Are CPSTs Car Seat Experts?

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In the world of Child Passenger Safety, certain safety topics are a routine course of discussion: Is it better to use a booster or a harnessed seat with no tether? When is it okay for children to sit in the front seat? What do you do if a child needs to use a seating position with no headrest?

ExpertEvery once in a while, though, there are questions that center around the practice of being a Child Passenger Safety Technician and what that means. One question I’ve seen come up from time to time is: Do you consider/refer to yourself as a “car seat expert”?

The answer, almost unanimously, is no. As one of the few dissenters, I’m baffled by that.

People’s reasoning varies. Some say that they don’t know everything and therefore can’t be considered an expert. Some say there are other people who know more than they do. Some say that it sounds egotistical. Some say that they still need to refer to manuals for information.

I say that none of that excludes someone from being an expert. I also contend that claiming we’re not experts actually hurts our reputation.

First, let’s look at it from a practical standpoint. When I tell people I’m a “Child Passenger Safety Technician,” they usually get a confused look on their face. What the heck does that even mean? It sounds like a piece of bureaucratic corporatese. It sounds like someone who engineers or assembles…children? I always need to follow it up with something like, “I help parents choose and install car seats,” or “I help keep children safe in cars,” but that’s all very clunky. It’s so much easier and clearer to say, “I’m a car seat expert.” That tells them everything they need to know.

Next, and more importantly, let’s take a look at the definition of “expert”: a person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area.

Okay, so what does “comprehensive” mean? Including all or nearly all elements or aspects of something. I don’t think anyone involved in Child Passenger Safety would claim to know everything, but I don’t think anyone in any field would claim absolute knowledge. Even Neil deGrasse Tyson doesn’t know everything about the cosmos, but he’s certainly seen as an expert. Are CPSTs not experts just because they haven’t memorized the LATCH manual or installed a foonf?

Let’s look at “authoritative.” Able to be trusted as being accurate or true; reliable. Online and in-person, CPSTs use their credentials to explain why people should listen to them. Our training makes us better advocates than the friend who just loves her particular (misused) car seat, or the pediatrician who tells parents to turn their babies forward-facing because their legs touch the seat back. If we’re not trusted, accurate, and true, why are we giving advice, and why should anyone listen?

As a consumer, I’d be turned off if the guy who came to give us an estimate on a new fence today said, “Oh, I do this to help people but I’m not really an expert on fences…” Or if my optometrist said, “Nah, I wouldn’t consider myself an expert on eyes. There are ophthalmologists who know more than I do.” Or if my mechanic said, “I have to look up the part number for this. Clearly I’m no expert on fixing cars!”

I go to the fence guy, the eye doctor, the mechanic not because they know everything or are the absolute best in the world, but because they have the skills and training to do what I can’t.

Being a car seat expert doesn’t mean knowing everything. It doesn’t mean that we never have to look things up (in fact, our training specifically tells us that we should look things up). It doesn’t mean we can solve every problem. It doesn’t mean we’ll never run into a situation we haven’t encountered before. It doesn’t mean there aren’t other people in the car seat universe who know more or have more experience than we do.

Being an expert does mean that we know more than the average bear, at least in terms of child passenger safety. It means we’re a reliable source of information that we can use to help make kids safer.

To claim we’re not experts on car seats undermines what we do. Why would a parent trust someone who says, “I’m no expert, but your kid shouldn’t be in a booster seat”? It is our expertise that leads people to seek our advice and to trust what we say. If we claim we’re not experts, where is our credibility?

 

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Mother’s Day Flash Giveaway: Graco 4Ever All-in-1 Carseat + Harvey’s Seatbelt Bag!

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Mothers Day Giveaway graphic - 4ever and HarveysHere at CarseatBlog we know our demographic and they’re mostly moms, moms-to-be, grandmothers, child care providers and the occasional Mr. Mom. We’re cool with that because we’re Moms (and Mr. Moms) too! We know where you’ve been and where you’re going. We also know that almost everyone can use a Graco 4Ever All-in-1 Carseat for your precious cargo and an awesome new seatbelt purse from Harveys for mom!

