'We're not doing well' educating newcomers, public on car seat safety, Winnipeg consultant says
Jen Shapka says death of 5-year-old underscores need for provincial child passenger safety strategy
A crash that killed a five-year-old girl underscores the need for Manitoba to do more to educate parents — particularly newcomers, low-income families and other vulnerable populations — on the life-saving importance of properly installed car seats, says a Winnipeg child passenger safety consultant.
"I think we're not doing very well," Jen Shapka told CBC Information Radio host Marcy Markusa.
"We need a provincial child passenger safety strategy, and Manitoba doesn't to my knowledge have that."
A five-year-old Yazidi girl died in a collision last week on Dalhousie Drive. Police haven't said what caused the crash, though they noted there was an adult and three children in the vehicle — the girl's two siblings and her mother — but only two car seats.
The girl and her family came to Winnipeg two years ago, after they fled persecution of Yazidis by ISIS in Iraq.
The death prompted members of the Yazidi community to initiate a car seat donation drive. A member of the Canadian Yazidi Association said car seats and seatbelts aren't necessarily commonly used in places such as Iraq and Syria, which is why newcomers and refugees need to be educated on their importance when they arrive in Canada.
Shapka has been teaching parents how to install car seats and get their kids strapped in for nine years.
She co-authored the national training curriculum for the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada, a group with more than 2,000 members across the country that offers a standardized curriculum on car seat safety.
Installation not 'straightforward'
Installing car seats the right way isn't as obvious as some might think.
"It should be straightforward, but it isn't," Shapka said. "It's a life-saving piece of safety equipment that has a lot of warnings and instructions."
Manitoba law requires that children be seated in appropriate car seats for their age, weight and height, and that information can be found on the Manitoba Public Insurance website. Infants should be in rear-facing seats, and as they age, they should move to a child car seat, booster seat and finally the standard seatbelt position for youth and adults.
If you have young people in their vehicles, you need to have them properly secured or unfortunately the consequences can be fatal.- Brian Smiley
Parents looking for additional information can check Manitoba Car Seats on Facebook, Shapka said.
Car seats have expiry dates, too, and parents on their second or third child should review the label on their old car seats to ensure they're still technically safe to use.
"It will protect people in a crash … keeping them from flying around within the passenger compartment," Brian Smiley, an MPI spokesperson, said last week.
"If you have young people in their vehicles, you need to have them properly secured or unfortunately the consequences can be fatal."
Lack of resources
Local fire stations used to offer Winnipeg parents a tutorial on the proper installation of car seats, but the Winnipeg Fire and Paramedic Service ended that in 2017, Shapka said.
The service ended the program due to a lack of financial support, and equipment used in tutorials became outdated, she said.
Currently there are no programs or trained car seat specialists at any family resource centres in Winnipeg that target newcomer, low-income families or other vulnerable populations in the city, Shapka said.
Whose job is it to let them know what they need to know so that then they can make good decisions for their family and keep their own children safe?- Jen Shapka
Manitoba appears to be lagging behind some other provinces when it comes to supporting car seat safety, she said.
"Manitoba is in this awkward transition phase of what support is MPI still interested and able to provide, whose responsibility is it to provide this to parents," said Shapka.
"It's a public health issue, and parents can't be relying on volunteers for that long-term."
'They don't know what they don't know'
Nova Scotia and Yukon have good, provincially funded organizations such as Child Safety Link that provide car seat safety services. They have full-time staff and provide support by phone and training for those in public health, family resources, police, fire and other sectors.
The 2017-20 Manitoba road safety plan states it is a priority to effectively inform Manitobans of the importance of seatbelts and car seats, but it's missing a robust child passenger safety component, Shapka said.
"If that's a stated goal, a priority of Manitoba in the road safety plan that we are in the middle of this three-year phase for, who is doing it? How is that happening?" asked Shapka, adding well-meaning parents sometimes lack all the facts.
"Right now they don't know what they don't know," she said. "Whose job is it to let them know what they need to know so that then they can make good decisions for their family and keep their own children safe in the car?"
Parents can find information about car seat installation on the MPI website.
With files from Nelly Gonzalez