Irene Jiang

A new partnership between Buckle Up for Life and the Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital could save hundreds of Connecticut children from death or severe injury sustained from car accidents.

Nationwide, three out of every four car seats is installed incorrectly, greatly reducing their efficacy and putting kids at risk of unnecessary injury or death in automobile crashes, said Gloria Del Castillo, child passenger safety expert and senior outreach specialist for Buckle Up for Life. To help combat this trauma sustained by children, the Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital will implement Buckle Up for Life, an injury prevention program that trains parents on correct car seat use for their children. The program, created over a decade ago, has demonstrated its effectiveness in multiple cities across the United States, Del Castillo said. The partnership with Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital, announced Nov. 4, will provide 700 car seats annually to the New Haven community.

“Buckle Up for Life was first conceived in 2004 at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in response to a very serious issue,” Del Castillo said in a Tuesday email to the News. “The medical staff kept seeing children come in the emergency room with devastating injuries from crashes — injuries that could have been prevented or greatly reduced if they had only been buckled up or properly secured in a car seat.”

Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital will work with Buckle Up for Life in New Haven to increase the safety of city children, according to the Buckle Up for Life press release Nov. 4, 2015. The program takes a “whole family approach” – children, teenagers and adults – to get everyone to use the appropriate restraint while in the car, said Pina Violano, Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital’s Manager for Injury Prevention, Community Outreach and Research.

“We want everybody from every age to buckle up correctly,” she said.

Because of the partnership, Buckle Up for Life now has over 700 car seats a year to put out into the community, she added.

Violano emphasized that parents do want to keep their children safe, but that they may not always have the necessary information to do so. Selecting a proper car seat — a choice which should be based on children’s height and weight — and installing it correctly in different car models, can be challenging even for highly educated caregivers, she added.

In a Monday email, Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital Community Educator Monica Lucas, said that not every “car seat or vehicle seat is made the same.” She noted that some car seats fit differently in different cars, creating room for error for parents and caregivers during installation.

Buckle Up for Life is designed to address these challenges. Violano noted that the simplified way the program provides the materials is a key component in its success.  Parents are required to attend educational sessions in order to receive a free car seat, since a car seat’s efficacy is highly dependent on correct installation, she said. The Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital’s partnership fits into the larger Buckle Up for Life framework, which typically reaches families by partnering with local children’s hospitals and community organizations, Del Castillo said.

Del Castillo highlighted the importance of trained specialists working closely with the entire family to educate them about all aspects of vehicle safety in a culturally sensitive way. For instance, in many cities the program is taught by Spanish-speaking child passenger safety technicians.

“Our approach is also effective because we get the buy-in from community leaders who endorse our message and help us make safety a priority in their communities,” she said.

Nevertheless, the program does grapple with various challenges. Lucas cited education and genuine community involvement as two variables in Buckle Up for Life’s success. She noted that some people “just hear the word ‘free’ car seat and … don’t always fully grasp the educational component” of the program. Other times, Buckle Up for Life can be difficult to implement due to a shortage of CPS-certified technicians, she said.

According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, unintentional motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of injury death among children ages five to 14.