Back in mid-March, when our fire stations decided to suspend car seat appointments, I thought it seemed like they were overreacting, but I quickly realized how much their decision made sense as weeks unfolded. I knew, however, that I had to find a way to reach families who still needed our help. I’ve been helping families via facebook, skype, FaceTime, etc. for years. There was no reason we couldn’t put together a completely virtual car seat program…so that’s what we did!
After scheduling an appointment, caregivers complete an online form which provides us with vehicle and car seat information, including the date of manufacture and model number so I can review the seat’s manual ahead of time and check for recalls as well. The online form also has a liability release just like someone would sign at an in-person appointment. Lastly, there’s an informational video about harnessing and newborn safety that we ask them to watch prior to the appointment.
A Zoom link is sent to the caregivers for the appointment time. If the caregiver is unable to use Zoom, we do offer other platforms such as Skype and FaceTime but Zoom allows me to share screenshots of the manual or other resources during the appointment if necessary.
The appointment flows much like any other appointment would…except that we can jump right in since all of the paperwork is already filled out! Most of my appointments have been infant seats so we start outside with the base in the vehicle first. With in-person appointments I would generally demonstrate both methods of installation first and let the caregiver choose which they prefer. Since things tend to take a bit longer virtually, I typically ask the caregiver if they want to practice both or just one.
After completing the vehicle installation portion, we generally head back inside and discuss the car seat itself. (If it’s a convertible seat, we may flip the order depending on whether the seat is installed already or not.) When I’m working with expectant parents, I ask that they use a stuffed animal or doll, if possible, to practice setting up the seat. We review proper harnessing, seat adjustments, height, and weight limits, etc.
So far, our caregivers have felt very comfortable at the conclusion of the appointment. And I love that they know it will be their responsibility to install the seat! So many people show up to in-person appointments expecting us to do it for them and that’s not how any car seat check should go.
I plan for a little extra time…more like 45 minutes vs. the usual 30 minutes for one infant seat. The material covered in the video helps cut down the overall time and gives an opportunity to reinforce the most important topics.
My home setup is critical to making the appointment go smoothly. Since I’m set up in my basement guest bedroom, I’m lacking natural light, so I use a ring light where I mount my phone. This allows me to be completely hands free so I can demonstrate something with one of the many car seats in my personal collection. I also pull up the manual on my iPad or MacBook and connect that device to the Zoom meeting so I can screen share the manual or other online resources if needed.
We haven’t implemented an automated scheduling system (although I’d still like to do that) so right now our families schedule a time directly with me, usually via text or email. I am offering three appointments each day: morning, early afternoon, and evening (now that it’s light enough outside). This allows me to manage “homeschooling” my four children while still doing what I’m so passionate about.
Our department is currently planning to resume in-person appointments by late May but I’m hoping we’ll still offer a virtual option as I believe some, especially new and expectant parents, may prefer this type of appointment and it may allow us to reach people who wouldn’t otherwise meet with a CPST.