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Guest Blog: Are you a CPS Zealot? Or an Advocate with Zeal?

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StarfishOne day, an old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one.

Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the boy simply replied, “I’m saving these starfish, Sir”.

The old man chuckled aloud, “Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?”

The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the man, said, “I made a difference to that one!”

This short parable nicely sums up how I feel about child passenger safety education.  After having been an Emergency Medical Technician and 911 Dispatcher for many years, and witnessing the sad aftermath of improperly or unrestrained children, I decided to become a Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST).  Over the last 6 years since my certification, in my role as a full time civilian police department employee, as a tech offering private car seat checks, and an active volunteer with local CPS agencies, I’ve educated many, many parents in person, online and over the phone.

My goal has always been to appreciate each success, or “starfish”.  I know that I’ll never save every single one.   I’ve also learned I need to meet parents where they are and that success is subjective.  Making a child safER is a win in my book.  If I wasn’t able to convince a parent to switch their 18 month old back to rear-facing, but I was able to teach her to properly install the seat forward-facing, understand the importance of a top tether, snug up the harness to pass the pinch test, and when and how to move the harness straps up, then her child wins.  It may not be the safest choice, but it’s certainly a much safer one than a forward-facing but improperly installed and fitted seat.  And added to that is the knowledge that the parent knows I respect her choices, and that she will feel free to seek out future advice from me.  Every single one of those is a positive point.

This is how I educate and advocate for CPS on a daily basis. This is how most techs I know conduct themselves. Lately, though, with the advent of Facebook CPS groups, there’s been a shift.  Many CPS ‘advocates’ and newer, less seasoned CPSTs lacking real world experience, are educating in a ‘do or die’ way.  A CPST friend referred to this group as zealots, and this is a very accurate description.

Zealot PhotoThe CPS zealot believes that there are no exceptions.  The absolute maximum best practice must be followed at all times. If a driver can’t fit all of the children in rear seats, they must buy a new vehicle or stay home.  Caregivers must spend money they don’t have or can’t spare to buy longer-lasting seats if their child is under 4 and they’ve outgrown the rear-facing limit.   The parent of an 11-year old who can’t quite pass the 5-step test is forced to put them into a booster.  A zealot sees black and white, in a world where there are thousands of other shades of colors.  A zealot believes if they say it, you must do it.

Why is this a problem? Well, life is rarely ever black and white.  These zealots are fear-mongering, turning off parents to hearing what true CPS advocates like me and many of my respected colleagues have to share.  They push parents to get them to act in the way the zealot believes is the ONLY way. This is not advocacy.  It’s bullying.

Zeal PhotoI’d love to see the culture of zealots change.  From those who are fanatical and uncompromising, to advocates that approach instead with zeal. To be a positive role model. To be the person who parents want to come back to again and again with questions, because they feel unjudged and welcome.  To consider that if they are too reproachful with parents and caregivers, they might win a ‘battle’ perhaps, but the ultimate war will be lost.  Opportunities for education, and making children safer, will be closed to all of us with some parents. And that isn’t our goal.

I hope if you’re a zealot, you’ll read this and know that I understand where you’re coming from even if I abhor your approach.  I want to see all kids as safe as possible too.  I’m kept awake by the local news that another child was killed because she was unrestrained.  I become physically ill when I see a picture of a friend’s small child in an ill-fitting seat belt without a booster in my Facebook feed.  I’m frustrated when a parent HAS an appropriate seat that isn’t maxed out, but chooses not to continue to rear-face for reasons they can’t explain.  Some nights I do lie in my bed and cry because it seems like we are not getting anywhere. Beautiful babies are still dying.  I get it, truly I do.  But I know becoming a zealot won’t change those things.

Instead, I do my best to gain the trust and respect of all parents I come in contact with.  I accept that my job is to educate, and it’s a parents’ job to decide.  I give them the best option, and when that isn’t their choice, I give them every other possible option that leaves the child safER than they were when we started.  Little steps, sometimes.

One starfish at a time.  I know I won’t make a difference to all of them, but I know I surely helped ‘that one’.

 

Coleen Fitch is a stepmom and mom who developed her passion for keeping kids safe in the car during her many years in public safety.  She is a former EMT and 911 Dispatcher who,  for the past 9 years, has worked as a full-time civilian employee for local police in the Traffic Division.  She became certified as a Child Passenger Safety Technician in 2009 and is the owner of Little Riders LLC, a child passenger safety education and installation service.  Coleen is a long-time contributor to the car-seat.org forums, and an active CPS advocate and volunteer in her community.  She lives in southern CT with her family and their dog Scooby. 

Cleaning Out Old CPS Stuff

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My carseat throwback “stuff” only goes back around 15 years.  I know some people have accumulated carseat stuff for twice that long or more, including some genuine vintage carseats.  I freed up a lot of space recycling what seemed like 100 pounds of paper stuff alone.  Anyone else have some old goodies to share?  Feel free to add!

oldcpsstuff

 

Oh and see that nice, orange Chicco roller bag in the background?  It needs to go as well, and there are a few interesting child passenger safety odds and ends inside of it.  This giveaway won’t be random, though, and I’ll give an advantage to Car-Seat.Org community members who are still reading;-)  It’s a simple question:  What are the names of the two kitties?  I call them both Foofy at this point, in homage not only to their great excess of fur, but also an old carseat forum joke about Britax carseats that Britax later turned into a fashion!

