Don’t bake your kid! Tips on How to Remember There’s a Child in your Car


(APN) ATLANTA — The case of Justin Harris in Marietta, Georgia, has parents exclaiming nationwide, “I could never in a million years do that to my child!”

Online, those with children have also seemed to take an odd comfort in the felony murder charge faced by Harris because it confirms what they want to believe: that the only way a parent could leave a child in a hot car is intentionally.  At the very least, it is seen as an act of gross negligence committed by the most forgetful of caregivers.


hot carWhile the felony murder charge faced by Harris is rare, an Associated Press study found that approximately 60 percent of cases of child deaths from hyperthermia, or extreme overheating, resulted in charges for parents, whether or not the child was left in the car intentionally.  Mothers typically face stiffer sentences than fathers.  Paid caregivers were charged more frequently, but faced lighter sentences on average than parents, twelve months versus four and a half years.



While parents may want to believe the most common cause of children dying in hot vehicles is intentionally leaving the child behind, more than three-quarters of caregivers simply admit they forgot the child.  Approximately 18 percent of children are left in cars intentionally.  Everyone has unintentionally left a cell phone or keys at some point.  But how can a parent leave a child behind?



According to a June 16, 2014 special report in The Washington Post, British psychologist James Reason developed the “Swiss Cheese Model” to explain how a person could experience such a disastrous memory failure.  He likens memory to slices of Swiss cheese – rarely do all the holes – or weaknesses – align, but when it happens, usually due to stress, even the most critical things can fall through.  



Stress is not the only culprit.  A disruption to a daily routine, such as a new route or leaving earlier, can leave a tired parent functioning on autopilot and driving past the day care facility, or forgetting it all together.



Psychologists warn that everyone is capable of leaving a child behind, not just those who do it intentionally, or those who abuse drugs or alcohol.



Experts recommend leaving a purse or wallet in the backseat of the car, forcing parents to reach into the backseat.  Also, placing the car seat in the backseat so it is visible in the rear-view mirror, or placing a stuffed animal or diaper bag visibly in the front passenger seat when the child is in the car can provide a visual cue to the driver.



Finally, anyone who spots a child unattended in a car should call 911 immediately because temperatures in a car can rise past 100 degrees Fahrenheit in less than ten minutes, even on a mild day.



No parent is immune from the collision of tragic circumstances that can lead to leaving a child in a hot car unintentionally, and July tends to be the deadliest months for child hyperthermia deaths. Experts caution that by adopting the attitude of “There’s no way I could forget my child,” a parent may actually become more complacent.  Instead, adopting a “look before you leave” plan may save a child’s life.


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