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Guest Post: Misuse is everywhere. How should you react?

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With a 96-98 percent misuse rate, nearly every car seat a person sees will have some sort of error on it. It’ll range from something that’s not a big deal, to something that’s potentially fatal.

When we scroll through our FaceBook feeds, or when we’re out and about, we’re constantly bombarded by misuse. Of course, we’d all like to make babies safe, but does it mean we should talk to every parent, and if so, how?

12980441_10207430682939827_1148744632_nEven veteran technicians may or may not approach a parent about misuse. The news is not usually received well. Imagine it from the parent’s side. Put yourself in their shoes. For example: you’re sitting somewhere, sipping coffee, and someone comes up to you and points out that the fabric in your shirt is going to KILL you and you HAVE to change your shirt RIGHT NOW! Most people would look at the incoming person with a little trepidation, say ok to make them stop talking, and move away. Or you’d say that your friend/wife/husband who is a tailor says this fabric is fine, and obviously they know fabrics.

Change out carseats for fabric, and that’s how many conversations about misuse happen. I remember approaching someone when I’d been a tech about a year about his very young looking child being forward facing. They were getting out of their car, a dad and his son. The conversation went something like this. Me: *running up* “I’m a carseat tech. Your son should be rear facing, he’s far safer that way.” Dad: *clearly not what he was expecting* “Well, my wife is a nurse and she says he’s fine, and we like him forward facing.”

The dad barely even slowed down to hear me for that one sentence, and to be fair, I approached it in about the absolute worst way possible.

So, what do you do when you see misuse in person or in pictures? Don’t do what I did. Don’t run up to someone in the parking lot telling them what they’re doing wrong.

Instead, try to have an actual conversation. Start out with something innocuous. “It’s a gorgeous day today, isn’t it?” Then go on to a compliment. Kids are cute. Pick a feature and compliment it. Every child has something amazing about them. “Your son’s eyes, wow, I love that color. They’re so vibrant. He’s so cute.” Now that you’re talking, and you’re on polite footing, maybe now you can bring up the carseat. “I couldn’t help but notice, my friend has the same seat, and she and I learned just last week that you can’t actually install it with the lower anchors in the center of her car. I had no idea! Nor did she. But we looked at her car and car seat manuals because she was having trouble with her install. I just thought I’d mention it, since you have the same seat, and the same type of car. Maybe something you’d want to double check.” Then, finish it up with another compliment. “Good bye, cutie. It’s been nice getting to see you today. Seeing little kid smiles always makes me feel like everything is more right in the world. Thanks for giving me a cheer up.”

111109NHTSA_273misuse_v1_M

Now what you’ve done is treated the other person like a human being, rather than a problem that needs fixing. You’ve educated and empowered them to realize that maybe there’s a problem, but they can fix it with tools on hand. They can make the choice whether or not to read their manual, or to meet with a technician in person, or ask another friend for help. Anything. You haven’t tried to shove your viewpoint down their throat, you’ve just offered information.

In addition, by pointing to the manual, or your friend (real or not), you’re making this something that’s not about you and them. The manual has the information, they don’t need to take your word on it. And by saying you just learned it, or you just found out, or your friend did, you’re telling them that this is a common issue, they’re not alone in their misuse. It’s always reassuring to know that if we have to make mistakes, we’re not the only ones who have made it. Even in this article about how to point out mistakes, I shared a mistake that I’ve made that likely others reading have made, and it makes us all feel better to know we’re not alone.

Another option, and it’s one that takes many advocates and technicians years to master, is the skill of not saying anything at all. No matter what we see, we don’t know the whole story. The baby at the restaurant in their rear facing only seat with the toys dangling from the handle and the harness very loose and the chest clip not done up may have the toys removed and everything tightened properly before they ride in the car. The parent who has installed the seat in the center with the lower anchors may have tried their best watching videos, but doesn’t speak enough English to understand their car or car seat manuals. Or maybe they desperately want to know, and they’ve tried to find out, but today they just found out that their cat has cancer and they’ve maxed out their credit cards, so even though they’d like the information, today is just not a day they can receive it.

