Becoming a parent is an exciting and very busy time – there are many things to prepare for in order to keep your environment safe for a new baby. Car seats are an expensive but very necessary item to purchase, and the Region 11 Child Passenger Safety team helps caregivers prepare to carry their children safely in their cars, at no cost to the caregivers. Supported by a variety of funding sources, and often working out of local fire departments, law enforcement agencies, and social service agencies, these nationally-certified technicians meet with individuals and families, as well as groups and agencies like hospitals, to provide education and information on proper car seat safety.
Morgan and Tasha are first time parents, and after buying a car seat, did an internet search to find who in the area could help them install and understand how to use the seat properly. For those who have not had to use or install a car seat, it may be surprising to learn how complicated it can be. Fortunately, trained technicians in this program are in each county in the North Sound.
North Sound ACH Project Manager Erica Littlewood is the Washington state Region 11 coordinator for the Child Passenger Safety program, and has been doing this work for 16 years. Region 11 consists of Whatcom, Skagit, Island, and San Juan counties. Snohomish County is its own region, and Region 11 and Snohomish County work closely together.
After scheduling an appointment, Erica met Morgan and Tasha at the Geneva Fire Station in Bellingham. During the session, Erica explained how car seats should be properly installed, how to use the car seat’s harness (practicing on a baby doll), and an overview of the laws around the different car seats (when an older child can start using a booster, can sit in the front seat, etc).
“This is why we’re doing this, so we feel more powerful,” Morgan said.
Did you know: technicians recommend taking your baby out of the child safety seat every 1-1.5 hours – even though it may be tempting not to disturb baby if they fall asleep, it is better to take them out of that restrictive seat.
Hospitals will ask parents if they have a car seat installed before the birthing parent is discharged, but may not have a trained technician to go over the seat with parents at that time. Making an appointment ahead of time with a technician in your area is recommended.
Erica held a training for 11 new technicians who will work in Whatcom, Skagit, Island, and San Juan counties, as well as two technicians who will work in Snohomish and Pierce counties, in October 2021. Training the technicians, supplying the class with relevant equipment, and teaching space came from North Sound ACH, South Whatcom Fire Authority, and the Children’s Museum of Skagit County. The class was financially supported by the state Child Passenger Safety program.
Shawneri Guzman works for South (Snohomish) County Fire and has been a child passenger safety technician for 20 years. She didn’t take this type of class when she had her own children, and when she was first trained it was an “eye-opener” for her. Whether the new technicians getting trained were there for their jobs or just as a community volunteer, they do it to help their communities, Shawneri said.
“It’s rewarding to know the family is leaving safer than when they arrived,” she added.
In her 20 years, she’s seen a lot of changes – car seats are more complicated but safer, cars are more complicated, families have changed.
“Culturally, a lot of people come to this country with no experience with car seats, [and] they just want to do what’s right,” Shawneri said.
How can I find a seat or a technician?
The Child Passenger Safety program also has a limited number of car seats for donation to families who are referred by local agencies. For more information, contact Erica at email@example.com.
You may search for technicians in your area by going to https://cert.safekids.org/get-car-seat-checked (it will include languages other than English if available).
Where can people donate?
If people want to support the program, they can donate to Safe Kids Northwest:
PO Box 764
Burlington, WA 98233
with “child passenger safety” on the memo line
Funds go to purchase new car seats for the donation program. It’s great if people can share a gently-used car seat with family or friends, but they should not resell a seat or purchase a used seat.