I just have to preface this review by saying how thrilled I am that these two products are now available and that they’re made by a trusted and reputable manufacturer of special needs carseats and related products. Merritt Manufacturing produces many of the most widely used carseats for children with special healthcare needs including the Hope Car Bed, The Churchill Booster and the Roosevelt 5-point harness seat. The innovative Chest Clip Guard and Buckle Guard were originally designed as “escapism prevention” accessories for the Roosevelt. Recently Merritt made them available for purchase separately and for use with conventional carseats. For families with children who continuously escape from their 5-point harness, this is VERY good news.
The “Carseat Houdini” presents a huge challenge to safety-minded parents and also to the CPS Techs trying to help these families. I’ve seen parents do some pretty crazy (and creative!) things to try to keep their kid in his or her carseat over the years. I’ve also seen a lot of questionable aftermarket products that target desperate parents who are willing to buy anything when discipline and the usual parenting strategies don’t stop the behavior.
This review covers both of the accessories available from Merritt.
For younger kids who don’t have the thumb strength to actually unbuckle the buckle but rather escape from their seat by pushing the chest clip down and wiggling their arms and shoulders free – the Chest Clip Guard is probably all that is needed. You can use this product if you have a carseat that allows you to detach the harness from the splitter plate. If you just need the Chest Clip Guard – it should work with most current seats including the Diono Radian models, Evenflo Mastro, Evenflo Secure Kid, Graco Nautilus, etc. It won’t work with seats like the Evenflo Symphony, Evenflo Triumph or Chicco NextFit because those carseats either don’t have a splitter plate or it’s inaccessible.
For Britax seats with rubber HUGS pads – the HUGS will have to be removed. I know that’s a conflict with the instruction manual but in these cases the parent has to decide if the benefits of using the Chest Clip Guard outweigh any potential risks of using the seat without the HUGS pads. I think it’s important to point out that most kids riding in a Britax convertible with HUGS are not anywhere near the maximum weight limit of 65-70 lbs. and that the Roundabout 55 (rated to 55 lbs.) does not have HUGS. Along the same lines, the Britax Pioneer 70 harness-2-booster combination seat is rated to 70 lbs. and doesn’t have HUGS pads either.
The Chest Clip Guard $49.95
The Chest Clip Guard is truly a brilliant concept. The idea is so simple and yet so effective. I’m just mad that I didn’t think of it first. It’s an attachment to the harness with height-adjustable harness pads that hold a lockable chest clip in a fixed position. The harness pads are attached to each other via a piece of webbing that goes behind the child’s neck. The chest clip can also be locked by using the “key” tool that comes with product. If you lose the key, it’s not a big deal because it’s not really a key and you can insert a variety of different things (including a regular house key or car key) to operate the locking mechanism inside the chest clip. A buckle tongue from the buckle on the carseat harness will do the trick too.
Plastic “key” to lock Chest Clip Guard
This video explains how the Chest Clip Guard and Buckle Guard function.
The Buckle Guard $29.95
As I explained in the video – the Buckle Guard can ONLY be used with the IMMI buckle (pictured right). FYI – the buckles used on the current Diono Radian models look similar to the IMMI buckle because it also has a square release button but upon close inspection you’ll see that it’s not the same buckle. This guard will NOT work with the current Diono buckle.
Once the Buckle Guard is attached, it cannot be removed without carefully prying it off with a flat head screwdriver. Once the Buckle Guard has been removed it must be discarded. Therefore this is a product that is intended to remain on the buckle until it is no longer needed.
If you need the Buckle Guard for a seat you already own or if you’re in the market for a new carseat that can accommodate the Buckle Guard – below is a list of higher-weight harness carseats that are currently sold with an IMMI buckle:
Chest Clip Guard & Buckle Guard Combo $79.90
If you need both the Chest Clip Guard and the Buckle Guard accessories for your talented escape artist, that will narrow down the choices since you need a carseat with an IMMI buckle that also gives you access to the splitter plate so you can remove the existing chest clip and attach the guard in its place. Again, I’m only going to list model with a higher-weight harness because Houdini kids benefit from staying in a 5-point harness beyond 40 lbs.
For children with special needs who will likely benefit from the Chest Clip Guard and the Buckle Guard for an extended period of time, the Britax Frontier 90 and Pinnacle 90 offer the highest weight and height limits of any conventional carseats currently on the market. However, both the Frontier and the Pinnacle come with HUGS pads on the harness and technically Britax requires their usage. Use of the chest clip guard necessitates the removal of the HUGS pads so that will have to be a “parental decision”. My personal feeling is that having an older child with special needs who continuously escapes from the carseat while the car is moving presents a much greater risk than the potential risk of using a Britax seat without the HUGS pads. However, as a CPS Technician I cannot recommend that a parent go against the carseat manufacturer’s instructions. The updated Britax Pioneer 70 (no HUGS pads; rated to 70 lbs. and now with 19.5″ top harness slots) would be a reasonable compromise if the child is slender and likely to outgrow the harness by height before hitting the 70 lbs. weight limit.
The Bottom Line
The Chest Clip Guard and Buckle Guard products can be a lifesaver (literally!) for parents with children who are persistent escape artists that do not respond to typical parenting tips and tricks. These accessory products are well-designed and come from a reputable carseat manufacturer that knows how to think outside of the box – safely. That doesn’t mean that the other CR manufacturers are going to give their blessing to using these accessories with their products – that’s probably asking too much. However, these niche products fill a serious hole in the market and the reasonable prices make them a realistic option for most families. I’m beyond thrilled that there are legitimate products on the market now that I can feel comfortable recommending for children with special needs and also occasionally for the very stubborn and determined 2 year old who just doesn’t respond to the usual suggestions that we tend to give parents in these situations.
For more information on the Chest Clip Guard and Buckle Guard see the manufacturer’s website: http://www.escapeproof.net
Thank you Merritt Manufacturing for supplying the Chest Clip Guard and Buckle Guard samples for this review. No other compensation was received and the comments and opinions are entirely my own.