Misuse

You can always ask a parent or caregiver, “I noticed that your car seat has a couple of errors. I’m a car seat technician/advocate, this is a passion of mine. Would you mind if I told you about them, and showed you how to fix them?” Again, this way you’re not shoving information down their throat, you’re asking permission to come into their world a little bit, basically asking if they’re ready to receive it, and then when you get your answer the conversation is either politely over, or you’ve learned that they’re actively interested and it can go quite well. If done via email or messaging, it also gives someone time to respond. So if today they did just find out their cat has cancer, in a couple of days they can return to you and ask for more information.

Of course there are times when the misuse is so bad that something has to be said; in good conscience, anyone who knows wouldn’t want to leave a child at risk. I remember walking by a VW Beetle with a carseat installed in the center using the lower anchors and the passenger side top tether anchor (that Beetle was a four seater, so no center seat. VW doesn’t allow lower anchors in the middle even in five seaters. And you must use the top tether directly behind the vehicle’s seat, or the designated anchor for that position). I didn’t know who it was, but I got out a business card and started writing a note on the back that they should please check their manual about the seat placement, and contact me if they’d like help with the installation. The mom saw me writing it, I blurted out as much as I intended to write as I could, and she drove off. I’ve never had anyone contact me from a note, but I did have a happy ending to this story. The mom had her son going to the same Little Gym my daughter used. A couple of weeks later her little boy came up to me and said, “Thank you for helping Mommy with my carseat.”

That sort of response is what makes technicians and advocates keep trying. Usually, it happens that a parent is far less receptive.

In any interaction, online or in real life, treat the other person with respect, and do not assume that they mean harm, or that they must be stupid. No one is born knowing about carseats, we’ve all had to learn it at some point. Educate people you see making errors if you think they may be receptive to the information, but do not judge. Share stories of when you’ve made similar mistakes, and point out resources that can be used such as their manuals or a CPS Technician.

Mythbusters: Are bent legs in a car seat developmentally dangerous?

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I had the great fortune of helping out at a fantastic car seat check event a few weeks back where I met with 4 different families. While their car seats and children could not have been more different, all 4 of them asked me the same question: isn’t having bent legs (while rear facing) bad for a child’s hips?

I see this quite a bit on the internet- inevitably whenever a news source writes about a new law or rear facing evidence, someone comments that sitting with the legs bent is going to forever stunt the growth of a child or cause hip dysplasia or otherwise damage a baby’s developing bones. So it seems like it’s time to delve into the research and maybe dust off my physical therapy degree.

Myth: Having legs bent or in a frogged position when rear facing can cause damage to the hip/knee joints and associated bones.

Quinn in Fllo rf

First, let’s look at hip dysplasia. This is obviously a concern for many parents of infants. Hip dysplasia occurs when the hip “socket” is not deep enough, typically at birth. This is common in babies who are breech, first babies and in multiples. When babies have dysplasia, the first line of treatment is a harness. This harness attaches to the baby’s trunk and a series of straps pull the hip into flexion and abduction, basically a frog leg position.

Which is oddly similar to how big kids sit while rear facing. So it stands to reason that if the child sits in the position a hip dysplasia harness would hold them in rear facing, that there’s no significant risk of hip dysplasia from extended rear facing. Also worth noting is that by the time kids reach the age where their legs are scrunched, they are typically standing/walking, which helps deepen that hip socket and vastly reduces the risk of hip dysplasia.

oliver rf bvct 1 Infant in a Pavlik Harness Source: http://www.wheatonbrace.com/products/wpharness.html http://www.lpch.org/photos/greystone/ei_0239.gif http://catalog.nucleusinc.com/generateexhibit.php?ID=4574&ExhibitKeywordsRaw=dysplasia&TL=1280&A=2

Okay, so I feel like we’re good on the dysplasia part. So what about bone growth?