So, the first response with both cat names correct wins the goody bag!  One entry per person/household please.  I reserve the right to select one winner from all entries if more than one answer is reasonably correct.  Everyone is welcome to enter, except for CarseatBlog editors.

The good ol’ days.

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The car seat world has really come a long way. The advancements and options are incredible compared to what we had even 5 years ago. What was out of reach for many people years ago has become standard now. We still have a long way to go and many people to help and educate but in the grand scheme of things, things are really looking up for child passenger safety.

That being said, there is one thing from “back in the day” that I wish hadn’t disappeared. It’s not the overhead shield. Not the 20lb limit. Nope. It’s the cute covers. Today it’s totally cool to be neutral and match the car interior. Which is fine if you’re into that kind of thing. But for those of us who prefer bright and fun, we miss it. Sure, there’s a few seats out there with some aqua, green, orange, or red accents. But what about the patterns? Fun prints? For me, an out-of-this-world-everything-I-could-ask-for car seat would still go down a couple notches on my Cool Meter if it was only available in black, gray, and tan. Or maybe a mix of the three. With some wallpaper-like dots that look like they should be on my grandmother’s shoes. If my grandmother were still here. See? A gray seat that just makes me miss my grandmother and her ancient shoes! Not cool.

Remember old school Britax? Oh my. I’m embarrassed of my collection of covers I can’t even use anymore. I hang on to them in hopes of someday. Fido. Jonah. Popsicle. Barnum. The list goes on. Really, the only one that’s survived is Cowmoo, which don’t get me wrong, I love me some Cowmooflauge. But how do puppy prints, whales, and adorable rainbow patterns go out of style for kids? We didn’t have whales on our car interior back then. What changed?

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Sure there’s been lots of cute pink/purple flowery patterns that Cosco, Evenflo, and Britax have released (and possibly more companies I’m failing to mention). But there are more cute things in life than flowers!

Let’s put shoes for the elderly on hold and bring back some puppies.

Carseat “Rules”. Do They Apply to You? Really?

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  • Child Passenger Safety Social Media CommandmentsYou must not turn them forward-facing until 4 years old
  • You can’t have 3-across carseats since your seatbelts overlap
  • Don’t use a top tether because your child is 65 pounds
  • You can’t have the handle up like that in the car.

Have you been told one or more of these Child Passenger Safety “Rules”, or at least something similar?

Most likely, the commandment was told to you as if it was etched on a stone tablet, but where did it actually come from? Is it the law?  Is it in a manual?  Is it advice from a reputable organization?  Something quoted from a research paper or told to you by a doctor?  Maybe someone told you it was the answer they were given by a customer service hotline?  Perhaps it was something a friend at your weekly playgroup heard, or something you Googled in a post on an auto forum?  How many times was the information passed along and distorted?  Was it taken out of context?  Are there exceptions to it?  How do you know if it actually applies to your child, in your carseat, in your vehicle?

It’s pretty simple.  There are Rules, there are guidelines and there’s everything else:

  • Rules come in two forms.  1) State Law and 2) Your Owner’s Manuals, and not necessarily in that order depending on where you live!  These are the limits and instructions that MUST be followed if at all possible.  If you can find it in your state’s occupant protection laws or the manual that came with your car or carseat (or any published addendums or updates to these), then it’s a Rule and almost always applies to you.
  • Guidelines come from all sorts of reputable sources.  These include official printed brochures or online statements from organizations like the AAP, NHTSA, IIHSSafe Kids USA, the CPS Board, MACPS and various others.  These may also include sources such as classes given by Child Passenger Safety Technician Instructors, peer-reviewed and published articles from respected journals, presentations by manufacturer’s representatives or written correspondence from industry researchers or other experts.  Most such guidelines are excellent advice and often form the basis for safest practice recommendations.  Even so, they are still just guidelines and some may not even apply to you.  Follow them if you can determine that they apply to your situation, but if they are not included in your owner’s manuals or state laws, then they are not universal rules.
  • Then there’s everything else.  That starts with verbal conversations with customer service representatives at manufacturer toll-free help lines. While they may have the best intentions, the answers can vary over time, even from the same rep!  Websites like CarseatBlog* may fall into this category, especially when someone like me thinks they are smart enough to write an opinion on a debated topic!  Or you might find a snippet posted online by a well-meaning certified technician who speculated about a confusing issue.  Maybe a close relative who heard something from a TV news story and called to tell you about it?   Perhaps you heard it from a friend, who heard it from a friend who read it on a secret facebook group? From expert commentary to third hand speculation to just plain crazy.   Take all this hearsay with a grain of salt, because what you heard may be great advice, or maybe it just doesn’t apply to you…