Safety at Home, at School, on the Road: Safe Kids Upstate

Everyone knows childhood is a time of scrapes, bumps, and bruises, but sometimes children face more dangers than they should. Where many avoidable injuries lurk, Safe Kids Upstate steps in to help reduce the threats to children’s safety. The coalition organization, now 20 years old, was born of a doctor’s frustration with seeing children in the emergency room who suffered unintentional, even fatal injuries.

William Schmidt, medical director of the Children’s Hospital at Greenville Health System (GHS), led the effort that grew into Safe Kids Upstate, which has documented significant reductions in childhood injury and mortality.

In 20 years, there has been a 43% decrease in the number of child deaths due to unintentional injuries, said Cynthia Fryer, manager of Safe Kids Upstate. The number is based on hospital visits. Safe Kids is part of the Bradshaw Institute for Community Child Health & Advocacy at GHS. It is one of 400 Safe Kids Worldwide coalitions in 23 countries, and one of 14 in South Carolina. Safe Kids Upstate operates in Pickens, Oconee, and Greenville counties.

Fryer said motor vehicle crashes are a major cause of death and among children, often because they are not properly restrained in their car seats. Other perils include falls from bikes or tripping, as well as drownings and being hit by cars. Home injuries include falls, unsafe access to medications, and furniture and appliances that fall on children. One of the most important Safe Kids initiatives was establishing permanent car seat inspection stations at accessible locations. Families can find help monthly help at fire departments in various counties, and places like Bradshaw Automotive/Breakaway Honda. By fall of 2016, there will be a total of nine such locations.

Safe Kids also serves more than 75 elementary schools in Greenville, Pickens, and Oconee counties through the schools’ safety patrol programs. Through these programs, children help ensure safety by opening doors, monitoring hallways, acting as crossing guards, and other activities. The coalition also instituted a program called Safe Schools in which schools receive awards annually for their safety-promoting efforts.

Safe Kids has won some awards as well, including an innovation award from Safe Kids Worldwide, and another for work in partnership with Share Head Start, an education program for very young children.

The innovation award came for Buddy’s Home Safety house, a mobile unit outfitted with adult-sized kitchen, bathroom and living room where students learn how to identify and deal with household hazards. Fryer said children learn tips such as safe positions for pot handles while food is cooking, keeping rugs flat to prevent falls and trips, making sure that heaters and candles are three feet away from flammable objects, and not touching a gun if they see one.

Bicycle helmet fittings are another important activity that reduces injuries. Such programs come about through partnerships with law enforcement, emergency responders, school districts, government agencies, nonprofits, and other businesses.

“We come together and we actually strategize,” Fryer said. “We look at the trends—what the data are telling us—and we figure out how we can impact those trends in a positive direction, where they are going down versus going up.” She said the car seat program was sparked by the finding that motor vehicle crashes posed disproportionate risk of death for children under the age of 5. Now, more than 15,000 car seats have been checked so far.

Safe Kids serves as both a facilitator of those discussions and a distributor of safety information and equipment. “We don’t always have to be the ones teaching and doing,” Fryer said. “We train the trainers and make sure they have what they need. And our partners are incredible.”

 Photos courtesy of Safe Kids Upstate.

Jennifer Oladipo is a writer in Greenville whose work appears in local and national publications.