Monday, December 11, 2023

Forgotten Baby Syndrome is real and can be deadly

When you think about it, it sounds totally crazy: Experts recommend that parents of young children put something “important” in the back seat of their car in an effort to help them remember that their child is back there and don’t accidentally leave their child in the car.

After all, what’s more important than your child?

In reality however, life does distract us and we simply lose focus and forget.

Over the last 20 years across the United States there have been more than 700 instances of children dying – most of them 3 years of age or younger – after being forgotten in a car, usually in hot weather.

It’s a phenomenon that has now been given a name: Forgotten Baby Syndrome.

“If you are driving a child that is in the back seat always leave something you need in the back of the car such as a purse or a cell phone so you won’t forget and leave the child in the car,” said Betty Wade Coyle, executive director emeritus of Champions for Children: Prevent Child Abuse Hampton Roads. “It only takes a few minutes in a hot car to kill a small child.”

Corinne Purtill, a writer for the online news website Quartz, perhaps said it best when she wrote that while it’s tempting to believe that only “a negligent parent” could make such a huge mistake, the truth is that the “deadly lapse is triggered by a neurological quirk that can and does happen to anyone.”

It happens regardless of gender, age, intelligence, or any other demographic marker.

“If you have a brain, a routine, and stress, you are capable of forgetting a child in the car,” Purtill wrote, citing two psychology professors, including David Diamond at the University of South Florida, who originated the term Forgotten Baby Syndrome.

Her story points out that the deaths started becoming more common in the 1990s, after safety experts recommended that babies be put in the back seat and not in the front.

Babies are certainly safer in the back, so what can a parent do to ensure that the inevitable daily stress and drama won’t interfere with their ability to remember their baby, who might be sleeping or otherwise very quiet in the back seat?

Coyle suggests the following:

  • Put something important in the back seat with your child. For women it might be a hand-bag. For men it might be a brief case. For anyone it could be a cell phone, which you shouldn’t be using while driving anyway.
  • Set alarm on your cell phone. If you usually drop your child off at childcare around, say, 8 a.m., set an alarm for 8 a.m. It can serve as a daily reminder that you should be doing something very important at that time.
  • See if your childcare provider is able to call you if your child hasn’t been dropped off on the usual day at the usual time.

Technology is helping, as some new car seats are being made with alarms that chime when you shut off your car. Last year a Senate Bill (No. 1666 – or the “Hot Cars Act,”) directed the Secretary of Transportation to issue a rule that would require all new passenger vehicles to be equipped with a child safety alert system.

The Code of Virginia also contains a “good samaritan” clause of sorts. It’s in Section 8.01-225 (A, 1), which deals with persons rendering emergency care.

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