safe Home project plans to provide counseling to first-time mothers in their homes. Visitors will arrive with a basket stocked with about 40 safety items, such as cabinet locks, socket plugs, thermometers and smoke detectors.

        In some cases, the program may also provide car seats, window guards, stove burner guards and other more expensive items for families.

        “The people we serve are a very high-risk group of people,” Ms. Van Ginkel said.

        More than 90 percent of the mothers in the Every Child Succeeds program are unmarried, 80 percent are poor and 54 percent are age 18 or younger.

        Ms. Van Ginkel said the program calls for revisiting homes to see if parents are using the devices and training they received.

        “It is very difficult to measure prevention, but it is still worth doing,” she said.

        Those in the program hope mothers who learn about child safety for their first baby will use their knowledge when they have more children.

        Among the items families receive during their visits is a poem Ms. Brantley wrote for parents to think about:

        “I wish your eyes were watching me as I toddled down the stairs. I wish your purse was out of sight before I took those Bayer's.

        I know I have to wait now before I get a turn. I learned the hard way yesterday as I felt that awful burn.

        I need your help more than ever and I look for you to lead. Please keep me safe, please keep me safe, please hear this hurt child creed.”

        For information about the Home Safe Home program, call 636-2830.

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